STANTON — The proposed merger of the Howard City Police Department into the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office took another step forward Monday.
The Montcalm County Law Enforcement & Courts Committee unanimously voted to recommend the full board approve the merger.
Commissioner Steve DeWitt, who is employed as Howard City’s police chief, removed himself from Monday’s discussion, leaving the room until after his fellow committee members had voted.
“This does have the potential to impact something in my professional life,” DeWitt noted before leaving the room.
The merger proposal will go before the Howard City Village Council on Jan. 20. Assuming the council approves the proposal, it will then go before the full Montcalm County Board of Commissioners on Jan. 27 for approval.
The drafted contract states the agreement will be entered into on March 1 between Montcalm County, the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office and the village of Howard City. The contract will end Dec. 31, 2016. The contract can be terminated by either party with 180 days written notice.
The county will provide police protection for the village. In exchange for 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.
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.
“It’s pretty straightforward,” said Montcalm County Controller-Administrator Chris Hyzer of the drafted contract. “It’s like the ones you have seen with the townships with a few minor modifications.”
The Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office currently charges $71,000 annually for sheriff’s deputy coverage in Crystal, Eureka, Montcalm and Sidney townships.
Commissioner John Johansen, who represents Montcalm and Sidney townships, expressed his support for the proposed merger.
“I think that the county does an excellent job of providing an overview to the officer and the officer presents at the township board meetings and they’re very excellent, detailed reports,” he noted of the current arrangement in Montcalm and Sidney townships.
Commissioner Ron Baker, who represents Reynolds and Winfield townships, questioned whether people who live near Howard City but outside the village limits would benefit from the merger.
Reynolds Township currently pays $31,836 per year for 20 hours of police coverage per week from the Howard City Police Department. Reynolds Township’s police contract with Howard City expires Feb. 28.
Hyzer said talks about including those township residents are “in the works.”
“There’ll be minor hiccups here and there,” Hyzer said. “It’s going to be a big change for the village and the sheriff’s department, but I think it’s going to benefit not only the sheriff’s department but Howard City as well.”
Howard City Village President S. Michael Scott was in the audience at Monday’s meeting. He thanked Hyzer, along with Montcalm County Sheriff Bill Barnwell for their work on helping the proposed merger move forward. Scott added he believes the merger will greatly improve police service in the village.
“Thank you for your support of this,” Scott told committee members.