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Our cops and our firefighters to stay ours

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Sometimes an easy decision takes a long time to reach.

Such as whether to contract out public-safety services or keep them as is with the Lincoln police and fire departments.

For months, several residents have advocated for contracting out.

A little background is in order. Lincoln’s public-safety services are funded from the city’s General Fund. As Lincoln’s revenues have not kept up with expenses, due to a tanked economy locally, regionally and nationally; the city’s police and fire department services were reduced as a result.

Staffing was cut considerably during the last few years. There were 38 sworn police officers in fiscal year 2008-09, compared to today’s 19.5 positions. And the fire department lost six positions so there are today only 21 firefighters.

And yet Lincoln’s police and fire staff have carried out their jobs with a never-ending commitment to do the best they can, in spite of bigger workloads and less manpower.

Lincoln is still considered the safest city in Placer City. And Lincoln was recently named the 48th safest city in the United States by Neighborhood Scout, according to Lincoln Interim Police Chief Paul Shelgren.

The Lincoln finance committee made the right decision at the Feb. 5 meeting.

A week ago Monday, the committee unanimously voted to recommend to City Council that “no further consideration be given to contracting out public safety services.”

In other words, the finance committee wants to continue keeping public-safety services under city control.

Whether to keep the Lincoln Police Department and Lincoln Fire Department or to contract out public-safety services respectively to the Placer County Sheriff’s Department and Cal Fire (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) has been on the City Council’s radar for more than a year.

Since at least November 2011 when the resident-run fiscal sustainability committee discussed how the city could remain financially secure, City Council has heard repeatedly from several community members to contract out services.

And in February 2012, the fiscal sustainability committee gave City Council a report with 115 recommendations, including contracting out Lincoln’s police and fire services to provide an acceptable level of service.

At least three City Council candidates – Peter Gilbert, Allen Cuenca and David Kawas - in last November’s election wanted to consider buying police and fire services from other entities outside of Lincoln.

But in October 2012, initial meetings by Lincoln city staff indicated contracting out services would not help the city. It would cost more money to the city for the same services, and thus more expenses passed on to residents, if Lincoln terminated its police and fire departments.

Lincoln City Manager Jim Estep, Lincoln Interim Police Chief Shelgren and the Sheriff’s Department representatives initially met; Estep, Lincoln Interim Fire Chief Mike Davis and Cal Fire representatives initially met.

Estep wouldn’t give the exact expenses last year because he wanted to wait until his staff brought the contracting-out analysis to City Council this month. However, he told me in December that the Sheriff’s Department wouldn’t give a proposal based on the city’s 19 officer staffing level but “they proposed at least 22 sworn officers and the amount was substantially higher at over $300,000. “

In addition, Estep said last year, “Cal Fire would cost more than our city’s fire department” and require “a one-time as well as ongoing capital replacement funds in the low millions to replace equipment, ranging from trucks to hoses.”

Fast forward to last week’s finance committee vote and the expenses to contract out would cost the city more.

Comparing the city’s current fiscal year police budget to the preliminary Sheriff’s proposal has an additional annual cost between $.5 million and $1.9 million plus a one-time cost between $.9 million and $1.2 million to fund retiree healthcare costs, according to Tuesday’s finance committee’s memorandum to City Council.

While the preliminary Cal Fire proposal shows budget savings of between $45,123 to $81,339, it doesn’t include the city’s cost of funding ongoing fleet maintenance and repair costs ($62,915 in fiscal year 2011-12) or the recommended one-time “catch-up” city contribution of $1,594,066 to $2,660,773 and recommended annual contribution of $179,534 to $302,867 for funding future replacement of major equipment.

Plus the city’s police and fire staff, who are good at what they do, get to keep their jobs. Most of these employees live in Lincoln; we see them at PTA meetings, at the grocery markets and in our neighborhoods.

City Council members Spencer Short and Peter Gilbert are two of the three-member finance committee. Also on the committee is Lincoln treasurer Terrence Dorsey.

The other Lincoln council members, at Tuesday’s council meeting, unanimously backed the finance committee’s decision to keep police and fire local.

Tuesday meeting’s audience, which included at least 20 public-safety officers, applauded as each councilman voiced their appreciation of the Lincoln Police Department.
I’m glad that those in uniform heard the applause. It has been a long time overdue.

I’m sorry it took so long to reach this decision. It wasn’t easy for police and fire staff wondering all these months if their jobs were secure. I’m glad our public-safety officials were patient waiting for an answer.