ERIE - Nine years ago when Tony Konopka joined the Erie Township police department there were seven officers working under Chief Bill Hines.
The department ranks have dwindled to just Mr. Konopka and two part-time officers as the township board curtailed spending to offset declining state revenue-sharing and property tax values.
A downsized department is among the challenges confronting Mr. Konopka, the newly appointed police chief.
"The department got bigger. Now we have dropped and it is lower than when I started," he said.
The township board approved the promotion of Chief Konopka on Oct. 13 by a 4-1 vote. Trustee Mike Grodi cast the dissenting vote.
The vacancy was created when Chief Hines retired after certain township officials gave him an ultimatum to agree to a new employee contract or he would be fired. Mr. Hines had been chief of the department since 1998.
Chief Konopka, 36, who had been acting chief since June 1, said he is ready for the challenges of directing operations of the small department under a tight budget.
He said he will patrol the roads as much as he can while taking on the other responsibilities of the chief's job.
"I am trying to do something every day. I am trying to patrol, enforce blight ordinances, and work traffic enforcement," he said.
The 36-square-mile jurisdiction of the department extends beyond land into the Lake Erie and Turtle Island.
Officers Darrell and Dean Ansel, who are brothers, will each put in 36 hours a week.
Chief Konopka, who will be paid $48.500 a year, joined the department in March, 2000. A native of Riverview, Mich., he previously worked for the Carleton Police Department and as a security officer at the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant.
He said he decided to embark on a career in law enforcement after joining Woodhaven Police Department's Explorer program while attending high school.
"The program really gives you an idea of what police work is all about," he said.
Chief Konopka was named Michigan Police Officer of the Year in 2005 for pulling back a woman who was attempting to jump from the Sterns Road overpass into traffic on southbound I-75 in September, 2004.
A bulk of the police department budget is paid with a 1-mill property tax levy. Voters in May renewed the millage for another 10 years, generating about $140,000 annually.
The township supplements the rest of the nearly $400,000 annual budget with public and private improvement funds from landfill fees.
In March, officers and the police department secretary were removed from the township group pension fund, freeing up extra money for department operations.
Chief Konopa said he wants to explore getting the employees back into a pension plan.
"My goal is to definitely try to get a pension back for the department and officers. Officers cannot work without a pension," he said.
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