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Colfax approves applying for $125,000 COPS grant

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — As Colfax Police Chief Pete Gehring puts it, “maybe the third time will be a charm.”

The Colfax Village Board authorized Chief Gehring to apply for a $125,000 COPS Hiring Grant at the board’s May 13 meeting.

COPS stands for Community Oriented Policing Services, and this will be the third time since he has been in Colfax that Chief Gehring has applied for the grant available through the United States Department of Justice.

If the grant is awarded, Colfax would receive $125,000 over three years to employ a full-time police officer, Chief Gehring said.

“This is in addition to what we already have. It can be rehiring a laid-off police officer or hiring someone new. The only requirement is that at the end of the third year, Colfax would have to pay the full cost of employing the officer for one more year. It is a four-year program,” he said.

“It is giving us a full-time officer for a quarter of what it would cost us regularly,” Chief Gehring noted.

The $125,000 is the maximum amount of the grant; the cost of hiring another officer includes wages, benefits and taxes, he said.

If the officer were to leave for any reason, he or she could be replaced, and the village could continually have someone in that position for four years, Chief Gehring said.

At the end of the four years, it would be the village’s option to continue the position at the total full cost or to discontinue the program; there also may be an opportunity to renew the grant at the end of four years, he said.

“Since I have been here, I have applied for the grant twice, but we have never received it. I am hoping the third time will be the charm,” Chief Gehring said.

If the grant is awarded to Colfax, the village board would still have the opportunity to decline accepting the money, he said.

“What I’m asking for is the opportunity to apply for this grant. The deadline is May 27, and the deadline is coming quickly. It’s a lengthy grant (application),” Chief Gehring said.

The village board’s public safety committee met prior to the village board meeting to discuss the possibility of applying for the grant.

“As a committee, we felt this would be a good opportunity for the village,” said Mark Halpin, village trustee and chair of the public safety committee.

If the full grant amount is awarded and is divided by three, the money would be a little less than what the full-time officer’s package is right now, Chief Gehring said.

Although the village board could opt for a two-tier pay scale, “I’ve never been fond of that,” Chief Gehring said.

Another option would be to reduce the number of part-time hours and put the hours toward a full-time officer.

“I don’t think we would want to discontinue the part-time completely because there are vacations, sick leave and holidays. But we could greatly reduce the part-time cost in order to contribute toward this,” Chief Gehring said.

Scott Gunnufson, village president, wondered if two officers would be on duty certain nights.

Staffing options were discussed at the public safety committee meeting, but the actual duty hours can be decided later, Chief Gehring said.

Right now the Colfax Police Department covers 16 hours per week day and 8 hours on Saturday and 4 hours on Sunday, he said.

“We could greatly increase that with an additional 40 hours per week,” Chief Gehring said.

“This is a great opportunity to get extra help for a minimal cost,” Gunnufson noted.

Chief Gehring said he would submit additional information on options for scheduling, and what, if any, additional cost would be incurred, so village board members would have all the information they needed for deciding whether to accept the grant if it is awarded.

The Colfax Village Board approved a motion that authorized Chief Gehring to proceed with the grant application.