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Special session weighs public safety contracting options

By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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An ?apples to apples? comparison for in-house versus contracted-out public safety services is being sought by the city after Monday?s 5 ?-hour special Lincoln City Council meeting. The special meeting, requested by Councilman Stan Nader, was to ?review fiscal sustainability report, prioritize and make recommendations to staff.? At least 20 audience members were present for the meeting, including 10 on and off-duty police officers and firefighters. All 115 recommendations were discussed by the City Council and direction was given to city staff for what to do with ones labeled as ?needing direction.? At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Spencer Short asked Nader, ?What are you expecting out of this meeting? since Nader asked for the meeting. ?It was my recommendation that staff needed further council direction and owed it to the committee who worked so hard,? Nader said. The mood of Monday?s meeting was contentious, as the five councilmen asked one another why they wanted certain recommendations to be enacted over others and which recommendations were considered completed and in progress. Councilman Paul Joiner asked Nader ?to explain? his reasons behind wanting a new committee to be formed to look over the city?s audit once completed.? ?You can?t just stand on catch phrases or clich?s. You need to be specific,? Joiner said. Nader responded by saying he is ?all about building trust with our residents,? a reason he cited for not suggesting a revenue measure, saying ?we have not built back the trust? with residents. ?You mean like the 83 percent that had the trust before the last election and then individuals like yourself went out and spread false information and destroyed that trust,? Joiner said. Nader did not respond to Joiner?s comment during the meeting. The committee?s recommendation to contract police, fire and dispatch services was a major point of discussion and was discussed for almost an hour. ?We?ll go to CalFire and the sheriff (Placer County Sheriff?s Office) to say for this amount that we have budgeted, what can you provide?? City Manager Jim Estep said after the lengthy discussion. ?I?ll work with both chiefs to get parameters of what we believe is important (such as) response times, those types of things, so we can get a good apples-to-apples comparison.? Prior to giving direction, discussion by City Council and city staff indicated that contracting out public safety would not necessarily provide more service than what is currently budgeted for. ?If you compare the staffing we have now and ask for a bid on that level of service, you are continuing to under-staff the city,? Interim Police Chief Paul Shelgren said. ?If you look at the final numbers when they come in, I think you really need to look if any there?s any savings and is it worth walking away from what we?ve put into police and fire over the last 100 years or is it worth doing what we need to get past this point.? Short pointed out that the contracts for CalFire and PCSO deputies could ?open up and prices could skyrocket.? Dispatch services were also discussed. Shelgren talked about the possibility of working with Rocklin. ?We have basically started talks with the Rocklin Police Department, talking about combining the two dispatch centers into a regional approach,? Shelgren said. ?Lincoln would remain Lincoln and Rocklin would remain Rocklin and, under the same room, have a minimum of three dispatchers together for both cities.? Shelgren called it ?an opportunity to get double coverage 24/7 for not more money than we have.? ?Operationally, it can be effective and there are a lot of hoops,? Shelgren said. ?To do anything to increase service levels is the best option.? There is a potential ?immediate crisis,? Estep said, because he ?has heard some dispatchers are testing for other agencies.? ?My biggest concern is staffing and the physical challenges of dispatchers working these hours and not being able to take a potty break,? Estep said. ?We?re trying to make it a great working environment as well as (providing) coverage.? Franchising solid waste was also discussed during the meeting, which was a recommendation made by the fiscal sustainability committee. According to previous News Messenger reports, council gave direction April 24 to have city staff investigate franchising solid waste services as a way of bringing in revenue for the city?s General Fund, which provide police, fire, library and recreation services. Estep said Monday that ?we were directed to move forward with getting a proposal? and ?it?s probably about a year-long process to pull the whole thing (franchising) off.? Short said Tuesday that he was ?concerned (the meeting) was counterproductive toward our labor negotiations that are currently ongoing.? ?I?m hopeful that the meeting yesterday will not negatively impact our ability to achieve cost savings with the negotiations that have been ongoing for a substantial period of time,? Short said. ?I appreciate our police and fire departments coming together and working with us to resolve this funding issue we are having in the short term and helping us create long term solutions, which continue to make providing in-house services viable.? Joiner described the meeting as ?useful.? ?I think it was useful to both city staff and council to work our way through the recommendations of the FSC receiving updates of progress and or completion of certain items and evaluating the feasibility and prioritization of others,? Joiner said. Councilman Gabriel Hydrick said he was ?frustrated by the expected, long-winded defensive comments and tone? by council members, which was ?set at the very beginning of the meeting.? ?Once we moved beyond that and found our pace, we moved well, had good dialogue between staff and the citizens in attendance,? Hydrick said. ?Although we?ve met as a council and community and discussed the recommendations, I feel we?re still in the beginning phase of mining this dynamic document for fiscal nuggets that are of great value to our community.? Councilman Tom Cosgrove described the meeting as ?long, but productive.? ?The outcome of the workshop is that we acknowledged the 47 items that have already been implemented or are in progress, agreed that we should implement some additional policies and agreed to identify the most cost-effective method of providing services to the residents of Lincoln,? Cosgrove said. ?The most controversial issue was how to fairly compare proposals from other public safety agencies against the services provided by the Lincoln Fire and Police departments. Cost is a factor but there are many intangibles to consider, including the dedication and commitment of the people who have served and protected our community through some very difficult times.?