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Published: Tuesday, 10/27/2009

Telb defends deputies


HOLLAND - Lucas County Sheriff Jim Telb defended the merits of his department before Springfield Township residents recently, as the township trustees have threatened the county's $2.3 million bill for road patrols by favoring an alternative bid from Holland Police.

A crowd of at least 100 residents packed a presentation on the issue Oct. 21, filling the seats, crowding in the doorways and lining the walls of Springfield Township Hall.

Sheriff Telb told the group that no other police department could rival his deputies' knowledge of their community.

"They don't know the streets, they don't know who the thugs are, they don't know where they live," the sheriff told the crowd.

Sheriff Telb pointed to the emergency response of the Oct. 4 fire at Hidden Cedars Condominium complex that left 34 homeless, to refute claims that the deputies could be called away for a nonemergency call somewhere else.

"It has to be life-threatening before we'll take them away," the sheriff said.

In the case of the fire, he said, the township benefited from the aid of adjacent fire departments and his deputies across the county.

"We had six units there and we even paid overtime to have officers come in. We've never scrimped when we had people's lives at stake, when we had crime at stake," Sheriff Telb said.

In June, the sheriff told the county's townships that his office would soon charge for patrols and dispatching. If the townships do not pay, the sheriff's office will respond only to life-threatening emergency calls as of Jan. 1.

The new charges could raise $5.1 million a year for the county. The sheriff's office used township population to calculate the bills, which would work out to about $109 per township resident.

Springfield Township voters will face a three-year, 4.5-mill levy to raise about $2.5 million a year for police services. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $137 per year.

Without the cash from the levy, the sheriff's department would only respond to life-threatening emergency calls in the township.

"If the levy doesn't pass, this is a moot point," Holland Mayor Michael Yunker said.

The mayor acknowledged concerns from some residents worried that police services could help Holland swallow up the township in annexation.

"We're not here to leverage annexation, which I've heard so many times it makes my head spin," Mayor Yunker said.

Since the Springfield Township Board of Trustees received their bill from the county - about five times the amount they currently budget to keep one sheriff's deputy on patrol - the township has shopped around for other bids.

A bid from the Holland Police is now on the table.

The Springfield Trustees voted 2-1 in August - with trustee Marylin Yoder dissenting - to approve a resolution in support of Holland's plan. The decision would not be binding until a contract is signed.

The police department would hire new officers and expand its operations to serve Springfield, Holland Mayor Mike Yunker said.

The village police started advertising positions in August and are now interviewing from the pool of 120 prospective officers who have already applied, Mayor Yunker said.

"These are experienced full-time road patrol officers," the mayor said of the applicants. "These aren't going to be rookie officers with no training."

The sheriff criticized the effort to expand the Holland Police department, and emphasized that the county already has the necessary resources to serve Springfield Township.

"We don't have to go out and buy anything," the sheriff said. "We don't have to hire any officers."

The plans from both sides are comparable - both would dedicate three patrol officers to the township day and night.

Holland would charge $2.6 million next year, $2.4 million in 2011, and $2.5 million in 2012 - or $7.5 million for the first three years.

Those police fees could reach $3.4 million if the township wants to expand services, according to a spreadsheet provided to the township trustees by Mayor Yunker.

The county would charge $2.3 million next year, $2.7 million in 2011, and $2.9 million in 2012 - or $7.9 million for the initial few years.

Estimates beyond the third year of county service were unavailable last week.

Trustee Andy Glenn said he was skeptical of the county's numbers, and worried the township would be charged more than what was written.

Mr. Glenn asked the sheriff what would happen if the township contracted with Holland but refused to pay the county the dispatching charges.

"I expect we'd be in some type of litigation," Sheriff Telb said.

The sheriff also accused township administrator Leslie Kohli and trustee chairman Bob Bethel of exaggerating his estimates of patrol service costs when the officials were guests on local radio and television broadcasts before the Oct. 21 meeting.

Mr. Bethel apologized, acknowledging he'd mistakenly shared incorrect numbers on a radio broadcast.

"I was trying to do it from memory," Mr. Bethel said.

Ms. Kohli blamed the mistake on the sheriff. She said the county's estimate had been unclear, and thus added the estimated cost of dispatching to the total during interviews with local television reporters.

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