WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) - City council members and police chiefs from Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Wyoming showed up to a Thursday night meeting to discuss combining public safety service.
A presentation at Wyoming City Hall that lasted more than three hours before a joint session of the three city councils may have brought up more questions than answers. One thing made clear was the proposed consolidation is still a long way from becoming reality.
Grand Rapids Police Chief Kevin Belk, Kentwood Police Chief Tom Hillen, Wyoming Police Chief James Carmody and Kent County Sheriff Lawrence Stelma were all in attendance at the meeting. There was also complete attendance from all three city councils. As the meeting started, all seats were filled.
The three governing bodies were originally supposed to discuss and vote on putting together three committees that would decide if merging the three cities police and fire departments into two agencies is a good idea, that didn't happen.
Kentwood Mayor Richard Clanton told 24 Hour News 8 earlier Thursday that was because because elected officials have not had the time to digest all the information in a 97-page consultant report made available earlier this week.
The report says combining and streamlining the three fire departments and three police agencies into two could save taxpayers $17.2 million annually.
Merging departments would also reduce the number of police officers on the street by at least 26 and fewer firefighters. That has union leaders and some elected officials worried.
Commissioners questioned whether the consolidation truly benefited anyone with fewer police and firefighters.
"That's a hard one for me to swallow. Right now I think we are challenged already with our public safety numbers," Grand Rapids City Commissioner Walt Gutowski said. "Safety is number one and we have to figure out a way to do it. And we'll keep working at it and see what we come up with."
"I do not see that it would improve Kentwood's police and fire safety response, so I can't support it. That doesn't mean we don't continue to gather information. It doesn't mean we don't think of ways to work together outside of the box. We have done that. We need to continue to do that," Kentwood City Commissioner Sharon Brinks added.
The consolidation would initially cost the three cities money, but it's not yet known how much.
24 Hour News 8's Joe LaFurgey and Tom Hillen contributed to this report.
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