One more time: Township seeks levy for police

Published 2:22 am Tuesday, May 24, 2005

By By JAN GRIFFEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES TOWNSHIP - Niles Township's board of trustees agreed to give it one more try.
At a special meeting Monday night at which it officially accepted a severance package and the resignation of Police Chief John Street, the board agreed to ask voters in August for a millage to operate a Niles Township Police Department.
Such a request for township voters to support a police department has failed several attempts. However, a group of more than 70 crowded into the Niles Township Hall Monday, vowed to lend their support and to work to get the word out about the importance of a township-run police department.
Street, who has served as Niles Township police chief since 1982, was forced out of his job last week by the township's public safety committee, headed by township treasurer Jim Ringler.
Many think that move was a preliminary step in inking a deal with Berrien County Sheriff L. Paul Bailey to contract with the sheriff's department to provide township police services.
Street negotiated a severance package with the board which will allow him to buy about a year and a half of his military time and retire with a full pension. In addition, the township will pay him through July, as well as pay his earned vacation time.
Street, head held high, thanked the township board and township residents for his opportunity to serve.
Later in the meeting, Tonkin thanked Street for his work on behalf of the township.
Ringler said the township cannot continue to operate a full-time police department using only funds from its general fund. In addition, he said the ever-increasing management, liability and training expenses needed to operate a police department make contracting those services out an attractive option.
Niles Township resident Tony Millen said he learned the sheriff's department is proposing supplying the township six deputies, a sergeant and a records clerk for an annual cost of $648,434 with a four-percent annual increase in the contract price.
Ringler affirmed those are the specifics of this latest proposal from the sheriff's department. He said ownership of township police equipment would revert to the Berrien County Sheriff's Department, and that sheriff's deputies would not be sworn township officers, meaning they would not enforce township ordinances like noise and neighborhood complaints.
Millen said the City of Niles Police Department has offered the township to provide eight officers, a detective and four to five administrative personnel at a cost of about $696,420.
Tonkin said the city's proposal was one to operate the township police department, rather than to contract to provide those services in lieu of a township department.
Many in Monday's audience wondered aloud why the township seems to so strongly favor the county proposal over the city police department's proposal.
Millen and others questioned the logistics of the county providing police services in the township when they may be needed to cover other calls elsewhere. He also questioned the logistics of abandoning the law enforcement complex. Street in his farewell address heralded that facility as having been an important step in uniting law enforcement efforts in the area.
Tonkin and Ringler admitted they favor the county proposal over the city.
However, they also admitted they had not been in talks with the city about specifics of its proposal, nor had they offered the city opporunities to refine its proposal, as they have Sheriff Bailey's department.
Millen asked if the township board's support of the county proposal is politically motivated, based on any conflict with the city.
Ringler answered no, which was met with skepticism from those in the audience.
Ringler said it's obvious the one-mill levy for four years, which the board earlier agreed to put on the August ballot, isn't sufficient to support a township poilce department.
Ringler said if the vote fails to pass in August, the township board will have no choice other than to seek police services elsewhere.
After the meeting, he said the township board will not contract with any outside agency for police services until after the results of the August election.
He also said, based on strong sentiment at Monday night's meeting in favor of the city department, the township will attempt to seek a new proposal from the City of Niles Police Department for providing police services.