MI city de-annexes prison to reduce costs

by Peter Wagner, March 25, 2011  

We’ve long argued that the Census Bureau’s prison miscount is about political power, not funding.

An interesting anecdote from Michigan makes the point about how small the financial impact is:

Prior to the 2000 Census, in a 1998 an agreement with Coldwater Township, the city annexed the three Michigan Department of Corrections facilities adjacent to its north boundary. This allowed Coldwater additional revenue sharing funds from the state and some eligibility for more federal funds.

Then, in the fall of 2000, the city’s firefighters union and its supporters pushed and passed a city charter amendment, which requires 1.5 firemen per 1,000 population. With state prison inmates counted in the population, it would have required the city to hire three new fire fighters.

According to then city manager Bill Stewart, Coldwater had received only $29,000 in 1999 from the state for municipal services while new firefighters would cost approximately $56,000 more a year.
So on Nov. 27, the city council voted to “detached” the prisons, and Coldwater Township later passed the same resolution dropping the population by 2,286 prisoners.

The gain to Coldwater City was $12.68 per incarcerated person per year. When all the city had to do was move the border to get the money, it was worth doing. But it’s not a lot of money, and as the article shows, other costs made the annexation unwise.

The real negative impact of the prisons would be on democracy in Branch County, but the county, like most similar counties in Michigan, refuses to use the prison populations when drawing local government districts.

Now if only the Michigan legislature would follow the lead of Maryland, Delaware, New York and their own rural counties and address prison-based gerrymandering in their districts….

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  • September 21, 2016:
    Executive Director Peter Wagner will be speaking at Claremont McKenna College in California. Details TBA.

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