Rothbury Village Council resolves to support police department.

August 17, 2022

Double JJ Resort owner Matt Halbower addresses the Rothbury Village Council Tuesday, Aug. 16.

Rothbury Village Council resolves to support police department.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

ROTHBURY — After a somewhat heated discussion with community members about the fate of the village police department, the Rothbury Village Council voted 6-0 Tuesday evening, Aug. 16, adopting a resolution in support of it.

Rumors were swirling on social media that the council planned to “defund the police” on the heels of a police committee meeting last week that focused on updating a 2013 contract with Grant Township for police services outside the village.

“This has nothing to do with disbanding the police department,” said Village President Scott Beishuizen in front of a council room packed with concerned community members. “There is nothing about disbanding the police.”

“The contract has expired, and it is time to raise the price,” said Trustee Jim Fekken who chairs the council’s police

Sgt. Ethan Walker of Rothbury Police Department.

committee.

The council included in its resolution plans to examine numbers more thoroughly before updating the police contract with the township.

“You can’t just throw something at the wall and hope it sticks — we need to look at the numbers better,” said Fekken.

Village Treasurer Deborah Murphy said she will prepare a spreadsheet of expenses to present at next month’s meeting. “It seems like a good baseline going forward.”

“Obviously there were a lot of discussions that took place at the police committee meeting last week Thursday, namely the police service agreement with the township of Grant,” said Sgt. Ethan Walker of the Rothbury Police Department. Proposed is an hourly rate increase from $27 per hour to $35 per hour and a mileage reimbursement increase from $1.10 to $3. The village entered into a contract with the township nearly 30 years ago “to cover certain select areas out in Grant Township,” said Walker. 

A source of contention at Tuesday night’s meeting was a document from the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office entitled “Contracted Police Services Budget Considerations,” particularly a line item “vehicle purchases” that states: “absorb RPD vehicles into fleet.”

The document is over one and a half years old, said Oceana County Sheriff Mast in a phone interview. Mast, who did not attend the meeting, said his department was contacted by the village president at the beginning of 2021 about contract costs, and his department answered the request. 

“I’m not looking into dismantling local police departments,” said Sheriff Mast. “All I’m doing is answering a request.”

The document was distributed by Fekken at last week’s committee meeting, said Sgt. Walker. “It took me off guard along with Chief (Tom)

Rothbury Police Chief Tom Hasper.

Hasper.

“When I came into this meeting, I was under the impression we were going to have a discussion about updating — going over cost analysis of the police service agreement with Grant Township — not Rothbury Police Department being disbanded and not me being displaced, but this is clear this is to disband Rothbury Police Department.”

Village officials disputed Walker’s claims. The document was aimed at examining what costs Grant Township would incur if the village didn’t enter an agreement for police services with the township, explained the village treasurer — not disbanding the village police department. “It was for us to look at and see what the township would have to pay if the Village of Rothbury doesn’t enter into an agreement with them — to give us a guideline for what we’re going to present to Grant Township for the new agreement. We never mentioned anything about disbanding the Rothbury Police Department.”

“You guys are not in jeopardy of losing your jobs,” said Fekken to Sgt. Walker and Chief Hasper.

Hasper said he works one day a week, and Walker works four days per week. “So, the entire police department works 40 hours a week.”

“I’m really glad to hear that no one on the village council wants to do that, because I think this would be a serious public safety concern,” said Matt Halbower, who owns the Double JJ Resort which hosts the Electric Forest Festival. “I can’t emphasize how important it is for a community to have its own police department.”

The village will receive $315,000 in revenue from its portion of 2022 ticket sales from Electric Forest, said Halbower. “You need to keep your police department when you have this kind of money coming into this community.” His statements were followed by applause.

Sgt. Walker thanked the board and community members for the support.

The meeting, which began with an antagonistic atmosphere, ended on a much friendlier note.

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