Hobart discusses police contract with Brown County
By Kevin Boneske
HOBART – The possibility of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office providing police services, instead of the village and the Town of Lawrence having a combined police department, generated about three hours of discussion at the Aug. 3 Hobart village board meeting.
Sheriff Todd Delain appeared before the board at the request of Village Administrator Aaron Kramer, who emailed Delain in January about the possibility of the sheriff’s office providing law enforcement services.
Kramer informed Delain the idea originated from preliminary discussions the board had about the 2021 budget.
The board considered adding a captain to the police department, but the position ended up not being included.
Hobart/Lawrence Police Chief Randy Bani proposed the position to have someone who would be second in charge in a supervisory position.
“That captain position would closely work with myself and would assist in the day-to-day operations and the management of the department, a second in charge, so to speak,” he said last year.
Bani said the fiscal impact of adding a captain would have been an annual salary of around $80,000, plus benefits.
Trustee Debbie Schumacher spoke against adding a captain’s position in addition to the police chief.
“I just can’t see us budgeting for a whole extra person,” she said during budget discussions.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Schumacher said the village faces rising costs, and she wanted to find out whether contracting with the sheriff’s office instead of having a police department might be a better financial decision.
“We’re starting to look at increases in supervision and maybe adding more officers – at some point, we have to add a police station – those are all larger costs,” she said. “If you’re going to look at switching to Brown County, I think now is a good time to look at it for planning purposes.”
After receiving the presentation from the sheriff’s office, Schumacher said the pros and cons can be looked at to see what’s best for Hobart and Lawrence.
Village President Rich Heidel requested the matter be on the board’s agenda Aug. 17 for possible action.
In his presentation to the board, Delain said the earliest any changes could happen to police services in Hobart would be 2022.
He said the sheriff’s office currently contracts with five municipalities in the county to provide police services: Howard, Suamico, Bellevue, Allouez and Denmark.
For him to support the sheriff’s office contracting for police service in Hobart and Lawrence, Delain said the staffing level would have to be as good or better than currently being utilized, as well as it making financial sense and providing the same level of customer service in Hobart and Lawrence.
“Those were three things that were really playing in my mind as I started this process and something that I made sure I focused in on to really analyze,” he said. “If it came out that our budget was significantly more expensive than what’s currently in place, we might be able to cut through this whole presentation a lot quicker, because there’s only so much money to go around.”
With the total annual budget of the Hobart/Lawrence Police Department around $1.5 million this year, Delain said the estimated amount for the sheriff’s office to provide police service for 2022 would be about the same.
“In short, the expenses associated with law enforcement will be very similar or possibly slightly less than what Hobart/Lawrence is currently budgeting,” he said.
Except for the Hobart/Lawrence police chief, who would not be retained with the sheriff’s office handling administrative duties, Delain said all the officers would have the opportunity to become sworn deputies of the sheriff’s office, with Hobart and Lawrence maintaining their identity and local direction through a partnership with the sheriff’s office.
He said officers would transition over to the sheriff’s office with an accelerated hiring process and keep their seniority within Hobart/Lawrence as well as their current duties.
Delain said he wouldn’t want the sheriff’s office to take over police service without allowing existing Hobart/Lawrence officers the opportunity to continue.
“As it’s proposed – to be crystal clear – it includes moving everybody except the police chief position (to the sheriff’s office),” he said.
Delain said the advantages of contracting with the sheriff’s office, which is typically done with a municipality over three years, include gaining the resources of a large and experienced law enforcement agency, maintaining local control and identity, increased supervision, current officers having more opportunities for growth and variety, a full-time training section, flexibility in the selection of services and keeping costs steady.
Delain said issues needing to be resolved before entering into a contract include the chief’s contract running through 2023, approval from the county board, an intergovernmental agreement between Hobart and Lawrence, a school resource officer contract with the West De Pere school district and address concerns the union contract with the sheriff’s office.
Kramer said Lawrence has the so-called “nuclear option” for law enforcement services provided in the village and town because it can require a two-year notice before the contract between the two municipalities can be terminated.
It was also noted during the meeting Lawrence did not request a proposal from the sheriff’s office for police service.
Hobart/Lawrence officers and police commission members were on hand to ask questions about the contract proposal.
Officer Sam Schroeder, who has worked seven years with Hobart/Lawrence Police Department, expressed concerns about seniority upon becoming a sheriff’s officer.
“The other concern I have is I applied to the Hobart/Lawrence Police Department,” he said. “I didn’t apply to the Brown County Sheriff’s Department seven years ago, and one of those reasons I applied here was that the 12-hour schedule is very appealing to officers. It provides us with a substantial amount of family life. They always say, ‘Happy wife, happy life.’”
Schroeder said he didn’t think the shift schedule the sheriff’s office has with 8.25-hour shifts is appealing.
In response to officers’ concerns about the possible impact on salary and benefits upon joining the sheriff’s office, Kramer requested that information from the sheriff’s office to compare to the police department.
Bani, whose position would be eliminated under the proposal, took exception to not being contacted by Delain when he requested financial information about the police department.
“You got a lot of information from somebody, and it wasn’t me,” he said.
When factoring in the reduction in staffing, Bani said the annual cost would be closer to $1.8 million for the sheriff’s office to provide the same service.
Delain said the financial figures he gave mirrored other municipalities which contract with the sheriff’s office and don’t have a police chief.