April 22 07:09 AM

Proposal makes sense for Capac

March 24, 2010
Capac, like many other towns and cities is in a financial quandary. Large or small, it makes no difference. The recession has brought hardships to the governing bodies to the point where extreme change is necessary.

Many readers of my 'Capac Journal' column have asked my opinion on the proposed dismantling of the Capac Police Department and the contracting out to the St. Clair County Sheriff's Dept.

Although I don't live in Capac at this time, I have lived there and went to school there as my ancestors have for 150 years. Capac may not be my home, but it is my community. Some will say I should have no say because "he doesn't live here." Technically the naysayers are correct, but consider the dues I've paid to support the village, not in taxes, but the money I and many others have spent supporting Capac's businesses.

The Capac Police Dept., long-steeped in tradition and a true asset, has become very expensive to operate and has been forced to make severe cuts in its budget. There is no hidden agenda or politics at play. The cause of these deliberations is purely financial. The village council contacted Sheriff Tim Donnellon, he did not solicit them as many think. The council recognizes the consequences and is facing up to their duties to maintain your safety.

Over the last nine months I have been on the St. Clair County Drug Task Force Oversight Committee. This time has been more than just "eye opening." It is overwhelming to see what is facing law enforcement as they try to protect us as we go about our lives. I have done 14 stories on what I have witnessed and most have been related to, the 'Capac Road corridor.' From Berlin Twp. in the south through Capac, Mussey Twp. and Lynn, crime is here and thriving. Twenty-five years ago we were led to believe I-69 was a godsend. Industry, people and jobs would flock to the "city in the woods," as my great-grandfather used to refer to Capac.

That scenario was short-lived. We scored one factory but lost nearly every business in town. A place to buy a car, farm machinery, appliances, sell grain or purchase anything you needed to survive is gone, along with the tax base. Today, I-69 carries a lot of commerce past our exit but brings a lot of riff-raff to our doorstep.

The once unlocked doors of my youth have now become locked. People live in fear as daily we learn of breaking and enterings, larcenies and assaults. The incorrigible recidivists roam freely among us as the state of Michigan releases convicted felons because it is also broke. I-69 and the Capac Road corridor have become the lifeblood of the criminal. They are bold and brazen and more aware of the lack of police enforcement than you yourself are. They know where the easy pickings are and more and more of them are getting on the interstate to take advantage of us. We can wish, dream, pray they leave us alone or just ignore them, but sooner or later all of us will be their victim. Some of us already have and it would be a safe bet that everyone knows someone who has already been victimized.

Most everyone talks and the newspapers report on all the goods that are stolen, from guns, cars, appliances, etc. But the biggest theft and most damaging to us is that of our youth. They poison them with drugs and they turn on us, friend, relative, neighbor. It makes no matter, we become legitimate targets to satisfy their needs.

On March 15, Sheriff Donnellon presented his proposal to the Capac Village Council, accompanied by Undersheriff Tom Buckley. Two men with over 40 years experience and well aware of the problems faced daily by the citizens. No one in the county is more prepared and dedicated than this team of officers. They are hands-on and ever approachable. They want to help and have a proven record. These are the guys you want in your foxhole.

The sheriff's proposal puts a deputy in Capac 12 hours per day every day, the times to be decided with Capac officials. Rumors have already circulated that this deputy will be everywhere but inside the village limits. Many nights I have ridden with deputies contracted out to Fort Gratiot and Port Huron townships. Never once did we leave their townships, no matter what. Furthermore, I asked Sheriff Donnellon if the deputy assigned to Capac would ever leave. He answered, "only in an extreme situation would such an order be given."

I asked both the sheriff and the undersheriff how long the response time would be during the 'off' 12 hour period. They both assured me there is usually a deputy available within 20 minutes. I must concur because I was present one time in Fort Gratiot when an emergency call came in to assist the Capac Fire Dept. and we made it even during construction on I-69.

Sheriff Donnellon's contract costs show a significant savings for the village. The three-year contract, with inflation built in, when matched with the current Capac PD budget shows a first year savings of $139,951, and subsequent savings of $117,396 and $92,084 in the second and third years. These figures are compared with Capac's estimates not using an inflation factor. The $349,431 savings is staggering.

In all fairness, Capac Police Chief Rich Zavislak says that through budget cuts he could "shave costs and realize about $111,000 in savings."

The savings by the sheriff's dept. are even larger when you consider such items as legacy costs, retirement costs and the ever-growing heath care charges.And then liability insurance. This is significant and is assuredly the largest cost on Capac's policy. This would be eradicated.

As for the office, the building could actually be sold or used for something else, same for the patrol cars. The list of savings goes on and on.

This money could be utilized for infrastructure improvements, tax relief or maybe to lure another large employer in. It is possible for Capac to put the service and bodies into town that the sheriff's department can supply. Along with that comes the Drug Task Force, Special Response Team, Detective Bureau, a Motor Carrier Officer and a command structure second to none.

This is one time when less is more.

Over the years many people have asked me to write a letter to the editor and pick a side or write for one of them. I have always declined. But this decision is going to affect us all eventually, and the sooner the better the 'Capac Road corridor' would be to maintain its own police force. Lynn, Mussey and Berlin townships are orphans when it comes to decisions made by county commissioners, state reps and state senators.

Many good citizens advised me not to get involved in this debate because it will cause hard feelings. But we are living in a very troubled time and we must all stand as oak trees, not willows that bend in the wind of public opinion.

Since I started writing about crime in our community there has been a growing drumbeat among citizens that I've heard that says 'enough is enough!' Well, readers, I need your help. Call your elected officials. There is no logical argument against making public safety a priority.

Email Doug at

Doug Hunter is a lifelong Capac resident, a farmer, historian and writer. His great-great grandfather, Noble Hunter, founded the Capac Journal in the late 1800s.
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