ROGERS CITY - Presque Isle County Commissioners approved a deal Friday between Onaway and the county Sheriff to provide extra patrol for the city now that it has eliminated its local police department.
The deal will give the city a minimum of 16 hours per week of patrol, on average, for one year. In exchange, the city will pay $25,000 per year. The contract will renew from year to year, unless either the city or county gives notice of their intent to withdraw.
By eliminating its police department, Onaway officials will cut $82,000 per year from its budget, not including the cost of the agreement with the county. The decision came as city commissioners figured out how to deal with a hole in the city's finances, one that had been plugged in the past by taking money from city street, sewer and water funds.
Eliminating Onaway Police Chief Jim Gibson's job has caused some backlash, and Onaway resident Judy Shaloy sought the help of others in circulating petitions to recall Onaway City Commissioners Chuck Abshagen and Jessie Horrocks. The question will appear on November's ballot in the city.
County Commissioners also had concerns about the plan. Mike Darga said Onaway will no longer have the police coverage it needs, and deputies will have to handle law enforcement in the city whether the county approves the contract or not. In the past, Gibson worked 40 hours a week and handled most law enforcement in the city.
Presque Isle County Sheriff Bob Paschke pointed out the city no longer has a police force, and he believes the contract will work for his force. Any village in the county could approach Paschke with a similar deal, as long as officials were willing to pay for the coverage.
"All the contract is saying, is the city of Onaway wants more hours of patrol," he said. "They're willing to pay for it, and that's what we're going to do. They want it, basically, at night-time hours, which we can do."
County and city officials negotiated for some time over the contract language, and Commission Board Chairman Carl Altman said he is concerned it isn't clear enough. The contract calls for the patrols to be primarily at night. He believed the word "primarily" had previously been omitted, and said there seemed to be a disconnect between the county's end of the discussion and the city's.
Paschke assured Altman his deputies could make the agreement work, and said regularly scheduled patrols deputies conduct currently will count toward the 16-hour minimum. Both he and Commissioner Steve Lang reminded Altman the county has the ability to get out of the contract if need be.
Altman also voiced his concern over whether $25,000 would cover the costs for the extra patrol, pointing out that wages for two deputies for a year of extra patrol totalled $32,000. This wouldn't cover vehicle costs, retirement or health care obligations, among other costs.
"With our budget being what it was this year, we're zeroed out on our budget as well, and I don't want to see the city of Onaway's budget problems become the county's budget problems," he said.
Ultimately, Darga said he wished the city had been able to work out a deal with Gibson, but thought the county should accept the deal.
"I'm still concerned about their welfare over there," he said. "Regardless of how I vote today, I'm hoping maybe in the near future we can get things ironed out between both parties."