Township police knocked out in second roundPublished 9:23am Wednesday, September 23, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
Residents of Niles Township will continue to see their streets patrolled by the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department.
In round two of the township’s budget hearings for the 2010 fiscal year, a board majority voted to squash Jim Kidwell’s proposed option to develop an independent township police department.
The meeting proved to be less emotional Tuesday night but tensions were still high as the police issue was quickly brought before board members.
Kidwell, who said he was merely presenting the board with “options” claimed his police department, consisting of six patrolmen, managed by a sergeant and overseen by Kidwell himself, would come in at a cost of $638,730 – a difference of $210,000 from the costs presented by the Sheriff Paul Bailey.
The issue of Kidwell being in charge of the department opened the door to more debate, as many on the board questioned his abilities to hold two full time jobs and oversee the department.
It has also been questioned in the past whether Kidwell’s position of being in charge of the police department and an elected official would result in a conflict of interest.
The supervisor and full time Niles City police officer made some significant changes to his plans for a police department.
Last week Kidwell said officers for the township would be lodged at the Law Enforcement Complex, which already houses both the city and state police.
Last night, Kidwell said that those officers would be able to be lodged at the township’s fire department.
The proposal was in comparing the choices “apples to apples” Kidwell said, but members of the board contested -saying that the $357,000 generated by a 1 mill levy could not be transferred to apply to a township police department and therefore would have to come out of the township’s general fund.
Trustee Michael Bailey, questioned why the board wouldn’t move to save the taxpayers’ money.
But after a short silence it was Clerk Marge Durm-Hiatt who said, “well I don’t know who wants to say it but I’m not for a township police department.”
Durm-Hiatt, along with trustees Ron Goodwin and Richard Noble all voiced appreciation for the efforts by the Sheriff’s Department in the township.
The comments were followed by a vote to toss out the idea of a township owned police department before going on with budget talks. Kidwell and Bailey were the only opposing votes.
But talks continued for some time, revealing some added bugs to be ironed out.
In looking over the numbers, an amount of around $80,000 was found putting the final budget back into the black, where Kidwell’s estimations had left it over $40,000 in deficit.
Durm-Hiatt also made a recommendation she said she has made each year at budget time, saying, “if we could come up with some more money, I would love to talk about getting a superintendent again.”
Hiring a superintendent, or manager for the township, might make for smoother transitions amid the board, she said.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” said Kidwell. “But I don’t know where the tax payer’s are going to pay for it.”
Other questions were raised about amounts budgeted to various departments and line items and the township set yet another budget hearing for next week, Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m.