ONAWAY - Onaway city commissioners might have an agreement for police coverage between the city and the Presque Isle County Sheriff Department, although it likely will be considerably different from what they had originally discussed.
At their meeting Monday, City Manager Joe Hefele told commissioners he spoke with Sheriff Bob Paschke and Undersheriff Joe Brewbaker. The three had found a scenario they potentially could agree on to bring extra police patrols to the city. For $25,000 per year, the department would provide 16 hours per week of night time patrol, and the city's police department building would be available for sheriff deputies to use.
It's considerably different from what city officials had started out with. Initially, they were seeking a deal where the sheriff department would deputize Onaway Police Chief Jim Gibson. He then would patrol the city for at least 40 hours per week for $50,000 per year, until the department had an opening and could hire him.
The new agreement is much simpler, Hefele said, specifying only the amount of patrol time and cost to the city. It wouldn't necessarily involve Gibson providing the patrol.
"That would be entirely up to the sheriff," he said, adding the agreement would no longer deputize Gibson, nor would it oblige the sheriff to hire him.
The details of the deal are still in the works, Hefele said. In the meantime, Gibson's job is no more; city commissioners had extended his contract to May 1 so the city could reach an agreement with the county and sheriff department.
Policing in the city is now handled by the sheriff department, Hefele said.
Gibson attended the meeting, this time as a citizen in the audience instead of the police chief sitting near other city officials. He declined to comment on the situation after the meeting.
Hefele said he's hopeful he could have an agreement for city commissioners to consider by their May 20 meeting. If the city and county reach an agreement like the one he mentioned, it would save the city about $45,000 per year, he said. This would help the city close a budget hole it has struggled with for a number of years, which is the motivation behind the city's move to get rid of its police department.
"Whatever we end up agreeing on would likely take effect on July 1, which is the start of (the sheriff's department's) fiscal year," he said.
The city's move to eliminate its police department has angered some residents, with one going as far as to file petition language to recall Mayor Gary Wregglesworth and commissioners Chuck Abshagen and Jessie Horrocks. While rejected by the county elections commission at the end of April, the petition has since been tweaked and resubmitted, according to County Clerk Ann Marie Main. The elections commission will meet again on Thursday in Rogers City to consider the new language.
Hefele acknowledged the issue is an emotional one after the meeting, but said he wanted to dispel the notion the city is in financial trouble from seeking so many grants. A member of the audience raised the issue during public comments, asking Hefele how much the city pays each year for the grants.
"The fact that we were able to secure these grants has allowed us to put off these difficult decisions until now," he said, naming a number of examples where the city was able to save itself considerable debt by getting large grants for projects.
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