As much as we agree with Prosecutor Kym Worthy that putting criminals in jail ought to be a top priority for Wayne County, the reality of a $125 million budget deficit means she's not going to have as much funding as she feels is necessary to do the job.
Instead of pitching a public fit, the prosecutor should sit down with County Executive Bob Ficano and the Wayne County Commission and try to find the best outcome for their budget feud. We hope there's room for everyone to be flexible.
Worthy withheld prosecutors from traffic court for a couple of days this week to protest what she says is a broken promise by Ficano to fully fund her department. The result: Dozens of 36th District Court cases were dismissed or delayed, including several for serious offenses such as drunken driving.
It was an irresponsible move on Worthy's part, even though she said Wednesday those cases will be revisited. Abandoning her duty to county residents simply to dramatize her dissatisfaction with the county executive is inexcusable.
The dispute centers on the $25 million allocated by Ficano and approved by the commission to operate the prosecutor's office. Worthy says she needs $34.4 million to do the job properly, and says that's what Ficano promised her in 2010.
Such commitments mean little when the county's finances are collapsing. County revenues are off $100 million over the past five years, largely due to declining property values.
Worthy has a difficult job. She is charged with prosecuting criminals in one of America's most crime-ridden cities.
But if the money isn't there, she has to find ways to live within her budget and still get the basic job done. Ficano has offered a compromise that would bring Worthy's funding up to $30 million. Yet she's still not happy.
County officials say the prosecutor already has overspent her budget by $4 million this fiscal year. Such unbudgeted spending is a driver of the county's deficit, which, if it gets much worse, could land Wayne County under state control.
For their part, Ficano and the county commissioners have to do a better job of setting spending priorities. Public safety should have first claim on taxpayer dollars. If criminals really are going free because Worthy doesn't have the money to prosecute them, then it's time to jettison other less vital functions and shore up the prosecutor's office.
Wayne County has made a lot of spending cuts. But it is still saddled with legacy costs that are the result of promises made in labor contracts no longer affordable, which county leaders lack the political will to change.
County residents pay more in taxes, for fewer services, than their peers in Macomb and Oakland.
As long as Worthy works in Wayne County, where mismanagement has saddled taxpayers with a government that costs more than anywhere else in the region, she's never going to have all the money she thinks she needs.