Changes in the works at Benton Township fire and police departments

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Benton Township may make some minor changes to its fire and police department personnel by 2016.

Kelli Nelson, a contracted township accountant, said township officials are considering adding a full-time police position, as well as supplementing the fire department with part-timers when two full-time firefighters retire.

Nelson, who works with Superintendent Elden Piontek on township finances, said the change in the fire department could happen later than expected, depending on decisions by the two firefighters soon eligible for retirement.

“Just because they are eligible, doesn’t mean they have to retire,” Nelson said.

The application process for the fire department has already begun.

Fire Chief Dan Durham said they are in the process of narrowing its list of part-time candidates. Earlier this summer, the township received 26 applications. That number was trimmed down to 11 after a physical agility test in July.

“Those 11 took a written test last Saturday,” Durham said. “There will be an oral interview from two designees from the union, myself and another designee I choose. After that, we establish a list of who the township should consider.”

Durham said it would take about three part-time firefighters to fill a full-time slot for the amount of hours that are kept.

Nelson said there is no solid number as to how many part-time firefighters the township will take on, as they are still writing a part-time employee handbook.

“They will not fall under the current union labor agreement, so we’ll have to work with the board on that,” Nelson said. “Our goal is to supplement the full-time firefighters and have more positions in total.”

Another man in blue

Since the beginning of 2014, the township police department saw three full-time positions replaced by part-time employees.

While the township has four part-time officers now, Nelson said they are looking to limit that number to two by the end of 2015.

Police Chief Vince Fetke said they still have openings for four part-time police officers. He said the change will only benefit the township, as two of those positions will be turned into one full-time position.

“It is easier to have a full timer following up on work when they can put in the full 40 hours,” he said. “For us, it’s also about stability. Most of the officers we are getting are coming out of the academy and the department is investing a lot of time and money into their training. They move on when full-time positions become available, and then we have to start all over.”

Prior to 2014, BTPD was considered a 100 percent full-time department.

There were a number of cost-saving measures the department tried, which included making the switch to part-time officers. As the police fund has become self-sustainable, Fetke said his goal is to transition back to a full-time police department.

“We’ll look at our current part timers and make a decision when the time comes,” Fetke said of the hiring process. “In the past we have hired from within, but I won’t rule out anything. We are making alterations that best fit the needs of the department.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Aug. 7, 2015)

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