A beneficial partnership

ALPENA – The Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center and Alpena County have enjoyed a working relationship over the years. The base has been a valued partner of airport operations, fire and rescue support, and provides a place of employment to civilians in the area.

This strong relationship allows the contract for security between the United States military and the county to be successful, and a financial benefit for both parties. The military bids out the job of providing security at the base and Alpena County has been the recipient of the security cooperative agreement since 2006.

The first contract, which was for five years, allowed the sheriff’s department to hire 17 deputies to lead security at the CRTC. The latest contract, which is also for five years and valued at more than $6 million, has bumped the allotted number of workers to 22 this year, and could be as high as 27 for fiscal year 2014.

The county is responsible for the wage, insurance and retirement of each deputy working on the base, as well as any unemployment benefits that may need to be paid. In 2013 the county was awarded $1,037,500 to handle these costs of service. The revenue received by the county for supplying the security allows it to do more than just add jobs to the community however. The profit from the deal also upgrades aging county equipment and vehicles.

Undersheriff Terry King said after the county covers it financial obligations for the operation at the base there is usually funds available for other purchases. He said having the contract with the CRTC takes a burden off the county’s general fund, because the money doesn’t need to be taken from it for some large purchases. As a result general fund money can be used elsewhere.

“We have been able to employ more than 20 people and been able to buy equipment we desperately need. We have bought cameras, an accident investigation kit and 23 patrol cars over this eight year period,” King said. “That is huge because that is additional expense the county doesn’t need to go through. It is huge.”

Sheriff Steve Kielizewski said the county is prepared for any future liabilities that may come its way regarding the county’s base personnel. He said money is tucked away in case mass layoffs were to take place.

“We’ve calculated what those liabilities would be and through the years we’ve built up a fund of about $200,000 that would cover unemployment, with any extensions the laid-off worker could collect,” Kieliszewski said. “We have ourselves covered.”

Col. Bryan Teff said he is not involved in the contract negotiations when they take place. He said the familiarity between the base and Alpena County helps make the agreement a win-win for both parties. He said there are similar contracts between other military bases and local governing bodies in Michigan that aren’t as successful as the one in Alpena. Teff said at this point it is more cost efficient for the federal government to hire security than to have its own military do it itself.

“It is a lot cheaper for us to contract this work out and most bases have gone to this type of relationship. If we had to staff it with active military personnel the cost would be very expensive,” Teff said. “This particular situation is perfect but it doesn’t always work as well for others as it does in Alpena. Other places just don’t have the success we do.

“I think it boils down to two things. One is the strong relationship we have built and the second is we have a great program manager, Master Sgt. Rob Mills. He does a great job with the sheriff and undersheriff to make this work.The relationship is really unique. They work with us, we work with them and together this agreement benefits us both. That is the key to this working.”

Alpena County Commissioner Mark Hall said the contract with the base is a positive for the county and its budget. He said it is important to monitor it closely and make sure it remains beneficial to both parties.

“It has been a benefit to the county as a whole, not just for the sheriff’s department,” Hall said. “We just can’t put it on auto pilot and not watch it though. We can’t take it for granted. Nothing lasts forever and I think it is only responsible to make sure we have all of our bases covered in case it disappears one day.

“We have money set aside now to cover any future obligations, but I think we must continue to plan for anything that we could be confronted with down the road. Overall it has been a tremendous asset, but we just have to keep an eye on it and not take it for granted that we will always have it.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com.