Village board votes to downsize North Hudson police dept.With only one dissenter, the North Hudson Village Board voted to lay off one of the five officers on its police department at a special meeting on March 20.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
With only one dissenter, the North Hudson Village Board voted to lay off one of the five officers on its police department at a special meeting on March 20.
Those voting for the layoff were board president George Klein and trustees Daryl Standafer, Marc Zappa, Stan Wekkin and Dan Ortner. Colleen O’Brien-Berglund voted no.
Klein told the Star-Observer that the topic of cutting the police department had been in discussion since September of 2011 in response to budget concerns. Village administrator Gloria Troester said that the state-shared revenues to North Hudson were cut by 25 percent for 2012 and were expected to remain the same in 2013. There was also a 10 percent cut in transportation aid. She added that village levies would only be allowed to increase based on the net value of new construction. Troester said that she expects to see increases in expenditures in the future including fuel costs and health insurance premiums.
The layoff could save the village an estimated $76,000 in salary, benefits and on-the job expenses including fuel, equipment, uniforms and training.
Klein said the move should not be interpreted as a criticism of the department or any of the officers in it. “This has nothing to do with one officer, any traffic stops or any arrests. It would be incorrect to assign any other reason for this action other than budgetary.”
The police department accounts for 31 percent of the village budget of which 88 percent is made up of salary and benefits.
According to meeting minutes, Standafer expressed concern about revenue cuts and redundancies in public services. He said the board should discuss the “long range vision of the police department.” Standafer ran unopposed in the village election earlier this week but had this to say in response to a candidate questionnaire.
“We are fortunate to have good officers and an excellent chief but the small department is unable to gain any economy of scale. We should give serious consideration to a merger of the North Hudson Police Department and the City of Hudson Police Department. A merger would save money, provide better coverage, and more cost-effective law enforcement.”
Zappa said he supported maintaining a village police department for the future. Wekkin said he hoped the future of the department would be addressed this year. In the same questionnaire Standafer completed, Wekkin described it this way. “I want to work to separate the ‘nice to haves’ (non-essentials) from the ‘need to haves’ (police, fire, roads, etc.) goods and services.”
Ortner suggested that more work needs to be done to determine the actual cost of outsourcing police services.
O’Brien-Berglund’s concern was less about the cost of the department and more about the role of police officers in the community. She noted the value in having officers working in the community who are well-known to residents and who are familiar with the people who live and work in the village.
Chief Mark Richert’s job will be directly affected by the officer layoff scheduled for to take effect the first of the year.
The department has five officers including the chief, Sgt. Mark Volz and three patrol officers. Earlier this year, the board voted to reduce the hours covered by the NHPD to 8.5 per day. Richert, who has been chief since 2005, said the layoff will means less coverage by a North Hudson officer during certain periods. It will also mean that as the only officer on duty most days, Richert will be taking calls for service himself which will mean less time for his administrative duties.
When there is no NHPD officer on duty, calls for service will be handled by the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Department. That could result in longer response times, depending on how far the deputies on duty in the county are from the village.
Richert said deputies will take the initial reports but follow up investigations will be handed off to his department. He believes some of the groundwork his department has laid in the community will be adversely affected when calls are handled by officers from outside the village and unfamiliar to residents. “We will continue to do what we can but our priority will have to be handling cases and we may not be as readily available as we have been in the past.”
He noted that special events like Pepper Fest and the two annual motorcycle runs will be impacted. “Being short an officer, we will have to ask for outside help,” said Richert.
Richert said he hoped that the village can find a way to increase its revenue to a point where department staffing can be returned to the level prior to the recent cuts.
He noted that in 2006 as part of the village’s comprehensive plan, a residents’ survey was taken and that 73 percent of respondents indicated they strongly agreed or agreed that they wanted their own police department.
He believes that is still true.