Contracting out public safety might not save money

City says talk with Sheriff’s Office shows otherwise
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Contrary to the fiscal sustainability committee’s recommendation for the city to save money by contracting out police services, a recent meeting between the city of Lincoln and the Placer County Sheriff’s Office says otherwise. That’s following a request made by Lincoln’s City Council during a July 9 special meeting. Council directed city officials to ask the Sheriff’s Office what it can provide in public-safety services to Lincoln with the money currently budgeted for police services, according to previous News Messenger reports. How much money is currently budgeted for police and fire services? The resident-comprised fiscal sustainability committee was formed last April at the request of City Councilman Stan Nader, according to previous News Messenger reports. The fiscal sustainability committee’s primary mission has been “to review and analyze the current financial situation and determine both the near-term and long-term fiscal implications of all city funds and to make recommendations leading to long-term fiscal sustainability.” During Monday’s public safety committee meeting, Lincoln City Manager Jim Estep and Interim Police Chief Paul Shelgren said that they met when with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office to get an “apples to apples” comparison for in-house versus contracted-out police services. In a report released in February, the fiscal sustainability committee recommended the city “consider requesting a proposal from the sheriff” for contracting out police services, according to previous News Messenger reports, as a way of saving money. Lincoln Police Chief Paul Shelgren said Wednesday that the Sheriff’s Office “pay scale is more than for a Lincoln police officer.” “The sheriff’s department acknowledged that their labor costs are higher than ours and they are looking at other options and cost-saving factors they could bring to the table to see if they can save the city some money,” Shelgren said. “They won’t have the answer to that until their complete analysis is done.” Shelgren said that the city “can place an officer on the street for a lower cost than a sheriff’s deputy can be placed.” Shelgren said he is “hoping to have the proposal back by September to present it to council.” “The council is very adamant that they will not reduce the level of service,” Shelgren said. “They wanted a bid proposal from the sheriff’s department to at a minimum provide the same level of service.” The News Messenger asked Mayor Spencer Short on Wednesday about Estep and Shelgren’s meeting with the sheriff’s department. “The outcome of the discussion with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office does not surprise me at all. I have been concerned about the idea of contracting out, because based on information I’ve had at my disposal, I realized it would not lead to a cost savings, which was the basis of the FSC report,” Short said. During Monday’s meeting, Shelgren said that “it’s very important to me to keep the police department whole and active” and that Lincoln “needs to have its own” department. “The community, as a whole when looking at police services, it doesn’t mean anything to them if they (police) are wearing green or blue (uniforms),” Shelgren said. “It doesn’t matter if we have 16 sworn deputies or officers, it doesn’t matter until we get staffing up so we can take proactive action. The only thing that can make it any better is for things to turn around and have more revenue.” Shelgren added that “it’s in Lincoln’s best interest to keep the police department” in house. “(Lincoln’s police officers) are familiar with the area, (some of) our officers live in town,” Shelgren said. “We have a lot of years invested in the community and we’ve given a lot of time and energy to this city. The department has years of dedication in this town.” Shelgren said the department has “three reserve officers doing well on training.” “Within the next eight months they will finish their training. They are coming in one or two days a week because they work full-time,” Shelgren said. “They are doing really good and are a big help. We’ll have another interview and testing process to bring on three more and that will help.” Calls for service “are ahead of last year,” Shelgren said, and there are currently “18 full-time sworn officers, with two out.” That means the police department “is operating with 16 sworn officers covering the street.” From Jan. 1 to July 31 for 2012, there have been 10,390 calls for service, according to a department statistics comparison provided by Shelgren. During the same time period in 2011, there were 9,791 calls for service. Officer-initiated activity is down by 27 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to Shelgren, which is “based on staffing levels.” In 2011, the department had 28 sworn officers and now has 18. Councilman Stan Nader, who sits on the public-safety committee, asked about having a volunteer firefighter program. “Talking about staffing, has the department been able to reach out and see if there is interest in a resident program?” Nader said. “I’ve been hit up by people who had been involved with the fire department when it was a volunteer program and they still seem to be of the belief that if you ask, there would be people who would volunteer.” Lincoln Fire Department Battalion Chief Tolan Dworak said volunteer firefighters “have to have the same level of training and equipment as for paid people.” “They would have to do the firefighting academy and imagine having a full-time job and doing six months of academy,” Dworak said. “It is additional staffing on an engine, but to do firefighting work, they have to be trained and equipped the same we are. Because those folks typically have less experience, they need more supervision.” Shelgren added that a paid staff member “would have to coordinate the volunteers, train the volunteers and line up all of their duties.” Nader also asked if the fire department “has given any thought to possibly using a smaller vehicle” for medical aid calls, “maybe taking pressure off of the trucks.” “At our last meeting, Chief Davis had talked about his concern on the number of miles racking up on the trucks and how we are going to deal with that down the road,” Nader said. Using a smaller vehicle could affect response times, Dworak said, if a fire started during a medical-aid call. “In our business, we can’t tell when the next call will happen,” Dworak said. “If they are responding in a rescue vehicle, the engine is left at the station, and if we did get a second fire or medical aid, it poses problems for us not having all of the equipment.”