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WATCH: Elmwood Board ‘leaning’ toward full-time officer

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Six Elmwood Village residents attended a public meeting Wednesday, May 17 to offer feedback on potential police staffing options in the village. Matthew Lambert / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

ELMWOOD -- The Elmwood Village Board held a public meeting Wednesday, May 17 in the Elmwood Auditorium to get residents’ feedback on filling its vacant police officer position: hiring a full-time officer, part-time officers, or no officer at all.

On May 5, the Village posted a survey on its Facebook page to gather public opinion on the matter.

Thirty-seven people responded to the online survey; eight stopped into the village office to talk directly with Village Clerk Amy Wayne. Wayne said 25 would like a full-time officer, 15 would like part-time, and five prefer no officer at all.

Most that responded to the survey wanted to see an officer working nights, weekends, and after school.

“There was some comments about wanting a full-time one because they wanted that person to be someone to go to,” Wayne said. “To be that person people could go to with their concerns.”

Elmwood resident Jessi Bleskacek said she worries the Village will be hiring on a somewhat constant basis if the position is full-time. Village President William Stewart said that’s what the Village is used to.

“Being a small town and only offering a small wage because, that’s one of the reasons why they’ve left,” Stewart said. “They’ve gone to a bigger department and gotten more money. We have to be a stepping stone...we’ve been used to that for years.”

Stewart said Elmwood isn’t as financially competitive with other areas in Pierce County. Previous Elmwood Police Chief Michael Schaffer was paid $18 an hour, equalling about $47,000 annually with the benefits package, which is what would likely be offered to the next chief. Stewart said other villages and towns can offer $20 to $22 an hour.

Schaffer resigned from his position after working in Elmwood for more than two years. Schaffer submitted his resignation letter on Feb. 16. He accepted a position in the Woodville Police Department.

Wayne said one-full time officer will need to amount to 2,080 hours a year. Four-part time officers would need to come close to that mark. The Village can’t afford to hire a full-time and a part-time officer.

The money saved between hiring one full-time officer and four part-time officers is comparable or “apples to apples,” said Village Trustee Dolores Radtke.

Bleskacek asked if a quality officer would be interested in working nights and weekends constantly, suggesting that multiple officers could more easily deal with the constantly changing schedule.

“I think part-time is actually better, because we’re going to get more coverage,” Bleskacek said.

Resident Marge Binkowski said she spoke to five other community members who said they’d like a full-time police officer in town. Binkowski said she agrees.

Village Trustee Neil Boltik said he was happy to hear of Binkowski speaking with her neighbors about the meeting and said having the input from the public, on a consistent basis, helps them make decisions.

Stewart said having a “visual deterrent” can also help the community. As in, having a police car or officer in the area shows residents and others that police are in the area to enforce laws and keep the community safer.

“It doesn’t show on the statistics at all, but I honestly think you have to put that as a contributing factor as well,” Stewart said.

The board didn’t take a vote or take any kind of action at the meeting, but decided to schedule a Police Committee meeting for a time next week to outline criteria desirable for candidates, which would then be discussed at the June village board meeting.

During the discussion, Stewart said, although they weren’t voting tonight, he felt strongly that a police presence in the town is a necessary thing.

“I honestly believe we need an officer,” Stewart said. “I’m really kind of strongly leaning towards my vote or my opinion being for a full-time. I threw that part-time out there because I thought it’d be cost saving and after we looked at it it wasn’t a save factor.”

Boltik asked members if hiring a full-time officer was the direction the board was leaning; all agreed.

The village has had 28 to 30 applicants for the position, but will call those in the top tier again; the application process opened up many weeks ago and will open up again.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal in December 2016 covering government, school board, and writing features about the community. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism.