NEW MADISION — A Village of New Madison Council meeting took place Tuesday, Jan. 10, which gave residents an opportunity to voice their concerns about the recent closing of the police department.
One of the longest debates was between former Police Sgt. Mike Lewis and some council members. Some of the complaints from Lewis stemmed from events that occurred at the council’s year-end meeting Dec. 9, 2016. On that date, the council entered into a proposed contract with the Darke County Sheriff’s Office for 45 hours per week of police protection. The result was the disbanding of the New Madison Police Department and the layoff of all department personnel. Lewis and other village residents complained that they were unaware of the decision.
“They should have been made aware of the financial situation and the reasons why the issue came up to begin with, but you and council chose not to do that,” Lewis said to Mayor Lisa Garland.
“The situation was discussed in open council,” Garland replied.
New Madison resident Ed Jay told Garland that she failed by not notifying people of the situation.
“That is your job and why you are sitting on that side of the table,” he said.
According to council member Jeremiah Doolin, the plan was not to get rid of the police department and that the decision was strictly financial.
“I’m not making light of that situation, whatsoever,” Mayor Garland said.
“You went directly to the vote, and everybody voted and we were like the movie, “Gone in 60 Seconds,” Lewis said. “People here that live or own property in the village, regardless of which side of the coin they are on, had no opportunity to voice their opinion. I don’t think there was anybody outside the village council that knew it was going to be discussed that night.”
Council member Nancy Hill said the decision was reluctant. Jay explained that a letter sent to New Madison residents on January 2, alluded to the fact that despite the disbanding of the police department, the village had law enforcement coverage. Darke County Sheriff Toby Spencer was in attendance at the meeting and said there is no contract yet.
“You should have said, in the letter, that it will be enacted at such and such date,” Jay said to Garland. “You could have kept two officers on out of the four, until the Sheriff’s department took over.”
According to Garland, the Sheriff’s Office is patrolling the village. Lewis went on to explain that he thought the numbers for the police department budget were inflated from the budget the New Madison Police Department submitted at the Nov. 7, 2016 meeting.
According to Garland, at that council meeting, Former Chief of Police Chester Banks presented a proposed police department budget for 2017 for approximately $69,000. At the end of 2016, the police department had spent $89,900, Garland said. Hours were cut from the department at the end of the summer by 22. The reduction in those hours allowed 55 to 58 hours per week for the entire department, which consisted of four part-time paid officers, and one auxiliary officer, Garland added.
Garland said the council was presented with, several additional expenses that were not included within the $69,000 police department budget submitted. The county – wide changeover to the Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (or MARCS) was going to be a substantial expense for the department, as was the addition of Spillman, the computer-aided dispatch system, she said.
“We were also informed at that time that more training hours were required for police officers in 2017, adding even more expense,” Garland said in an earlier statement. “The council was told at that time by the chief it would be difficult to keep the department going in 2017.”
Lewis explained some of how he thought the submitted budget was inflated.
“The budget we submitted was realistic, and was down around $69,000. We were told the department spent $89,000 in 2016. But, what you didn’t say was the rest of the story. That of that 89,000 you started deducting things that aren’t going to be payed in 2017. For example, the expense of the cruiser, those kinds of things brought the figure down.”
Council member Patty Jackson responded to Lewis.
“I’ve been a staunch supporter of our police department I did not want to get rid of you guys,” she said. “What got me and switched me over was the Chief [Banks] standing there telling us, and maybe I took it wrong, but that’s how I took it, that he could not and didn’t desire to run this police department unless we fork over more money,” she said.
According to Garland, Banks was asked how much millage the village would need to be put on a levy to cover the department and he said 10 mil. In an earlier statement, Garland said the cost of the contract with the Sheriff’s Office is $69,686.88 per year, which is an approximate savings of $20,000 from what was spent on police protection in 2016. In addition, the village will not be paying for training, insuring the officers or vehicles, uniforms, radios, two cell phone lines or vehicle maintenance, she said.
“I am going to have to supplement my staff to cover the hours here,” Sheriff Spencer said.” And to do that, I figured that pretty much of the lowest rate I could possibly give you being able to supplement my staff. So, you can cut the hours, but I can’t cut the pay. I’ve got to bring a guy on.”
Lewis argued the point that if the Village can afford the Sheriff’s Office, they could have afforded the police department. Hill said she was going to have a problem voting on a three-year contract with the Sheriff’s Office.
“That came out of the blue to us,” she said. “We were told one year. I understand that the county commissioners are responsible for the Sheriff’s department. But they are not responsible for the village residents. If halfway or three quarters of the way through the year, we all decide this really didn’t work and we do need to go back to a full -time police department, I don’t think there is anybody in here that would have a hard time doing that.”
According to Spencer, there are options in the contract.
“My only reason for putting three years is, I’m going to have to supplement my manpower and I’m not going to go out here and hire somebody for one year,” he said. “I guess, it’s a win-win situation, if it all works out – or if it doesn’t, we’ll work through it. I can’t go anymore than five years and I wouldn’t want to go that far. That is one of the big sticking points that I saw. And when the mayor and I talked, I had no idea that you were going to say, ‘OK we are going to vote on this’. I just sent it down as a generic proposal that I threw together real quick. The figures were right, but the verbiage needed updated. That’s the reason that part was changed.”
As far as a date when the contract will be enacted, Spencer was not sure.
“It’s with my legal council, and if you deal with attorneys you know how long that takes,” he said.
Garland hopes it will be settled by the first February council meeting.