Raisin Township Board creates Department of Public Safety
Raisin Township approved a resolution establishing a Department of Public Safety at its Monday, March 4, board meeting. The measure passed by a vote of 4-1 with Trustee Debra Brousseau voting no. Trustees Larry Crittenden and Tom Hawkins were out of state. Former Police Chief Scott Lambka was named Director of Public Safety.
The decision to approach the change as essentially an administrative merger, keeping both the fire and police departments as separate entities, did not come easy and followed lengthy discussions at Monday’s meeting and meetings prior to that, along with administrative proposals on working out a structure that could help the township face impending revenue losses stemming from personal property tax elimination.
The issue came before the board earlier than expected with the retirement of Fire Chief Richard Renard, even though elimination of that position, along with that of police chief, were part of the resolution. Renard’s departure saves the township $60,300 in salary, but up to $100,000 with benefits.
“This started with the news from Lansing regarding personal property tax, but if we’re going to make a move we should do so now because in my opinion we can’t just do this overnight,” said Raisin Township Supervisor Jay Cavanaugh. “This is something that’s going to take time, training, changes in policies and procedures and also changes in staffing.”
The township expects to feel the full impact of the tax revenue changes in the 2016 budget and beyond.
At one time, Raisin Township had a Department of Public Safety, but there were some problems, and the township officials have been working on ideas as to how to avoid repeating those mistakes. The police department became a separate entity in 2005 when the caseload grew faster than expected, and Lambka, who also has extensive firefighter and medical emergency training, was named chief.
Trustee Debra Brousseau expressed several concerns about moving ahead too quickly, adding that she didn’t want to see the same mistakes repeated. She also had concerns about costs that might be involved.
“I’ve gone through the proposal several times and I’m not against it, but I think we’re putting the cart before the horse,” she said. “We’re doing this to save money but we need to know more about the costs of doing this.” Brousseau suggested the possibility of hiring a part-time fire chief such as other townships in the state have done, but there were coverage concerns with that idea. She also suggested that two captains in the department be promoted now to assistant fire chief positions, as mentioned in the proposal, but with administrative responsibilities.
Eddie Mathis and Jake Warner, who were being considered for first and second assistant chief positions, addressed the board regarding their readiness for such a role and indicated that they did not believe they had the experience to take on budgeting duties, but were confident in stepping up on the firefighting side of things. Cavanaugh asked them if they felt confident that Lambka could fill that role.
“He’s got all the qualifications and the training of most people you see in director positions and I would have no qualms in working with him,” said Warner. “He’s been very straightforward, as well as Chief Renard has.”
Mathis said he also would support Lambka in the position. “I think he’s already been taking on an administrative role and already has a good hold on the budget,” he said.
Mathis was later named First Assistant Fire Chief, with Warner named Second Assistant Fire Chief. Sgt. Kevin Grayer was named Assistant Police Chief.
“We’re very aware of the budget constraints,” said Lambka. “We know we have to find a model that fits that.” Lambka also said he did not believe anyone was in it expecting a lot of money.
“We all believe in what we’re doing,” he said. “I haven’t asked for any more. I believe in this concept and believe we can make it work. I don’t come to work everyday for more money. The reality is our decisions are looked at for what is best for the township and how can we provide the best service. The potential chiefs are on board too, and this is for the community. What we have to do is get an administrative structure in place that we can build on and we need to help the staff and community to buy into it or it won’t work. I’m already here and you’re already paying me. I’ve made a commitment to this.”
Lambka said the future could bring some cross-training opportunities, possibly starting with in-house training between the departments.
“One thing that can come from combining administrative functions is better communication and working relationships,” he said. “We’re too small a department not to have that. Bringing these folks together to talk in the pre-planning stages is very valuable. I think a lot of little departments are going to have to look at some of these options.”
Following the discussion, Trustee Kami Johnson made a motion to approve the resolution and said, “We’re down a fire chief and we have to do something, and we have a great team of guys here willing to step up and get things done.” Clerk and Trustee Betty Holdridge agreed and added, “I think all of these people are willing to step in and do their fair share.”
Following the vote, Cavanaugh thanked the board for moving ahead with a difficult decision.
“There’s uncertainty in our future, there’s no question, and I can’t guarantee this is going to work perfectly,” he said. “But we have a dedicated police and fire department with talented people who can do these jobs. The concerns are absolutely valid and what I’m presenting to the board tonight is nothing more than working with what we have and changing as little as possible. What we have is good, but it needs to be enhanced. Our goal is to keep our citizens safe and maintaining the same level of service.”
Johnson said of the appointment of a director, “I think Scott fully knows what he’s doing and he gets along great with the guys.”
“And the fire department can still operate safely and efficiently,” said Trustee Dale Mitchell.
Lambka and the team of assistant chiefs, along with township administration, will be working out job descriptions and next steps to make the Department of Public Safety a viable entity.