TAWAS CITY – Two items which have been talked about at length by the Tawas Police Authority (TPA) Board were raised again during its meeting on Monday.

They took action on both a wage increase for Tawas Police Association officers, as well as the hiring of a consultant to further explore and make recommendations on the TPA’s overall structure and function.

Since the wage increase involves an amendment to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), TPA Chair Annge Horning said the board could enter into closed session to further discuss the matter, which they opted to do.

When the board came out of closed session, they voted 4-0 authorizing Horning to present a letter of agreement to the police officers association and Police Officers Labor Council (POLC), and to execute the document on behalf of the TPA Board.

The proposed wage increase – estimated to cost $20,107 – will go into effect on July 1 and will be paid for via a transfer from reserves.

Therefore, Horning noted that neither East Tawas nor Tawas City – which splits TPA costs 50/50 – will have to contribute more to the TPA budget as a result of the amendment.

She also pointed out that the anticipated total of the increase may change, considering such factors as overtime.

As recently reported, the original estimate of the increase was $15,000, based on an alternative plan shared by TPA Chief Mark Ferguson, which would have cost $7,500 per city. However, this did not account for the pension and payroll taxes.

It was during the May 6 TPA Board meeting when Ferguson requested a wage increase for officers, with one of the main goals being to recruit and retain quality employees.

The board ultimately voted 3-1 for Horning and TPA Vice Chair/Operations Manager Brent Barringer to enter into negotiations with the union for an addendum to the current CBA, regarding the pay scale for officers. The existing CBA will expire May 1, 2020.

Opposed was Barringer, who expressed hesitation with altering a contract that is already in place, has been negotiated and will be expiring in less than a year.

He added that there are a number of moving parts right now, including the board planning to spend thousands of dollars on a consultant to review the TPA organization, as well as the debate surrounding 24/7 police coverage in Tawas City and East Tawas.

“My preference is that we just take a time out here, get these things understood and addressed, so we don’t have to keep looking at them every year,” Barringer remarked at the time.

He said he is not opposed to the increase and that it needs to be looked at, but he suggested putting together a plan for the future success of the TPA.

Ferguson presented a wage comparison chart to the TPA Board which outlined increases proposed by the POLC, as well as an alternative plan.

The POLC suggestion for each employment level is listed as follows, with the current salaries of the positions shown first:

Entry/starting, $35,373, increase to $40,060; one year, $37,142, increase to $46,036; two years, $38,910, increase to $49,024; top patrol, $44,217/five-year, increase to $55,000/four-year; and sergeant, $47,312, increase to $60,000.

As for the alternative plan, the recommended increases for entry/starting would be $40,000; one year, $42,333; two years, $44,666; top patrol, $47,000/three-year; and sergeant, $50,290.

“I am recommending this increase even with one year left on the CBA because we cannot risk losing another officer in the next few years and we need to recruit,” Ferguson stated at the time. “Each time we lose someone that we have spent a year or two training we take a step back. I believe we have taken enough steps backwards that our back is against the wall and we need to do something.”

If the pay scale is not adjusted, he said he predicts losing another TPA officer in the next year.

In separate business during their latest meeting, the board voted unanimously for Horning and Barringer to move forward on negotiating a contract with Alexander Weiss Consulting, LLC, of Evanston, Ill., in an amount not to exceed $20,000.

As stated in the company’s proposal, the project is based on 90 days duration, with a total fixed price for the engagement being $20,000.

The TPA has been seeking a qualified individual or firm to review the authority’s policies, organizational documents and structure, as well as to make recommendations to its chief and the TPA Board. This is also intended to be a high level review of the TPA’s Concept of Operations and Articles of Incorporation.

Additionally, the project will include reviewing, updating and/or writing policies as needed.

Proposals were received from AGR Police Practice Group, LLC, Rockford, Ill.; Municipal Analytics, Ann Arbor; HV Global Consulting, Durham, N.C.; Municipal Management Consulting, LLC, Oscoda; and Alexander Weiss.

As reported, it was during a special TPA Board meeting on April 12 when members agreed to conduct further research into the companies before making a final decision.

Since then, Horning and Barringer held interviews with the top two entities the board settled on – Alexander Weiss Consulting and AGR Police Practice Group.

They reported to the TPA Board on Monday that Chet Epperson of AGR Police Practice Group – which provided a quote of $18,750 for the consulting effort – has worked with those from Alexander Weiss in the past, and he may be brought on for the TPA project, as well. Horning said the two parties have shown a willingness to work together, and that they each have something different to bring to the table.

As pointed out by Ferguson, since Weiss said he may be working with Epperson on the consulting, Ferguson believes this would already be factored into the cost on a sub contractor basis.

Horning said that Epperson, a retired police chief, responded with what was asked for in the request for proposals (RFP) document for the work.

She said that during talks with Alexander Weiss, though, she felt that much of the focus was on staffing needs and not so much on what was outlined in the RFPs. “It would be nice to have that information, but it wasn’t what we were initially asking for.”

However, she said she believes the TPA will receive a pretty good product with Epperson, Weiss and  Weiss’ staff teaming up on the project.

Barringer agreed, saying that both of the respondents are very qualified.

He added that Alexander Weiss brings another element to this that the TPA Board didn’t consider fully in the RFP, in regard to compiling various data on the 9-1-1 calls in the cities.

Barringer also remarked that Epperson’s understanding of the relationship between government and police organizations will be of benefit during the project.

In other matters, Ferguson shared in his administrative report to the board that interviews have been conducted with three candidates who applied for the vacant officer’s position.

He advised that background investigations are currently underway for the hopefuls, with the next step being to enter into a conditional offer of employment agreement with one of the applicants.