October 22, 2014

AGS police agreement to end

City notifies Sims of intention to split department

By Kevin Bunch
Staff Writer | news@arenacindependent.com
Posted

AuGRES — The AuGres City Council voted to end the police agreement with Sims Township, effective July 1.

The unanimous vote came after a great deal of discussion at the council’s meeting March 6, and council members decided a separate police force would be a cost-effective alternative to keeping a joint force at a lower funding level.

The city is unable to keep up the level of funding it had in previous years, having only collected $64,000 out of a budgeted $85,000 for the police department. Under the current agreement, Sims Township pays the same amount as AuGres, and the township board indicated it had no intention of covering the gap alone.

“As much as I would like to see the joint service continue, since it’s better for AuGres and Sims if we can keep it up, we can’t with our funds,” Mayor LaVern Dittenber said. “They said they will not pay a penny more than AuGres, so the decrease is double what it would be.”

Councilman Keith Edmonds agreed, stating that the city’s “hands are tied” regarding the split. The city’s proposals to cover the shortfall, which included a joint police authority at two mills apiece, or an increased millage for Sims residents were opposed by the Sims board.

“We have to let them know if they can’t help, we would have to disband the agreement,” Edmonds said. “If they’re not willing to bend, I don’t know what else we can do.”

That AuGres residents pay 3-mills and Sims Township residents pay 1-mill to raise that equal amount of money was not lost on the council. Even though previously it came out to the same amount, Dittenber said he had issues with the difference.

“I have been concerned for some time over the inequity,” Dittenber said. “I can’t see how I as a resident should pay 3 mills when Sims pays 1.”

During the Sims Township board meeting Feb. 21, the board took umbrage with the AuGres Tax Increment Finance funding, which since 1985 has drawn a portion of the funds collected from all non-school millages in the city for infrastructure projects. These have ranged from sidewalks and roads to the AuGres library building.

AuGres is obligated to pull these funds until the program is phased out in 2035, and cannot pick and choose which millages to draw or reduce funds from. However, Sims Township officials opposed raising their own millages while AuGres was collecting funds that could not be used for the police.

Under the police agreement, both municipalities will split the assets of the department upon its end. In addition, one municipality must give the other at least a 60-day notice about any changes, which includes pulling out of the agreement.

Councilman Cliff Warr pointed out Sims Township officials would likely hire one of the two officers for their own police department.

AuGres City Manager Pat Killingbeck said by setting the date at July 1 — the start of the new fiscal year — it will give both AuGres and Sims time to work out the details of the split. Both communities have indicated they want to continue separate police service.

Dittenber said the city should be able to retain one officer to patrol 40 hours a week with the money the city collects. Killingbeck said it should benefit the city more than continuing the joint agreement at the lower financing level, since there would be less ground to cover and a greater focus on the schools, residents, and businesses in town.

With only two square miles instead of over 20, Dittenber said, it would save the city on fuel and car maintenance costs. Road quality is a concern for the police car as well, he added.

“City streets mean less wear and tear than a country road,” Dittenber said.

The council also discussed hiring a part time officer for a few months out of the year, but did not reach a decision at this time.

If a consensus between AuGres and Sims Township can be reached prior to July 1, the council retains the power to retract their letter of intent and continue the joint agreement.

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