ALPENA - The question has always been asked by local governing officials and citizens if it is feasible to have two police stations within two miles of each other, and if it would be more economically responsible to combine them into one entity.
According to a report issued by Alpena City Interim Police Chief Joel Jett, the joining of the two departments could have more negative impacts and logistical challenges than economical benefits.
Jett, along with Alpena County Sheriff Steve Kieliszewski and other senior officers, researched the pros and cons of combining the departments and revealed their findings Monday to the Alpena Municipal Council. Jett informed the council that the departments can combine certain aspects of business, such as purchases and sharing fuel costs, however, the specific duties and responsibilities outlined by state and local statute are different from one another and would make merging forces difficult and potentially costly.
After Jett's report and recommendation, Councilman Dave Karchnick put forth a motion to table the issue for five years or indefinitely in order to help show support to local police, who have been negatively affected by the consideration. The motion didn't receive the needed support to force a vote, and the motion died.
Karschnick said consolidation talk has been around for years, and it is time to move on to other business.
"I think this should just go away, period," Karschnick said. "The sheriff and the police chief don't want it, and it is affecting morale with the officers, who wonder if they should be looking for work in an environment more stable for police. Maybe 10, 15, 20 years down the road it may work, but as far as right now, I just don't think it would be good in any way."
Councilman Mike Nunneley said he was pleased by how the two departments came together to investigate the issue and that even though it appears consolidation isn't necessarily the answer now, it should remain a consideration moving forward.
"I think anything pertaining to the budget moving forward is always going to be up for consideration," Nunneley said. "There still could be a day down the road when consolidation could be the better option than slashing certain budgets or budget restraints. If revenue suddenly changes, then our entire paradigm would change, and instead of cutting and consolidating, we may have to build and add personnel. It is all about revenue and expenses, it is all about meeting your obligation as a municipality and budget expectations, and for me for us to set aside that responsibility might feel good, but at the end of the day it would really be tying our hands from a budget standpoint. I think we have to keep all of our options open."
Mayor Matt Waligora said even though Karschnick's motion was never voted, he believes the majority of the council accepted Jett's report and recommendation. He said if it hadn't, a vote in the other direction could have occurred.
"In my opinion, it must have convinced the majority of the board that it is not feasible, because if it was, I expect someone would have made a motion to pursue it," Waligora said. "I don't see this happening any time soon, but you never know about 10 to 15 years down the road. It is not always about whether we should consolidate or not, but the fact that we need to investigate and talk about it. If we don't, how will we ever know if it is going to be good for the city or not?"
Nunneley said despite Jett's report against consolidation, there was a benefit to the county and the city researching the issue. He said the talks increased lines of communication between the two parties even further than what they had been previously.
"It opened up dialogue, and dialogue never hurt anyone, and talking to each other about what can be done to save the city, county and township a lot of money I think is huge strides compared to where things were five years ago.We have incredible officers, and they have heard about budget constraints from the city and county for many years and yet they go out and are basically our line of defense.
"It is wonderful to know that a 911 call in the City of Alpena has a response time that is absolutely incredible. At the end of the day, government's primary function is health, safety and welfare, and we have great folks that work in our departments who I feel do a great job of providing that."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.