Gladstone may get police dog

GLADSTONE — The Gladstone City Commission paved the way for major changes Monday during the first special meeting between commissioners and city staff to discuss the city’s budget. During the meeting, the commission eliminated the city’s equipment fund and weighed the pros and cons of adding a K-9 unit to the city’s public safety force.

Across Delta County, drug-related offenses have increased 156 percent over the last five years, but the greatest increase in drug cases over that period was in Gladstone, which saw a 318 percent increase. While there are many factors responsible for the sharp uptick — including the city’s location on a highway known to be a corridor for drug traffic — Gladstone Public Safety is the only one of the four police agencies in the county not to have a K-9 unit capable of detecting illegal drugs.

However, adding a police dog to the force means more than just locating drugs. Any dog added to Gladstone’s police force would also be trained to track individuals, perform search and rescue operations and offer protection to officers. The dog would also offer the department with a new way to interact with the community through live demonstrations and public events.

“You will find the public a lot of times (doesn’t) really care for law enforcement for some reason, but they always seem to love the dogs no matter what,” said Commissioner Darin Hunter.

Funding for a K-9 unit was not included in the department’s proposed budget, but Public Safety Officer Ryan Peterson told the commission he believed it would be possible to raise the funds for the program through fundraising and grants.

If the K-9 unit becomes a reality, a woman from Bark River has already stepped forward to pay for the dog’s food. It is also expected that veterinary services may be covered through local donations.

Officers are hopeful Gladstone will have success similar to Escanaba, which secured $15,000 in its first week of fundraising when it implemented a canine program. However, the cost of bringing a police dog to the city would be significant.

The dog itself would cost the city roughly $8,000, with another $3,500 for officer training and $3,000 for the dog’s equipment, such as canine bulletproof vests. If the city opts to purchase a new patrol car for the K-9 unit, rather than retrofitting an existing vehicle, the car would cost about $32,000, plus about $7,000 in equipment, and $2,300 for the in-car kennel system. The vehicle would also need to be outfitted with a “Hot-N-Pop” system, which turns on the vehicle’s fan or opens a door if the vehicle becomes too hot for the dog.

With the vehicle, initial costs for the dog would total $57,100, but Peterson noted without the vehicle the cost for the dog would be closer to $18,100.

“We can’t really count it as an officer, but it would certainly probably feel like it,” said City Manager Darcy Long of the dog.

Being shorthanded has been a major concern for Gladstone Public Safety for many years. With only nine officers, the city has only 1.875 officers per 1,000 people, which is significantly fewer than other Upper Peninsula communities. The Bureau of Justice Statistics recommends 2.2 full-time officer per 1,000 people for a community Gladstone’s size.

Because of this, the Gladstone Public Safety Department proposed budget is based off a staff of 10 officers. Hiring a tenth officer will not eliminate all of the department’s staffing concerns, but will bring the department back to the level it was at prior to the retirement of former Gladstone Public Safety Director Paul Geyer. Geyer’s position was filled internally by Officer Ron Robinson, but no additional officers were hired following Geyer’s departure.

While much of the public safety discussion was informative, there were a few areas where the commission needed to take action for the city’s fire services.

The commission approved the purchase of three sets of turn-out gear — the gear worn by firefighters — to replace sets that are 14 years old for $7,200. A total of 28 sets of gear are needed to replace the equipment purchased in 2004, which would cost the city approximately $67,000. Additional gear will be purchased using grant funds, including a $20,000 fund from the Besse Foundation.

The commission also voted to give a raise to volunteer firefighters called to fires from $12 per hour to $13 per hour and to repair the roof of the fire hall. The roof leaks due to shoddy construction, and has caused severe drywall damage to the ceiling, which threatens to collapse. For this project, the commission voted to deviate from its bidding policy to award the roof project to Jerry Herbert Construction for $12,700.

The commission also voted to eliminate the city’s equipment fund. The fund worked by renting out equipment to other departments — sometimes at a significantly higher cost than what was available from the private sector for the same or better equipment. In theory, the rental costs supported the purchase of new equipment and paid the wages of the city mechanic, but as equipment aged and fewer and fewer departments participated, the fund ran deep into the red.

Because the state does not allow for cities to operate with unbalanced budgets, each year the fund did not perform the city was required to file a deficit elimination plan with the state. The document laid out a plan for bringing the fund into the black — usually be borrowing from other funds.

With the fund eliminated, the city mechanic will now receive pay for billable hours from each department directly, and equipment will be considered the property of the department responsible for its general use.

Also at the meeting, the commission voted to reschedule the next budget session. The meeting, which was scheduled to take place on Feb. 5, will now take place on Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. at city hall.