Howard City Police Department merger on Monday’s county agenda

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 11:13 pm on Friday, January 10, 2014

HOWARD CITY — A proposed merger of the Howard City Police Department with the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office continues to move forward.

The proposal will be discussed at Monday’s Montcalm County’s Board of Commissioners Law Enforcement & Courts Committee meeting, when commissioners are presented with a potential contract between the county and the village, according to Montcalm County Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer.

The Law Enforcement & Courts Committee meeting starts at 10:30 a.m. Monday on the third floor of the Montcalm County Administrative Building (old courthouse) in Stanton. Anyone may attend.

Howard City Village President S. Michael Scott said county and village officials had preliminary meetings for the proposal last year. Scott said based on the committee’s recommendation Monday, the proposal will go before the Howard City Village Council at the Jan. 20 meeting. If the council approves the proposal, it will then go before the full Board of Commissioners on Jan. 27 for approval.

Scott declined to comment further.

Montcalm County Sheriff Bill Barnwell and Howard City Police Chief Steve DeWitt also declined comment.

The proposed merger was first detailed in The Daily News in August 2013, when Reynolds Township Board Supervisor Daniel Fisk reported at a township board meeting that he had met with Scott about the village being in negotiations with the sheriff’s office to merge the Howard City Police Department with the sheriff’s office and create a sheriff’s substation in the village police department.

The drafted contract to be considered Monday states an agreement will be entered into on March 1 between Montcalm County, the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office and the village of Howard City. The contact will end Dec. 31, 2016. The contract can be terminated by either party with 180 days written notice.

According to the contract draft, the county will provide police protection for the village. In exchange for the law enforcement services, the village will pay the county $177,500 the first year, $215,250 the second year and $217,500 the third year.

The sheriff’s office shall provide 6,000 hours of police service per year to the village, according to the contract. As a general rule, the Howard City unit officers and vehicles will not be dispatched for duties outside the village boundaries, unless they are required to provide mutual aid and support in the event of an emergency involving an imminent threat or danger.

In the event an officer is not desirable to the village, the village shall cause the sheriff to be made aware of this problem for possible officer re-assignment or other administrative action, according to the contract draft. The sheriff will have exclusive control and supervision over the deputized officer on duty in the village and the officer on duty shall not be under the control of any elected official of the village.

According to the contract draft, the village shall not be called upon to assume any liability for the direct payment of any salaries, wages or other compensation to any county personnel performing services to the village or any liability other than that provided for in the agreement. The village shall not be liable for compensation or indemnity to any county employee for injury or sickness arising out of his or her employment and the county agrees to hold harmless the village against any such claim. The county will be responsible for any liability arising from actions taken by sheriff’s department employees performing services under the contract and will indemnify and hold harmless the village.

The sheriff’s office will hire the village’s existing full-time officers as new hire sheriff’s deputies, according to the contract draft. These officers will then be placed in the sheriff’s field training program and will be on probation for one year from their date of hire. The officers’ wages and benefits will be borne by the county. Per union contract, these officers will be considered new hires for all collective bargaining issues except starting salary. These officers will be hired in the order of their current village seniority.

Reynolds Township currently pays $31,836 per year for 20 hours of police coverage per week from the Howard City Police Department. If the merger went forward, Reynolds Township would pay $35,500 to the sheriff’s department for 20 hours of police coverage. Reynolds Township’s police contract with Howard City expires Feb. 28.

The sheriff’s office currently charges $71,000 annually for sheriff’s deputy coverage in Crystal, Eureka, Montcalm and Sidney townships.

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