Budget, and OPD decision on the table

by Peter Jakey-managing Editor

A public hearing is scheduled as part of Monday’s Onaway City Commission meeting. The board will consider adoption of the 2013-14 fiscal budget, which begins April 1.

Part of the budget discussion could include final approval of a proposed agreement with the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Department (PISD) to allow Onaway Police Department (OPD) chief James Gibson join the county law enforcement agency as a deputy. There would no longer be an an OPD.

The city would pay the county an agreed-upon sum. As soon as an opening occurs within the sheriff’s department, through retirement or by other means, Gibson would be rolled into that opening and the city would no longer responsible for the payment. The county would not be obligated to add another deputy to continue coverage in the city.

City manager Joe Hefele said in February that the city could consider employing chief Gibson for part time duties for additional patrol and local ordinance enforcement, when he’s not working for the sheriff’s department. The agreement was not ready for approval at the last city commission meeting.

City officials are attempting to close a budget shortfall of approximately $50,000 for the new fiscal year, which has been in place for the last several years. The city explored the option of raising taxes to keep the one-man police force. However, a recent city survey indicated only 30 percent of respondents approved of additional four mills. The city is reporting a loss of $80,000 in operating capital since 2008.

At the most recent city commission meeting, the board endorsed the proposed law enforcement agreement with the county, but still has not voted on the shared law enforcement plan.

Residents and business owners have attended meetings since the beginning of the year to voice their support for the Onaway Police Department and the need to keep chief Gibson employed and on duty in the city.

A newly formed group, Concerned Citizens for a Safer Community, is circulating petitions in support of OPD.

If Gibson joined the sheriff’s department, he would become one of four members of the sheriff’s department to live in, or just outside of Onaway.

If the shared law enforcement plan is approved it would free up money right away, said Hefele at a February meeting. “Most importantly, it frees up the funds we need to fix the infrastructure that must be fixed.”

Monday’s commission meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.