Preparedness

Byron Township Hires Consultant to Examine Police, Fire and Emergency Services

'You're looking at how you interface all three of these services - police, fire and emergency management services.'

by Logan T. Hansen, The Grand Rapids Press, Mich. / August 20, 2018

(TNS) - Trustees in Byron Township have decided to bring in an independent consultant who will analyze police, fire and EMS services in an effort to shape the township's approach to public safety over the next 10 years.

With a 5-2 decision at a meeting held Aug. 13, the Township Board tapped McGrath Consulting Group, a firm out of Wonder Lake, Illinois, to perform that independent analysis, a process that will take place over a five-month period. The contract is worth $45,000.

Public Safety Director Todd Szakacs, who was charged with looking into potential consultants, recommended McGrath for the job based partly on the firm's familiarity with other West Michigan municipalities.

"They're currently doing a compensation study for Kent County," Szakacs said. "They've worked with the Village of Sparta, Coopersville, Allendale Township, Benton Township and the city of Walker.

According to McGrath's proposal, the firm will carry out its analysis in an interactive way where consultants will be speaking with township officials and community stakeholders to help develop a plan with specific recommendations for police, fire and EMS services.

The analytical approach includes reviewing contracts, staffing arrangements, ownership issues as they relate to fire department buildings and facilities; gathering data on best practices and potential department restructuring outcomes; and preparing an implementation plan that will wrap everything together and attempt to achieve the desired end result through a series of logical phase-in steps.

While a couple trustees balked at the $45,000 price tag that McGrath's services come with -- Szakacs had initially estimated that an independent consultant might run the township something like $15,000 -- a majority of the board felt hiring a consultant was a step in the right direction.

"I've been trying to get some sort of vision consultant to look at where we are going for public safety for quite a while," Trustee Tim Slot said. "I think this is a great step in the right direction, especially since we've got all this growth.

"I think this is where we are going to have to focus our efforts in the future as we grow and as we try to get a handle on where the township is going and what we value most as far as our public safety."

Township Treasurer Carol Houseman and Trustee Bill DeBoer were inclined to agree with Slot.

"I think this is long overdue, and compared to our entire budget and what we spend, it's well worth $45,000," DeBoer said. "You're looking at how you interface all three of these services - police, fire and emergency management services.

"So you're looking at coverage, you're looking at maybe there's police that could respond to certain emergencies that maybe fire or ambulance is responding to right now," he said. "I think it's well worth taking a look at all three services."

While he liked the idea of a consultant looking at fire and EMS services within the township, Supervisor Tom Hooker, who ultimately voted no on the proposal along with Trustee Louise Evans, said he did not see how the township would benefit from an analysis of police services.

Byron contracts with the Kent County Sheriff's Department for police services and doesn't have much control over how patrol cars or any other matters are handled, he argued, other than to increase or decrease the level of service the township receives.

Half of the cost of the analysis McGrath will perform will be dedicated to looking at police services, the firm's proposal shows, while the rest of the funds will be dedicated to looking at fire and EMS combined.

"When we're contracting with the county sheriff's department and we don't have control over how they function, other than to pay them for that service, I would think that looking at fire and EMS is a smarter way to go and not spend the extra $23,000 for the sheriff evaluation when really the only two choices we have are the precinct plan ... and hiring an additional deputy," Hooker said.

"I really question what benefit we would get from going to an evaluation for $20,000-some dollars of the sheriff's deputies that are already governed by Kent County."

With the possibility of forming a police precinct to share KCSD services with Gaines Township still on the table and tensions over the joint management of the Cutlerville Fire Department, however, a majority of trustees felt that looking at all three emergency services would be worthwhile.

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