By Barry Dalton
(This article appeared in the Aug. 13, 2020, issue of the Vandalia Leader.)
VANDALIA – The Vandalia Board of Alderman unanimously approved a contract with Audrain County to replace its police department beginning Jan. 1, 2021. The contract must now be approved by the Audrain County Commission.
The cost to the city for around the clock coverage will be $326,342.92, which will be adjusted annually, not exceed 3% per year.
Vandalia spent $358,024 on police services in Fiscal Year 2015; $317,121 in 2016; $355,057 in 2017; $357,060 in 2018; and $374,497 in 2019. The budget approved for Fiscal Year 2020 was $391,763.
Berry also said that the City’s MIRMA assessment rates would go down as a result of not employing a police force. MIRMA is an incorporated association that establishes a protected group self-insurance program for its members. The projected MIRMA savings for 2021 is an additional $42,398.
Logan Benjamin resigned as Vandalia’s chief of police on Friday, Aug. 7, after news of City Administrator Dan Berry’s negotiations with the county were announced. A part-time officer has also resigned and the police clerk gave her two-week notice.
Turnover at the police department has been an issue, Berry noted during the hearing. Over the past five years, Vandalia has employed 22 full-time officers and 18 part-time officers. While the department is budgeted for six full-time officers, currently there are only three full-time officers on staff and two part-time officers.
Audrain County Sheriff Matt Oller and Presiding Commissioner Steve Hobbs addressed the board during the hearing. Alan Winders, former Vandalia city administrator, also made comments explaining the agreement.
Four residents voiced concerns and questions about the plan (two in person, two in absentia.) A crowd gathered outside of the council meeting facility after the contract was approved, but two on-duty police officers declined to comment.
The term of the agreement with the county is for six calendar years. It will automatically renew unless a 24-month written termination notice is provided by either the city or county.
“That would give everyone two years to get things in place [if the contract is terminated],” said City Administrator Darren Berry.