Ferrysburg wavers on police plan

The Spring Lake Village Council appears interested in waltzing into a contractual agreement with an outside agency for police services, but they may lose their dance partner.
Marie Havenga
Mar 18, 2014


Following a recommendation by the Spring Lake/Ferrysburg Police Commission to contract with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department for police services, the six Village Council members present at Monday night’s council meeting gave a straw-vote consensus to that recommendation.

Ferrysburg City Council isn’t playing the same tune.

City Council members Regina Sjoberg and Mike DeWitt, who also attended Monday’s police commission meeting, said they would like to see numbers for maintaining their own police department, or “going it alone” with either the county or Grand Haven.

According to proposals from both the county and Grand Haven, Spring Lake/Ferrysburg Police Department savings would be about $300,000 per year.

The police commission was not in favor of the pension plan administered by the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety because of unknown future funding payments. Grand Haven has a defined-benefit retirement plan for its officers, the same as the Spring Lake/Ferrysburg Police Department, which is currently underfunded by $624,000. Grand Haven has funded its program 92 percent, but still owes $1.9 million.

Due to the rough-and-tumble economy of recent years and poor investment performance, many municipalities, even wealthy ones, are experiencing setbacks with their retirement plan funding.

The Municipal Employees Retirement System of Michigan calculates minimum, recommended and full funding numbers that change every year based on multiple factors — including number of participants, age and market performance. Municipalities are not required to prefund pensions.

Village President Jim MacLachlan said the village has kicked in the recommended amount each year, but the funding still falls short because of less-than-expected returns.

MacLachlan said he and the village’s finance committee tried on several occasions to pin down the MERS representative on firm numbers, but they were told it is “a moving target.” MacLachlan said after a MERS supervisor finally provided some solid numbers, village officials decided they needed to take action.

The savings from contracting for collaborative police service could fully fund the pensions in about two years, according to MacLachlan.

While Ferrysburg Mayor Dan Ruiter said Spring Lake officials are not to blame for the pension funding issues — it was the economy — several Ferrysburg council members said because the village oversees the shared police department, they should have been more on top of the numbers.

“Why weren’t we informed of all this going down?” Sjoberg asked. “There’s $624,000 unfunded. Where was the oversight? I’m really concerned we weren’t done right by.

“I don’t think we need to tie our wagon to Spring Lake,” she continued. “I think we could fund our own police department, or contract with Grand Haven or the county without any ties to Spring Lake.”

DeWitt said he also wants to break ties with the village.

“I don’t want nothing to do with Spring Lake,” DeWitt said. “We’re in a hell of a mess here. We need to get a firm handle on the numbers to go it alone.”

Village Manager Chris Burns said last week it’s a great time to transition because the intergovernmental police services agreement between Ferrysburg and Spring Lake expires June 30. She had hoped for both councils to make a decision in April and have the contract with Grand Haven or Ottawa County begin July 1.

Several Ferrysburg council members said they don’t want to be rushed.

“I think this council wants to make sure Ferrysburg is well taken care of,” Councilwoman Kathleen Kennedy said. “We’re not ones to rush into something.”

Kennedy said she’s also in favor of exploring solo numbers.

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.


Tri-cities realist

Perhaps they should transition to a defined contribution plan rather than a defined benefit plan.

And if the Ferrysburg officials were unaware, whose fault is that? Why weren't they overseeing the situation? Seems they were leaving it up to the SL folks.


By contract, SL had the obligation to oversee all employee benefits and oversight.


By contract, SL had the obligation to oversee all employee benefits and personnel.


Everything is an open book with the Spring Lake/Ferrysburg Police Department, and it was a very productive and positive agreement for both municipalities. However, the bottom line is the fact that it is the only "Union" department between the two municipalities.
Under a Union agreed contract, it is a challenge to change benefits, or the costs of the department. But this is not the time to point fingers, nor to blame others but yourself, (accountability) this was, and is an agreed cost sharing department. That was again a very positive public relation program, and provided a much needed public service.
All financial records or department obligations are open and available to the Councilmembers of the City of Ferrysburg. This cannot be argued, but at the same time I do feel it is wise that the City of Ferrysburg does go alone with some form of Public Police Department, only because the Village of Spring Lake, presently has some serious internal challenges that must be cleared up.


"I don't want nothing to do with Spring Lake"?! This guys should win the award for greatest community neighbor! What a slap in the face to the Village.


Go back and look at a quote from VM Burns..."I don't care what goes on that side of the bridge."


I, for one, do not care if the village is slapped. Mr. DeWitt obviously feels as though Ferrysburg has been given the short end of the stick, and I agree!


What happened to the idea of a Tri-Cities Police Department? We are all one community, and there is no real advantage to each City/Village/Township having their own Police Department. I get that Ferrysburg is upset, but why go by yourself? You are in GH schools, and are practically in Spring Lake Township. If we want to be one community then we should act like it.


The cities of Hudsonville and Coopersville went with the Sheriff Dept. years ago and have never looked back.
Benefits: Excellent police service, detective bureau, record keeping, and information sharing, not to mention the cost savings.

It's time Spring Lake and Ferrysburg jump on the band wagon as there is no reason to go back to their own individual police departments that are effectively cut off from the advanced tools the Sheriff Dept. offers.

Tri-cities realist

"the advanced tools the Sheriff Dept. offers." Does that refer to the deputies or something else?

Say no to new taxes

Defined benefit pensions are pushing municipalities all over the country into bankruptcy.
Time to go to a 401k type of system like the private sector did years ago. Spring Lake and Ferrysburg need to become part of Grand Haven, the savings would be substantial.


Absolutely not, just look at the costs of public service in Grand Haven, (taxes) and the future financial obligations. Ferrysburg is financially stable at this time and so is the Village of Spring Lake, except of course for the retirement costs.
A define 401 plan is an ideal way to go for all public workers, Union and non-union alike, an individual can decide how much they wish to invest, or not to. It is there personal decision and there future, anyway, the North side of the bridge does not wish to join the hidden growing costs of Grand Haven.
If the Village, or the City of Ferrysburg decides to go with Grand Haven, then why not, just stay together with our local Police Department and bring the control of the costs together as usual. At least we will have a say in the operation, and local service?


Seems Bessinger is Burns' puppy dog that's why Ferrysburg council didn't know what was going on. Why do you think DeYoung is gone...because he was pursuing ideas and was no puppy dog! I wonder how much council knew before she forced his and others resignations? How can two council's SL and FB not know what is going on for over a year when two Village Manager's and a Police Commission are having meetings and discussions (according to the check register's I just looked at for reimbursements for meals). Look people, if I can figure this out, so can you! It appears they didn't want you to know about this until it was a done deal..."we are exploring options." There is no transparency here. Give the FB council members a break, they are just finding out about this and they are angry. People are gone left and right. Suddenly the police chief is gone. There are money discrepancies! Give them some time and they will do the right thing and maybe without the powers currently in control that have lied to them, hid information and went behind their backs. As a SL resident my heart says join Grand Haven but if the finances don't work, then OCSD is the way it will have to be, but I see no reason to keep the Village at all. WITHOUT THE POLICE DEPARTMENT I SEE NO NEED FOR A VILLAGE, ETC., MERGE WITH THE TOWNSHIP AND SAVE US ALL THE TAXES.


I too highly question the fast resignation of some of our most respected and devoted employees over the last few months. Wondering what is truly behind the staff change, but as for joining the township, I am not sure? But the present political actions from the Village Council could not have sent a more logical reason to do so? Maybe?


Seems to me retirement benefits are part of the annual spending/allocation expenses,as noted communities throughout the US are in arrears on their contribution,how much of an annual burden of the budget can a community afford for previous commitments and future benefits,if they can't, they need to change the rules and be prepared for lawsuits from all the vested recipients.The problem is as various elected officials who for the first time are faced with this problem its much to complicated,thus the managers(employees) are the only ones who understand the whole(history),and or created the issue.

Tri-cities realist

The first step is to go to defined contribution for new employees, and while any union employees might object, they might see the light if the alternative is no job, due to the elimination of an entire department. The govt is only 10 or so years behind the private sector, what a shock!


My question to the Village Tri-cities realist is this: Were the employees ever asked to take concessions in their contract to shore up the unfunded pension? It is unfair to say the union members caused this problem without knowing this question.


They don't want to deal with the union at all. The Village gets all the apples this way. The union will be disbanded and therefore, they won't be doing any objecting. Tri-Cities you forget they don't get Social Security either. I'm betting you don't put your life on the line every day in your job. You aren't comparing apples to apples here, since I'm talking about fruit. There are many variables. I agree with Too Much get rid all of the Village services and go with the Township, pay less taxes.


Disband the Village, they are so messed up right now. The Council and Burns messed the entire Village up beyond what the Village stood for. Leon Langeland is turning over in his grave right now !!! Recall the Village Council and fire Burns !!




I am sure there are many founding village fathers and council members that are saying "what", and turning in there grave, wondering is this the Village Way...




Happy camper, frog in your throat? Lol


Post a Comment

Log in to your account to post comments here and on other stories, galleries and polls. Share your thoughts and reply to comments posted by others. Don't have an account on GrandHavenTribune.com? Create a new account today to get started.