Westby Wis. – On Wednesday night Westby Mayor Dan Jefson defended his decision to start a discussion with the City of Viroqua about the potential for the two communities to combine police departments. Jefson said he and Viroqua Mayor Larry Fanta had spoken as long as a year and half ago about the possibility and the two city councils appointed exploratory committees to look into the idea.
Those two committees met for the first time Wednesday night at the Westby City Hall and they were met with a fair amount of opposition to the idea from the law enforcement community. Vernon County Sheriff John Spears made it clear he was opposed to the idea for a number of reasons. Spears said there are no problems with Westby Police Department and Chief Mitch Hundt. Spears said he has full faith in the Westby Police Department and through mutual aid agreements with the Sheriff’s office and the Viroqua Police Department,as well as other local communities, the city has good police protection.
Spears went on to say if the issue is 24 hour police coverage in Westby there are other ways of solving that issue short of a merger. Spears said in researching how many calls were dispatched in the overnight hours when there is there is no officer on duty in Westby, he found there were 43 calls foer service in those hours in the last 12 months and averaged about one emergency call a month.
Spears said mergers usually come about because there is an incompetent police department or there are budget issues that creates a citizen outcry for something to change.
“As far as I know none of those issues exist (In the Westby PD),” said Spears.
Westby Police Chief Mitch Hundt said of the goal is to get 24 hour police coverage in Westby that can be accomplished but also pointed out he has come to the Westby Council in the past and asked for more staff and every time the council has chosen to keep the budget down rather than provide more coverage.
“Its Usually not equipment thats a problem,” said Hundt “That is no problem budgeting and purchasing. When you start talking personnel then it is ‘Oh boy now you opened a big can of worms here.'”
While Hundt said he is fine with talks about a merger he would like to see the city “experiment” with adding officers for 24 coverage now rather than wait for a merger.
Westby Mayor Jefson said he first started thinking about the idea of a merger because it bothers him as the elected leader of Westby that there is no one on duty at certain hours of the day and citizens are not protected. Jefson also said he understands that mutual aid has worked well but he also thinks it is unfair to Viroqua taxpayers to rely on Viroqua officer or a county officer during certain times of the day.
In the end everyone agreed that talks should continue between the two communities and if the findings of the group show the merger would not be a benefit to both communities the idea would likely be dropped. They also agreed that a list of pros and cons needed to be developed by the committees before any decision can be made on the issue. They also agreed voter input is crucial to a decision including the potential for a referendum if the issue makes it that far.
Listen the entire discussion from the meeting here:
Category: Local News