Deputy costs: Sheriff gets OK to price contract deputies for Saugatuck city inquiry

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

As it turns out, Saugatuck city—and any other city or village in Allegan County—is allowed to contract for multiple deputies through the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Frank Baker wanted clarification on that point before responding to a Saugatuck request to find out how the city could go about contracting through the sheriff’s office to either supplement or replace the service it currently shares with Douglas city.

“I don’t think they’d have the budget to support us being there 24/7,” Baker told Allegan County commissioners at their meeting Thursday, Dec. 14. To contract with a sheriff deputy for 40 hours weekly costs local municipalities approximately $75,000.

Baker needed to know if that offer extended to cities, which might have the need to contract for more than one or two. Townships contract for a total of eight deputies currently. The county provides approximately $25,000 for each contract; adding several would create a sizable hole in the sheriff’s budget with which commissioners would ultimately have to contend.

More importantly, Baker said he will have to contend with the area no matter what level of coverage the cities choose.

Contracts or no, “if they had no coverage, we’re going to be there taking calls for service. And that is my concern... and why I want to maximize their ability to contract,” he said.

County administrator Rob Sarro said the deputy contracts were a tool the county would use to work with local partners, just as the county does for information technology services.

“The original intent of this was a cost-sharing arrangement,” Sarro said.

Several commissioners raised the possible pitfall of a large influx of contracts hurting the budget.

Commissioner Gale Dugan said it amounted to abuse of the county’s finances. By way of example, he said Hopkins village has just ended hiring its own police officer.

“Now they’re relying totally on the county sheriff office for policing,” Dugan said. “If they come back in and ask for a contract, they’d be eligible? So for just 75 percent and the county bringing in the other 25 percent?... that puts the county on the hook for that department’s cost for personnel.”

Sarro said the contracts didn’t work like that. Contract deputies default to patrolling their designated municipality, but they can be called outside that area for more pressing events.

“That 25 percent (we pay) is a 0.25 FTE (full-time equivalent) for us,” Sarro said.

The exact way in which the contracts would affect the county budget depends on many details yet to be even discussed.

Baker said the city might be interested in two maybe three contracts based on very informal discussions.

Commissioners agreed that much depended on that exact number, and that funding for the positions would be addressed annually as part of considering the rest of the sheriff’s office appropriation.

Ultimately, budget constraints might force the sheriff to shift some deputies on general road patrol to cover a large influx of contracts.

Commissioner Mark DeYoung said the offer remained open to any municipality.

“Any township could come to get two or three deputies. Same for any jurisdiction,” he said.

Baker said, “Correct, but we’ve always received the additional funding when those contracts have been added.”

Commissioner Max Thiele said the contracts were structured to fit the needs of the time.

“The original discussion happened in a completely different financial time,” Thiele said.

Baker agreed.

“We were downsizing through attrition then, purposely. We were at 62 certified law enforcement personnel. We’re at 53 today.”

He said the call volumes in the summers in Saugatuck would be another complexity to navigate.

“It obviously spikes in the summer,” Baker said. “Compared to a township, say Ganges—looking at our call volume in places like that, it doesn’t fluctuate much, with some spikes on Fridays and Saturdays.

“Those summer months are going to be critical.”

He said he believed he could return to the county commissioners in January with a more specific request from Saugatuck city.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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