Police chief considers retirement to 'save department'

EVART – After recent discussions on police service consolidation in the City of Evart, Police Chief Zack Szakacs said he would rather consider retiring than dismantling the police department.

“I will retire in January from police chief if it would save my department,” Szakacs said.

The idea stemmed from a meeting Szakacs had with Osceola County Sheriff Jim Crawford on April 18 to discuss police consolidation.

Crawford told Szakacs, who also serves as city manager, that if consolidation with the city and the sheriff’s department took place, three employees would be hired to patrol the city of Evart. The three current Evart Police Department employees would not be guaranteed to be the ones hired, however.

Mayor Eric Schmidt, who was absent from the meeting April 2 when the council instructed Szakacs to meet with Crawford to discuss consolidation, said he is opposed to the idea.

“I don’t think we should dissolve the Evart police department,” Schmidt said. “Once you lose that local control, it’s hard to get it back.”

Schmidt said he has not spoken to any citizens who thought the consolidation was a good idea and department employees are angry because they were not given any warning about the potential consolidation and now are writing resumes and looking for other jobs to prepare for the potential consolidation.

Councilman Gregg Sherman, who was for the exploring of the consolidation at the beginning, said when the idea was first proposed he thought consolidation would not mean any job loss.

“This was about saving jobs for the police department,” Sherman said.

The consolidation was considered in order to cut costs in the city’s 2012-13 budget, which was approved Monday.

The budget was balanced through $51,000 extra from state revenue sharing due to the Economic Vitality Incentive Program, cuts to the Department of Public Works after the retirement of sewer plant operator Jim Ward and consolidation of his job responsibilities, and an $18,000 savings from eliminating a part-time position from the police department.

Szakacs salary comes from four department funds - city hall, water, sewer and police department. His retirement from police chief would save $18,600, which currently comes from the police department budget.

Szakacs said if he retired from the position, he would recommend that the council offer the job of police chief to Deputy Chief Kendra Backing, with the deputy chief’s position not being filled. This would solve the problem of the department being “too top heavy,” Szakacs said.

The police committee will meet and discuss if exploring consolidation should continue and if so, come up with a reasonable dollar amount to offer to pay the sheriff’s department for consolidation.

In other business, the council:

n discussed the hiring of four seasonal workers to help the Department of Public Works with cemetery maintenance, brush pickup and other duties for eight to 10 weeks;

n recognized the planting of 21 trees in Riverside West Park on Arbor Day and the opening of new aquatic business PLM Lake and Land Management in the Evart air industrial park.

The next city council meeting will be at 7 p.m. on May 21 at the Evart Depot.