Cost vs. benefit: Should Zeeland eliminate PD?

As police chief prepares to retire, city considers future of department

ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — The city council in Zeeland voted unanimously Monday to form a committee to determine options for providing police services.

The vote established a Police Services Review Committee. That body will decide whether to:

  • Hire a replacement for retiring Chief William Olney;
  • Dissolve the current police department and contract with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office for police services;
  • Or create a public services department that would include separate fire and police departments but be administered by a public safety chief.

Residents in Zeeland, which is home to about 5,600 people, say they have a close relationship with the eight officers employed by the Zeeland Police Department.

“We see them driving by in the morning when I’m walking my dog or going to school, dropping my kid off. It’s nice just to know they’re there,” resident Andrea Rich said.

“I always say to my coworkers when they ask me about Zeeland and how I like living there, I always tell them that we live right next to the police station, so I feel safe,” resident Jon Leonardo said.

The committee will have to weigh the cost of the department versus the benefits.

City officials say the police department gets about a fourth of the city budget annually — about $1.5 million for the upcoming fiscal year. Klynstra says merging with the sheriff’s office could save the city about $300,000.

“There’s many options you can choose from. You can have it where they have a dedicated person that would be like a chief and then the officers that we have now more than likely would be hired by the county,” Mayor Kevin Klynstra said.

“They can say it’s cost-effective for them, but sometimes the most cost-effective thing might not be the most beneficial for the town as a whole,” Leonardo said.

Klynstra said he understands wanting to keep the small-town feel, and that he also likes that about Zeeland.

“We’ve got a very safe community and that’s what people are afraid of — they don’t want to lose that being safe,” he said.

But the trend statewide is to cut municipal costs.

“Gov. (Rick) Snyder, he pushed for consolidation and cooperation between townships and counties and cities, so that’s why a lot of cities are looking at that,” Klynstra said.

The Police Services Review Committee includes eight members: Klynstra, City Manager Tim Klunder, Assistant City Manager Lindsay Viviano, Chief Olney, Officer Brian Breuker, Councilmembers Schulyer Wilson and Rick Van Dorp, and Scott Heerema, a Gentex employee who does not live in the city.

Because the committee was appointed, its meetings will not be open to the public, but the city manager said it will take community input.

The group will likely meet for the first time next week. Klynstra says it should make a recommendation to the city council by August.

If the committee decides to maintain the current department, it will then be determined if it will be in charge of the search for the new chief or if a separate committee will be formed to complete that task, the city manager said.

Olney is set to retire July 14, but may continuing serving in a part-time capacity help ease whatever transition takes place.