Who would enforce the rules? Town police debate comes down to ordinances
Dirty, moldy leaves covered the driveway. A garbage bag full of empty beer bottles spilled onto the pavement in front of an old refrigerator.
“I think this is a summer home,” Town of Milton Police Chief Tom Kunkel muttered as he pulled up to the house near the start of his shift Monday afternoon.
After receiving no answer at the door, Kunkel checked the registration on a snowmobile sitting sideways on the driveway. He cautiously opened the refrigerator and was relieved to find it empty.
Kunkel had received a call about the home that morning. He planned to send a notice to the owner the next day giving him or her 30 days to move the snowmobile and take the doors off the abandoned refrigerator.
“It’s properties like this that we get our attention drawn to,” Kunkel said. “I refer to it as ‘unsightly properties.’”
And it’s such properties that might go unchecked if the town dissolves its police department and court, Kunkel said.
The town has debated eliminating its police department for years. Supervisor Sue Gavigan has argued it wastes money at a time when the town can’t afford to keep up its roads.
In April, residents at the annual town meeting voted 12-6 to hold a non-binding referendum to dissolve the police department and court.
Monday, Chairman Bryan Meyer appointed a citizens committee to research the police department and what would happen if it was dissolved. He recommends that the town hold a referendum in September, early enough to let the results guide the town board as it puts together next year’s budget.
Advocates for dissolving the department say the Rock County Sheriff’s Department offers the same services.
Town of Milton police officers are on duty about 140 hours a month, including patrol and administration time, Kunkel said. That includes about 20 hours a week for Kunkel and 20 hours a month for the other three part-time officers. That means an officer is on duty about 20 percent of the time.
The sheriff’s department, on the other hand, patrols the county, including Milton Township, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“I’m real confused as to why we need (the police department),” said Martha Martin, whose husband, Ronald, made the motion at the town meeting to hold a referendum. “It’s such a duplication of services with Rock County.”
But the sheriff’s department doesn’t enforce town ordinances, Kunkel said.
Kunkel and his department deal with unlicensed dogs, abandoned vehicles, burning violations and other matters under town jurisdiction.
The department also offers a personal touch for residents, Kunkel said. Later in his shift Monday, he was flagged down by Liz Dettinger, an active town resident who wanted to ask about possible ordinance violations in her neighborhood.
“I would like to see the patrol stay,” Dettinger said. “It just makes people more aware, and it just does a lot of things for the good of the neighborhood.”
Gavigan said the town could save thousands by hiring a code enforcer or having the town board enforce ordinances instead of using a police department.
For example, the town of Harmony employs a zoning officer who issues zoning permits and investigates possible ordinance violations, said Jodi Parson, Harmony town clerk. The town board decides on violators’ punishments.
Harmony pays its enforcer $3,000 a year, plus $15 for each zoning permit he issues, Parson said.
Milton also could contract with the sheriff’s department to enforce town ordinances and add extra patrols in the area, Sheriff Bob Spoden said.
The village of Footville contracts with the county to enforce ordinances and provide 100 hours of patrol time a month beyond what it would normally do in the village. The village runs violations through its municipal court.
The sheriff’s department contract costs Footville $53,000 a year, more than double the town of Milton’s police budget. A contract for Milton could be more or less depending on what the town wants, said Cmdr. Troy Knudson of the sheriff’s department.
The sheriff’s department isn’t taking sides in the town debate, Spoden said, but he’s confident his deputies could handle any calls from the township without additional manpower.
“Whatever the town of Milton thinks they need for their own comfort level, that’s fine,” he said. “The sheriff’s office will always be there, and we will use whatever resources we have to make sure residents are safe.”
Chairman Bryan Meyer appointed four Milton Township residents to a “police and court system referendum committee” Monday.
-- David Bertagnoli, 6008 N. Greenvale Drive, Milton.
-- Beth Drew, 8215 N. Ridge Trail, Milton.
-- Larry Clift, 3300 E. Manogue Road, Milton.
-- Scott Barker, 1620 E. Road Five, Edgerton.
The committee will gather facts about the town police department and court in anticipation of a possible referendum on dissolving them, Meyer wrote in a memo. He hopes the committee can make a report by June 2 and no later than July 1, he wrote.
The committee will not make decisions or offer opinions, Meyer said. The town board will decide when and if to hold a referendum after receiving the report, though Meyer recommends a September referendum, he said.
Here are some of the questions the committee will answer, according to the memo:
-- What is the annual net cost of the town police department and municipal court for each of the last four years?
-- How many hours has the police department dedicated annually to serving the town? How many of these are patrol hours?
-- What days of the week and times of day do officers patrol? How much time do they spend on tasks assigned by the town chairman, and how much time do they spend in response to calls from residents?
-- What other functions does the police chief perform? What alternatives does the town have for these functions?
-- What costs would the town incur for increased patrolling from the Rock County Sheriff’s Department?
-- What options does the town have to address town ordinance violations? What do these options cost?
How much does the police department cost?
Town of Milton Supervisor Sue Gavigan estimates that the town spent about $9,000 more than it took in on its police department and court system in 2007.
Chief Tom Kunkel puts the number at just over $3,000.
Who is right? That depends on what numbers you use.
According to the town’s 2007 revenue and expenditure statement, the town spent $20,593 on its police department and $17,372 on its court for a total of $37,965.
It took in $33,986 in fines and $810 in a state law enforcement grant, totaling $34,796.
Thus, the town spent $3,169 more than it took in.
But the police department entry doesn’t include the cost of insurance, vehicle depreciation or the police department phone line at town hall dedicated to the department, Gavigan said.
Insurance costs are a separate line on the town’s financial statement.
The town spent a total of $3,161 in law enforcement insurance in 2007, said Rob Krohlow, account executive with The Horton Insurance Group. That includes:
-- $540 for worker compensation insurance.
-- $1,171 for auto insurance.
-- $1,375 for liability insurance.
-- $75 for portable equipment insurance.
That brings the total expenditures to $41,126, which is $6,330 more than the town took in.
Gavigan estimates with vehicle depreciation and the phone line, the difference is more like $9,000.
“It sounds like a small amount—$9,000 is a small amount—but $9,000 in four years is (almost) $40,000,” she said.