CRYSTAL TOWNSHIP — Though the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office is currently struggling due to county budget cuts, one officer will be coming back to the department thanks to a new dedicated coverage contract.
Members of the Crystal Township Board voted unanimously Wednesday evening to hire a full-time deputy dedicated to covering Crystal Township for 2017.
According to the contract, a deputy will be assigned to the township full-time at 40 hours a week at a rate of $6,250 per month, totaling $75,000 a year to be paid by the township to Montcalm County.
The contract will officially exhaust the township’s remaining millage funds that were dedicated to police coverage, meaning township residents will have to vote again in August if they would like coverage to continue beyond 2017.
According to Township Supervisor Chris Johnston, the contract is similar to what the two organizations have agreed to in the past, however, instead of only covering summer months in the “resort” community, the township will be using the remaining funds from a millage approved by township voters to provide a year of police coverage.
In doing so, Lt. Brian Waber said the payment from Crystal Township will allow the department to assign deputy Greg Syrjala to the township, which, in turn, will result in the department re-hiring a deputy who was laid off as a result of budget cuts made by the county in September.
“This is a new position, so we will be able to bring back laid-off deputy Steve Snyder,” Waber said.
Questions arose from the audience and board members about what days the assigned deputy would work within Crystal Township, with those concerns focused on weekend hours.
“Previously, when we’ve had someone here in the summer our focus has been on weekends,” Trustee George Bahm said. “Is that something we’d be able to negotiate or push for in the summer months? In the summer months, that’s when we have the most amount of people and would need an officer on those days.”
At the request of the Sheriff’s Office, The Daily News is not releasing the specific hours that will be worked by the deputy, however, Waber did say the request to have an officer present every weekend was not feasible.
“We probably don’t have a lot of wiggle room,” Waber said. “We just don’t have a lot of extra bodies with all of our layoffs. We’ve lost 11 full-time positions in the last year.”
Trustee Curt McCracken said he was concerned that with the department’s limited staffing, the deputy paid by the township may be called away from the township too often.
However, Waber said he doesn’t believe that will be an issue.
“Quite frankly, that’s what the Sheriff’s Office is now down to, is contract positions,” he said. “I think (Montcalm County Central Dispatch) understands clearly that they (deputies) can’t be pulled out of their townships because they are getting paid by places like Crystal Township or Edmore. Does it happen? Sure, but on the other hand, if the Crystal Township officer is sent to a fight, they are going to bring someone else in to back him up. So there’s give and take on that.”
Township resident Pat McShosh said she felt that without guaranteed weekend coverage, the agreement was “not that great.”
She asked if the township had looked at contracting with the Carson City Police Department.
According to Johnston, the last communication with that department occurred approximately six months ago.
“I think the only other police department (to contract with) is Carson City, and the State Police doesn’t contract with anybody,” Johnston said. “Carson was turning people over so quick they weren’t interested in doing it last I knew, but I haven’t talked to them in the last six months.”
Waber reiterated that the department would work with the township to provide coverage on weekends that experience heavier visitor traffic.
“We will do our best, but I’m not going to get locked into saying we’re going to be here on the weekends,” he said. “I think the Fourth of July is a good example, as we always have more officers then.”
Township Clerk Patty Baker-Marek asked if it would be possible to hold off on the contract and attempt to re-instate it only for the summer months.
But Waber said he did not believe that would be an option, as that would prevent the department from being able to bring back a full-time officer who was previously laid off.
“I don’t believe so, no, because in essence, this is a hard time for the department,” he said.