By Jim Hayden
Saugatuck City Council got its first look at a plan Thursday, Feb. 8, that could lead to replacing its current police department, run jointly through neighboring Douglas, with contracted Allegan County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
No action was taken at the workshop session. A decision could come Feb. 26.
The plan would save the city more than $200,000 in the first year.
“We examined this from every possible angle,” said Mayor Ken Trester. “I am confident we did a thorough job on this.”
Saugatuck began examining police services more than a year ago because residents have been concerned about the cost of the two cities’ joint department, staffing, equipment and lack of community presence, according to some council members.
The Saugatuck-Douglas Police Department, formed in 1998, is run by Douglas with a $1.28 million budget. Saugatuck contributes more than $550,000 to the total, including money for extra officers for Oval Beach and downtown Saugatuck during summer.
The current contract with Douglas expires June 30. If Saugatuck wants to end the agreement, council must notify its neighbor city by March 1.
The plan to use deputies contracted through the sheriff’s office would cost about $220,000 less the first year — $355,209 to $576,000 for the Douglas contract.
Saugatuck officials say the plan to contract with the sheriff’s office is a “staffing to need” approach compared to the Douglas approach of “staffing to cover 24/7.” Now, residents in both cities have an officer on duty all day, every day.
Under the Saugatuck proposal, the city would be covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but not always by the deputy contracted or paid for by the city, according to the plan. During some hours statistically low on crime, Saugatuck would be covered by a deputy who covers the six-township Northwest Allegan County area and a sergeant.
This plan is similar to what other communities, including Fennville, do. That city has a police chief and part-time officers. When they are not on duty, the sheriff’s department responds to emergency calls.