Onaway approves contract, county left to OK it

ONAWAY – An agreement between Onaway and the Presque Isle County Sheriff Department is again in the hands of county commissioners after Onaway city commissioners unanimously approved it.

Commissioners voted Monday to give Mayor Gary Wregglesworth authorization to sign the $25,000-per-year agreement that would have deputies patrol the city for a minimum of 16 hours per week, on average, during night-time hours. It’s an effort to bolster law enforcement in the city after commissioners opted to eliminate the city’s one-man police force. By doing so, they’re hoping to fix a hole in the city’s finances.

City Manager Joe Hefele presented the agreement, which looked slightly different from the one commissioners approved at their meeting June 10. The city will be required to make its first installment to the sheriff department on or before July 1, the date the agreement goes into effect if county commissioners approve it. County Prosecutor Richard Steiger, on Sheriff Bob Paschke’s request, also removed a line stating the 16 hours would be in addition to deputies’ normal patrol through the city.

Hefele said he and Paschke are behind the agreement as it’s currently written, and hopes county commissioners approve it at their meeting on June 28.

“Of the different scenarios we’ve looked at, this, to me, is far and away the most cost-effective solution,” he said.

Some Onaway residents are upset at city officials’ decision to terminate former Police Chief Jim Gibson’s job, so much so that a few have started an effort to recall Wregglesworth and Commissioners Chuck Abshagen and Jessie Horrocks. Several have shown up at city meetings to question whether the city could have found another way to save the money.

A few Onaway residents spoke at the county commissioners June 12 meeting, when commissioners opted to send a modified version of the agreement back to city officials. One said she believed the city has around $104,000 in a public safety fund, and voiced her other concerns about eliminating Onaway’s police department.

Hefele attempted to address some of those assertions at Monday’s meeting, along with those voiced by others at city meetings and elsewhere. For one, the city has no public safety fund; the number the woman cited came from an audit report, and seemed to be the city’s public safety expenses for its past fiscal year.

“If you look at our audit, there are multiple references to public safety expenses,” he said. “That’s our police department, fire department and ambulance. It’s not cash, it’s not a fund, it’s expenses for the year that we were audited.”

Among the numerous points Hefele made in a statement he read to city commissioners, he also addressed the notion that “all crime would have been prevented” if the city kept Gibson.

“Unfortunately, crime will continue to occur in this community, as it does in all others,” he said in the statement. “There were break-ins, vandalism and thefts when we were spending $80,000 for police protection, and they will occur while we spend a fraction of that.”

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.