Does Milton Township need a police department?
Now that she’s on the board herself, she’s still singing the same tune.
“I would be happy to pay for it if it was for our safety,” she said. “It’s not a safety issue.”
Gavigan believes most of the duties of the four-officer department could be performed by the Rock County Sheriff’s Department. In fact, the sheriff’s department is performing many of those duties now by patrolling the township when the local department isn’t in service, she said.
The town department rarely patrols at night or during high-traffic holidays, she said.
Currently, the department is down to just two officers, Chief Tom Kunkel said. It has one opening, and another officer isn’t working because of an injury.
All the officers hold full-time jobs with other law enforcement agencies. They work at the town police department when they can, typically at least 20 hours a month, Kunkel said.
The department serves an important function in the town, Kunkel said. It enforces town ordinances that the sheriff’s department doesn’t have jurisdiction over, such as junk vehicles, recycling and zoning, he said.
The Town of Milton Police Department and departments in Fulton, Turtle and Beloit townships also take some of the pressure off the sheriff’s department, Kunkel said.
“That takes areas of their responsibility away so they (the sheriff’s department) can keep track of areas of the county that don’t have police departments,” he said.
But the town police department forces town residents to pay twice because they already contribute toward the sheriff’s department, said Gail Slepekis, another town board member.
“We pay for it in the county taxes already,” she said.
Slepekis and Gavigan estimate the town could save at least $9,000 a year by eliminating the police department and court. That’s how much more the town will pay for the department this year than the town will take in through fines and forfeitures, they said.
In other years, the difference has been much greater, they said. By examining past annual reports, they’ve calculated the town spent $70,000 more on the police department than it took in between 2004 and 2006, they said.
In recent years, the town bought a new squad car and remodeled the department’s office space.
Slepekis and Gavigan believe they can find cheaper ways to enforce city ordinances, such as hiring a code enforcer on a per diem basis and having board members enforce zoning violations themselves.
Town Chairman Bryan Meyer said he’s not sure about Slepekis and Gavigan’s numbers, but he thinks it’s worth a few thousand dollars to keep the police department and court.
“My position is we get enough value from these expenditures to justify the costs,” he said.
For example, Meyer often asks Kunkel to visit residents who are violating ordinances to convince them to comply, he said. If the police department wasn’t available, he would have to haul those residents into civil court.
“At some point in the past, the municipality and the township believed they needed these services,” he said. “I believe it’s radical to dispose of that without questioning why it was put there in the first place.”