Saugatuck & Douglas Officials At Odds Over Issue Of Reimbursement Of Out-Of-Jurisdiction Police Responses; Mutual Aid Pact Requirements Debated
“Saugatuck (city) cannot lawfully process or pay the invoice (recently) submitted” by Douglas City for out-of-jurisdiction responses rendered by its police department officers in July, which total $128.22, stated Saugatuck City Attorney Jeff Slugget in his September 17 letter to Douglas.
There is strong disagreement between the two cities’ officials about how a Mutual Aid Agreement - that both municipalities participate in - operates and the debate continues to raise the ire of both sides.
A number of regional government entities—including Saugatuck and Douglas— signed the compact in 2007, agreeging that signatories are willing to provide mutual police aid and assistance to one another in certain emergency situations and not charge for that service.
In preparing how to respond to Saugatuck’s position and its refusal to pay the invoice, Douglas officials held a closed-session meeting Monday night to discuss the matter.
The relationship between the two neighboring cities has been strained since Saugatuck this past spring ended its intergovernmental agreement with Douglas, a long-time contractual arrangement that provided joint police services to both municipalities.
Saugatuck contracted with Douglas - which oversaw the operations of the police department - to provide it with police coverage.
But several months ago, Saugatuck ended that relationship and instead signed a contract with the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department to provide it with police services.
Saugatuck city leaders said they had decided to take a “staffing to need” approach that would save taxpayers more than $200,000 a year.
When Douglas Police Department officers now respond to calls in the jurisdiction of Saugatuck, the costs incurred are already covered in the Mutual Aid Agreement, which both Saugatuck and Douglas are parties to, argue Saugatuck officials.
In contrast, Douglas officials characterize Saugatuck’s gaps in response time coverage as “intentional” when Saugatuck decided to terminate the intergovernmental agreement and say that the Mutual Aid Agreement does not necessarily apply in this case.
Saugatuck officials say they do not suffer from any major problem related to response time gaps in coverage in any case.
Furthermore, Douglas officials have not designated or identified what would constitute response time gaps in coverage that is a direct result of Saugatuck’s decision to end the intergovernmental agreement as distinguished from instances where there would be response time gaps either way.
Douglas officials, in an April 11 letter, wrote to their Saugatuck counterparts, “Mutual Aid is not based on a ‘closest car’ concept nor would it necessarily apply to out-of-jurisdiction calls where response time gaps in coverage are intentionally created by budgetary or scheduling decisions.”
Asked if Allegan County Sheriff deputies dedicated to Saugatuck have ever responded to calls in Douglas, Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier said, “I am not sure of any direct response, but I am certain they have assisted in some fashion or other.”
In response, Douglas City Manager Bill LeFevere said that, indeed, Allegan County Sheriff deputies dedicated to Saugatuck have responded to calls outside of Saugatuck, including possibly Douglas.
However, he added, it would be unjust and unwarranted to have Douglas pay for out-of-jurisdiction coverage rendered for Douglas, “They (Saugatuck deputies) have an obligation to do so (response to calls outside of Saugatuck)—everybody in the county pays taxes. That is not mutual aid, it is expected of them.”