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Dorchester weighing options for police coverage

After losing their police chief and part-time officer at the end of last month, village officials in Dorchester say they are willing to hear proposals from outside agencies but also want to leave open the possibility of keeping their own police department.

Village president Kurt Schwoch told the board at its monthly meeting last week that he would contact the Colby-Abbotsford Police Department, and the Clark and Marathon county sheriffs about possibly providing contracted coverage for the village.

The discussion comes after the resignations of police chief Gary Leichtman and part-time officer Consuelo Maldanado-Rodriquez on July 31, which left the village with no police force.

At least two board members, however, expressed concerns about going outside the village for law enforcement services.

“I just have a feeling that if we pay for Abby-Colby in here, we’re going to be paying for a lot of problems that ain’t ours,” said trustee Eric Klemetson, who suspects that the cost of hiring the CAPD would continue to go up over time.

Trustee Clarence Klimpke agreed with Klemetson.

“I think we should get our own,” he said.

However, board members said they would like to see cost estimates from the outside agencies before making a decision. If the village chooses to keep its own department, one trustee said they will need to increase their wages beyond what they were paying before.

Trustee Daniella Schauer said a relative who works for the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department told her that no one would come to Dorchester to work for those wages, especially since it’s harder these days to find people who want to be police officers.

“We’re not getting anybody for that,” she said.

Before they resigned, Chief Leichtman was earning an an­nual salary of about $53,000, and Officer Maldonado-Rodriguez made $16.50 per hour.

Klemetson said he’d be willing to talk to police departments in area municipalities such as Thorp and Stanley to see how much they pay their officers.

In related news, three new members were appointed to Dorchester’s police committee last week, increasing the size of the committee from three to five.

The newly appointed members include former committee chairs Sarah Serrano and Carol Staab, along with former village president Wayne Rau.

With all of the work the police committee will need to do in the coming year, Schwoch said he feels it will be better have more members involved.

“It’s going to cost us a little more per meeting, but I think we have enough work to keep them busy,” he said.

Serrano, who works at the Medford Police Department, said “quite a few people” have asked her what the village was paying Leichtman in wages and benefits.

“There are people who are interested, but without that information, I couldn’t tell them,” she said.

Serrano suggested that the board look at offering membership in the Wisconsin Retirement System as one way to draw in more applicants.

“Our officers are also contributing to that, and they’re not going to want to stop contributing to that,” she said.

Schauer said she’s worried about other village employees wanting to join WRS, which would require contributions from the village. Village clerk-treasurer Michelle Dunn, however, said police officers should get better benefits, given the nature of their jobs.

Serrano said the village’s goal should be to attract quality applicants and hire someone with experience so they are not forced to learn on the job.

“If you want someone who has some experience, it’s going to cost a little bit more, because obviously, they’re getting well-paid where they’re at, most likely,” she said. “They’re not going to want to take a step down, per se.”

The board also rescinded a motion approved last month that would require the village’s police chief to live within 15 miles of Dorchester.

Dunn said the board either needed to pass an ordinance to make that rule official or repeal the previous motion at that night’s meeting.

“Is that something you still want to do?” she asked board members.

Klemetson said it could be “twice as hard” to find someone if they were required to live within a 15-mile radius.

Still, Schauer said she doesn’t want the local chief to be any further than that in case they need to respond to an emergency. Schwoch agreed that it would be nice to have a police chief who lives nearby.

“When Gary was here, originally he would jump in the car anytime because he was salaried and he’s come running out,” he said. “A new person, especially if they’re living out of town, won’t be able to get here in time to help with EMS or anything like that.”

Others worried about losing applicants with a 15-mile residency requirement.

Deputy clerk-treasurer Christie Erikson suggested putting the issue on hold for now until the board decides if wants to hire another police chief or change the job description.

Schauer agreed.

“Why make that decision right now?” she said.

The board took a number of actions related to the village’s lease with the Dorchester Park Corporation, which oversees and operates the village-owned park and campground.

First, the board voted to remove a line in the lease that refers to a yearly rent payment from the park corporation to the village. Trustee Schauer said the park has never actually paid any rent, and instead uses that money to make improvements to the park.

In response to a request for more granite from the village, the board authorized DPW Clint Penney to make that decision and to spread the granite himself if more is provided to the park.

The board approved two requests meant to slow down vehicle traffic going through the park.

The first was for the addition of two new speed bumps along the park road.

While meeting with park board members, trustee Schauer said she saw firsthand how fast vehicles travel through the park.

“Somebody’s going to get hit,” she said.

The board also approved the addition of a speed limit sign with flashing lights, as long as any special permits needed for such a sign are obtained.

In a related matter, the board rejected a request by the park corporation for the village to abandon the park road and turn it over to the corporation.

Trustee Klemetson said the park board was interested in dead-ending the road on the south end, but he and other board members did not like that idea. There could be some unforeseen repercussions for both the village and the park board if the road was abandoned, Schwoch noted. The board took no action on a request by the park corporation to be involved in all discussions related to proposed events at the park. Schwoch said the park board has always been informed and asked about new events.

“That’s the way we’ve always done it,” he said.

Because the village owns the park, Erikson said anyone wanting to hold an event there would first have to talk to the village board, which would then discuss the proposal with the park corporation.

_ Renee Staab told the board that she and other seniors in the village would like to use Memorial Hall to play pickle ball during the winter. Schwoch said that shouldn’t be a problem, but he preferred to paint lines on the floor rather than putting down tape, just to avoid making a mess.

_ The board accepted the resignation of trustee Justin Duranceau, who is moving out of the village. The village plans to see if any residents are interested in filling the vacancy, with the goal of appointing someone at the Sept. 2 board meeting.

_ The board accepted a quote of about $9,000 from Randy’s Body Shop to provide a new cab for the village’s 2004 Sterling truck. The proposal cost $2,000 more than rebuilding the cab, but village trustees thought it would be worth the extra expense.

_ The board approved an ordinance officially allowing election officials to work partial days. Schwoch said the village’s poll workers have been doing this already, but the ordinance makes it clear they are not obligated to work from 6 a.m. to midnight on election days.