While the door is still open, there's still plenty of daylight between law-enforcement sharing proposals the City of Armstrong and Emmet County exchanged early this week.
The Armstrong City Council Monday night turned down a proposal by Emmet County Sheriff Mike Martens to take over law enforcement for the city. Under the proposal, Martens would hire Armstrong Police Chief Craig Merrill and acquire police department property, including Armstrong's squad car, in exchange for outstanding dispatching fees the city stopped paying mid-2012.
Martens Tuesday morning outlined to the supervisors his proposal to Armstrong. He said after meeting with Armstrong Mayor Greg Buum and council members Rhett Hiney and Adrian Hagebock April 14, three goals were noted:
n Getting Merrill time off.
n Lowering Armstrong's cost of law enforcement.
n Giving Armstrong 24-hour coverage for less than the city's paying now.
Martens said his proposal met all three criteria.
Martens said his proposal would do away with the 5 percent dispatch fee Armstrong was paying the county, or $870 a month. He would transfer Merrill laterally into the sheriff's office, lowering Armstrong's total cost for law enforcement coverage from $105,000 to $77,270 a year, saving the city $25,000 to $30,000.
He said that would mean a 40-hour work week for Merrill and still give Armstrong 24-hour coverage, including 20 hours of patrol time. There would be no extra cost for providing coverage for Armstrong special events, Martens said. And he said Armstrong would no longer pay the 5 percent dispatching fee.
Martens said that under the proposed agreement he would waive the outstanding dispatching fee by acquiring Armstrong's equipment, including the squad car, also lowering his own startup costs. He said he would in turn expect Armstrong to provide Merrill office space.
Martens said the City of Armstrong would also be responsible for any cost of living and health insurance increases for Merrill.
Merrill's salary would be the same as other entry-level deputies with similar qualifications, or $44,000 yearly, said Martens, or the same offered to the last three deputies he's hired. Armstrong would pay the county quarterly installments, Martens said.
"This provides an opportunity to cover all their public safety needs for $25,000 or $30,000 less than what they spend currently," Martens said.
Supervisor Bev Juhl noted the arrangement would also remove the county's burden of buying a new patrol car.
Martens agreed that would be the case, and that he would not be charging an administrative fee.
"This has to happen," said Martens. "It has to happen for Emmet County. It has to happen for the City of Armstrong."
Supervisor Jon Martyr said an advantage of Martens' proposal would be that it would add a deputy to the already labor-strapped sheriff's office.
"We need another deputy now," said Martyr. "I think this helps in that manner too."
"I think we've met the goals and I think it's an opportunity," Martens said.
Merrill told the supervisors Tuesday that at Monday night's council meeting the council had decided not to go with the county's proposal and that the city had drafted a counter-proposal.
In a copy of the proposal Merrill gave the supervisors, the council cited other duties Merrill performs now, including those of certified water operator, certified pool operator, assisting with snow removal, assisting with garbage pickup and helping with street maintenance.
The city's proposal offered two options: one for an agreed-upon hourly rate or a contract similar to what the city had with the county previously, with a monthly fee agreed upon by both parties. Under the previous agreement, the city paid the county $1,000 a month plus the 5 percent dispatching fee.
Despite the differences in proposals, Merrill said Armstrong was still interested in meeting with the county.
"The doors are open here," agreed supervisor Ron Smith.
Martyr said it was difficult for Martens to schedule around Merrill's schedule. "That's my point on it. I think it would be a scheduling nightmare," Martyr said.
Martens agreed, saying he did not have enough resources now. "Our problem becomes geography," said Martens.
According to the Emmet County Auditor's office, the City of Armstrong has $14,361.13 in dispatching fees outstanding.
Armstrong has disputed those fees, citing a June 4, 2012 letter terminating the 1983 dispatching agreement between the city and the county.
Martens ended the county's dispatching agreement with Armstrong over the disputed fees in December and the law enforcement agreement later in January.
Armstrong now uses Kossuth County for dispatching, with no law-enforcement relief for Merrill.
Martens stressed to the supervisors at Tuesday's board meeting that the sheriff's office continues to respond to emergencies in Armstrong.