Saugatuck Township Officials Will Let New Post-Election Board Decide Police Services Issue
Citing it was best to wait until after the November 8 general election and have the new administration deal with it, Saugatuck Township officials decided last week to table any action on the proposed resolution to create a Tri-Community joint Police Study Committee.
Among other things, that committee will study the pros and cons of a complete restructuring of existing services—combining police, fire and EMS (emergency services) under an authority with the stated goal of optimizing those services.
The cities of Saugatuck and Douglas have already approved the resolution, while township officials said the discussion in earnest ought to begin with its new board after the election.
Voters this week elected a new Saugatuck Township supervisor and Douglas Lane and Roy McIIwaine are running for trustee positions unopposed).
In other developments last week, township and fire department officials concurred “the township is different” than years back such that it necessitates increased police and safety service—precisely one major factor that prompted the study committee proposition—but conceded they are encountering some pushback from some township residents.
They get vexed at the thought of an increased police presence, worried about “the police hounding” them or raised taxes, said Saugatuck Township Fire District Chief Greg Janik, asked to chime in during discussions at the township board meeting.
“People have no idea what they are talking about,” said Janik. “I always hear, ‘But, Greg, they are going to raise my taxes,’ but wait, do you realize there are people out there that do need the police.”
Besides increasing budgets and overall increases to fire department activity, other contributing factors to the need for improved police and safety services is an aging population and distracted drivers using cell phones and other devices while behind the wheel.
The fire department itself, fire district officials have pointed out, needs the police for protection while responding to fires as the Oct. 12 fire call at a Saugatuck Township farm house made quite clear.
At that fire scene, the occupants and property owner met the firefighters with belligerence when authorities arrived to do their job and no police were present to protect them.
Also, the fire department’s data indicates a decrease in fire calls, but a dramatic increase—up to 57 percent—in total calls, including first responder calls for highway accidents, for example.
Besides looking at the township, the proposed committee would also be in charge of looking at overall improvements for the whole Saugatuck area as well as address rising police costs, which last year reached a record $1.28 million for the cities of Saugatuck and Douglas.
“Saugatuck is different, it’s not the same place it was before,” said Janik, referring to the township’s police and safety needs.
The township presently gets police coverage through the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department road patrols, but they have a limited budget.
“If they don’t pass a public safety millage, it’s going to get worse (for coverage),” said Janik.
“I think it’s a big enough issue,” said Saugatuck Township Trustee Roy McIIwaine.
“We need to be part of the committee for sure. We just need to work some things out:
“Who will be part of the committee? I think it’s a part of the job of the new board (following the Nov. 8 election),” said McIlwaine.