Residents get their say on police

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Stacy Vogel
Monday, October 20, 2008
— Milton Township voters will get their say on Election Day about an issue that has divided the town board for two years.

In two referendum questions, voters can say whether they support eliminating the town's police department and court system.

The referendum is non-binding, meaning the town board is not obligated to take action on the outcome of the vote.

Referendum supporters say the police department is a duplication of services the town can't afford. Opponents say the department provides a valuable service to the town.

The Town of Milton Police Department consists of three part-time officers who serve about 20 hours a month and a part-time chief, Tom Kunkel. Kunkel told a committee appointed to study the police department that he works about 1,300 hours a year or 25 hours a week.

That would put an officer on duty about 23 percent of the time.

But Sue Gavigan, a town board member and referendum proponent, said officers patrolled only 14.8 percent of the time in 2007 between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 1.3 percent of the time between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. She calculated the numbers from time and payroll sheets, she said.

"Our officers work on a when-they-can basis," she wrote in an e-mail to The Janesville Gazette. "Rock County Sheriff's Department serves us 24/7."

Gavigan said the police department cost residents $6,700 in 2007 and more than $80,000 over four years.

But Town Chairman Bryan Meyer said the police department is worth the expense because it enforces town ordinances, something the sheriff's office does not do. He said he often asks Kunkel to visit residents who are violating ordinances to try to resolve the issue without citations or court actions.

"It's just one more tool just to maintain peace and laws," he said.

Gavigan said the town could use a part-time enforcement officer instead of a police department to enforce ordinances. In fact, the town pays Kunkel $1,000 a year to be ordinance enforcement officer.

Meyer said he doesn't believe relying on an enforcement officer will bring much savings after paying the officer and processing costs.

Gavigan disagrees. She said other town boards usually handle ordinance violations by sending letters to residents first and then bringing in enforcement officers on a per-diem or part-time basis. Most enforcement officers are paid between $1,000 and $2,000 a year, she said.

"It would save a significant amount, I really believe," she said.

Last updated: 10:41 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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