Evart police may reduce service

EVART — To decrease expenses and balance the budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, Evart is exploring police service consolidation with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department.

Mayor pro-tem Casey Keyser proposed the idea at the meeting Monday

“Given the current budgeting crisis, I’m recommending that we look into opportunities to consolidate policing with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department,” Keyser said.

The Evart Police Department currently has a budget of $330,000, which includes a $40,000 yearly police grant from the state. The expenditure is 36 percent of the city’s annual budget, and covers operating expenses and part or all of the salaries of five employees: Police Chief Zack Szakacs, Deputy Chief Kendra Backing, Officer Michelle Gebben, K-9 Patrol Sargeant John Beam Jr. and administrative assistant Erin Lutke.

If the OCSD absorbed the city department, consolidation could take many different forms. The sharing could be as simple as sharing police training services or contracting county deputies for a number of hours per week. The city police station could become a substation for the county and current Evart police employees could be hired by the county or new officers might be hired for the Evart area.

“I think the thought process is good and a discussion should be had with the Osceola County,” said city attorney Jim White.

The city’s charter currently states that a police chief must be employed by the city. In order to consolidate with the county, White said the city would have to keep the police chief position or rewrite the charter.

Szakacs, who is also the Evart city manager, sees some flaws in the idea of consolidating services.

“It saves thousands of dollars, but you lose your local control,” Szakacs said at the council meeting.

He is concerned that the community will lose fast protection and the local connection of having a city police force at local events and parades, including Memorial Day events and the yearly National Night Out, which draws around 700 people to the area.

The decision to explore consolidation opportunities with the county is one the city has been considering for years. Though benefits of having a local police department would be lost if a contract was established, councilmen agree that consolidating may be a good option to balance the city’s budget.

“You’re going to have to give up some control when you talk about consolidation,” Keyser said.

Councilman Greg Sherman said city and county police consolidations in other parts of the state have resulted in a “a win-win situation” for both parties.

Szakacs will meet with Osceola County Sheriff Jim Crawford to discuss the issue.  A decision must be made and the budget balanced before the City’s 2012-13 fiscal year starts on July 1.

In other business, the council:

  • scheduled a work session for Wed. April 11 to select one of four contracts with businesses or individuals with a sewer plant operator license after former operator Jim Ward suddenly retired April 2;
  • passed a resolution to recognize April 27 as Arbor Day;
  • amended the city’s current computer/internet policy to include social media parameters;

The next meeting of Evart City Council will be on Monday, April 16 at 7 p.m. at the Evart depot.