By Jim Hayden
Saugatuck City joined Douglas and Saugatuck Township Monday to form a new Joint Police Study Committee.
The group will have a recommendation on the future of area police coverage by June 30, 2017.
“This has been stewing for a while,” said Saugatuck Mayor Chris Peterson at Monday’s council meeting.
In April, Saugatuck city officials began looking at new ways to fund the Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department, which is run by Douglas. Saugatuck contracts with Douglas for coverage. Saugatuck included $5,000 in its 2016-2017 budget for a police services analysis.
This year’s police budget is $1.28 million, which includes a $316,000 payment into the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System. Saugatuck contributes $650,000 to the total budget, including money for extra officers for Oval Beach and downtown Saugatuck during the summer. Saugatuck’s money comes from the general fund.
Saugatuck Township is not part of the police coverage area, but Saugatuck-Douglas police respond to numerous calls in the township each month. The township does not reimburse the cities for the costs of those calls.
The new study committee will bring its recommendations back to the three municipalities for a decision on any changes.
The committee will consist of two representatives appointed by each municipality, the Allegan County commissioner who represents the Saugatuck area, managers from the three municipalities, the police chief, Saugatuck Township Fire District chief and Allegan County sheriff or his/her representative.
The group will look at coverage options, funding and organizational structure that could include a police authority.
An authority could tax residents through a millage to fund the department. This is how the Saugatuck Township Fire District operates.
A tax to run the police department is not a new idea. A community consolidation study in 2008 by Plante & Moran recommended a police millage of 0.3794 mill to raise $900,000 that year for the department that would cover both cities.
If the new study group recommends an authority, it will also recommend the “optimization of all Emergency Services (Police, Fire and EMS) in terms of the physical location of facilities, governance and staffing,” according to the resolution passed Monday by Saugatuck.
Saugatuck was the last of the three governments to sign on to the new committee, according to city manager Kirk Harrier.