By Scott Sullivan
Saugatuck’s impending split from the Douglas-run 20-year Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department continues to breed dissension between the two neighbor cities.
The latest is Douglas City Manager Bill LeFevere asking the state to reconsider a $160,083 grant awarded Saugatuck recently to help cover costs of it changing its police services. Saugatuck is objecting to Douglas’s objection.
On Feb. 26 Saugatuck City Council agreed to contract with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department for police coverage in order to save more than $200,000 in the first year. Douglas plans to continue its own department with fewer officers after June 30 when the split takes effect, but its officials aren’t happy with it.
Douglas apprised Sauga-tuck April 11 its extension of mutual aid to neighbor may now come with costs attached. Saugatuck responded April 19 claiming “this is not historically how mutual aid has been treated as part of the mutual aid agreements …
“Saugatuck City Council suggests Douglas officials meet with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office to get input on how Douglas’s new proposed method of responding to requests for emergency police services,” Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier wrote.
“This is entirely a Douglas-Saugatuck matter and not a mutual aid issue,” LeFevere wrote back May 14, “and there are not negative impacts for the other cities or the Sheriff’s Department who are a party to the Mutual Aid Agreement.
“This policy change is a direct result of your decision to terminate the police services agreement. Douglas residents should not be expected to finance responding to out-of-jurisdiction calls in Saugatuck for free when, for budget or scheduling purposes, you have no contractual coverage available in your city,” LeFevere said.
The Michigan Treasury Department announced in May it had awarded Saugatuck a $160,083 Competitive Assistance Grant paying the city $3,750 for an earlier police study and $156,333 for three new police cars that will arrive later this summer.
Such grants, says the state, are designed to stimulate smaller, more-efficient government while encouraging mergers and consolidation. Overall, $3.7 million, drawing from state sales tax revenues, was available this year in Michigan.
LeFevere June 1 wrote state senior deputy treasurer Eric Scorsone, copying in state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker and Rep. Mary Whitford, that Saugatuck, “didn’t negotiate any ‘special deal’ and didn’t consolidate a thing; they simply abandoned the Intergovernmental Agreement, leaving Douglas to deal with laying off employees, downsizing facilities and trying to maintain adequate police coverage for our community, on our own.
“Having the Department of Treasury reward Saugatuck with grant funding to purchase cars when they knew, at the time they submitted the request, that they were scheduled to receive two fully-equipped squad cars from the existing fleet is a truly disturbing outcome,” he continued.
“Rewarding the elimination of a local police department with grant funding is misguided public policy. I would encourage you to re-examine the basis on which the decision was made to award funding to the City of Saugatuck,” LeFevere said.
Harrier wrote LeFevere two days later “respectfully requesting you rescind your letter, as it does not contain all the facts and is very misleading.”
Saugatuck did meet grant standards “by consolidating its law enforcement with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office,” continued Harrier.
“Saugatuck is acting in a progressive and responsible manner out of fiscal necessity. Due to the city’s decreasing allowable millage rate and higher cost of operating government in general, Council was forced to explore options to operate the city in the most efficient manner possible.
“One of these options was to review the outdated 20-year police agreement between Saugatuck and Douglas. As you recall the city’s legal counsel prepared draft revisions to that agreement and presented that document to you in 2016. No action was taken by Douglas … In 2017 Saugatuck Council then hired a consultant to review and make recommendations regarding police services for Saugatuck …”
Harrier said a Saugatuck work group weighing those recommendations met with Douglas leaders Jan. 5, 2018, “and asked if you had any options for cost savings prior to City Council making a final decision on law enforcement services.”
“What they (Saugatuck) made clear,” recalled Douglas Mayor Linda Anderson March 5 of that meeting, “is they wanted Douglas to pay more and give them a break. That was the bottom line.”
“Your reply,” Harrier’s June 3 letter to LeFevere continued, “was Saugatuck should increase taxes via a special public safety millage in order to fill any budget deficits for law enforcement services provide by Douglas. Needless to say, increasing the tax burden on residents was not a reasonable option for the Saugatuck Council.
“Shifting blame to Saugatuck because you now have to deal with laying off employees, downsizing facilities and maintain adequate police coverage, is simply not appropriate. These issues are a direct byproduct of your decisions not to work cooperatively with Saugatuck when given multiple opportunities.”
Saugatuck, Harrier continued, did apprise treasury it would receive two police vehicles from Douglas, but “these vehicles are not new, have higher mileage and are near the end of their useful life. Therefore Saugatuck would need to purchase new vehicles very soon at an expense to the Saugatuck taxpayers.
“By sharing more cost effective and efficient services with the Sheriff’s Office, Saugatuck will be able to improve the quality of life for its taxpayers/residents,” Harrier’s letter said.