Hollister council opposed to police consolidation

HPD

The Hollister City Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to decline moving ahead on a possible contract-based merger between the police department and San Benito County Sheriff’s Office.

The lone dissenting vote was from Councilman Robert Scattini, who said he wanted the decision to go before voters.

Scattini at the meeting questioned the projected $316,000 annual, total savings through a full consolidation and how the consultant came away with the number.

“They really don’t know,” said Scattini, who also claimed Tuesday that the police chief and sheriff were against a consolidation prior to the report’s completion. “They don’t know how they came up with it. They’re shooting in the dark.”

Council members primarily based their decision on the analysis from outside consultant Municipal Resources Group that recommended against a contract arrangement between the two agencies.

The council did direct city staff officials to start working on items identified, by the consultant, as having the potential for shared or collaborative services between the city and county.

In its report, initially presented to both government boards at a December meeting, the consultant cited reasons urging against full consolidation that included:

– A lack of internal structure in the sheriff’s office needed for management and legal issues with the switch, especially in light of the county laying off the undersheriff role at the end of 2010.

– The relatively low staffing ratios of the two departments would not be improved.

– The cost savings would be small unless significant personnel reductions were part of the contract.

The city and county hired the consultant, splitting the $20,000 cost, to make recommendations on potential law enforcement consolidation or areas where the city police department and sheriff’s office could work more efficiently.

While the 30-page report largely includes information about the process – including data on each agency’s compensation, work structure and service populations – it concludes that a city-county contract and its estimated $316,000 annual savings are not significant enough to offset the complications involved with consolidation. The projected savings is about 5 percent of current, total law enforcement costs for the agencies.

Council members Tuesday night largely discussed the pay disparity between the police officers and sheriff’s deputies, with the city department’s personnel making about $11,000 more annually, mostly due to a more lucrative pension agreement.

That gap has closed somewhat due to changes in the city police CalPERS payment adjustments, although no specific dollar figure has been provided publicly.

Councilman Doug Emerson at Tuesday’s meeting presented a case in opposition to the contract proposal.

He made arguments such as the sheriff being elected, leaving the council with no control over who oversees the department; concern that some police might leave the city if forced to work in the sheriff’s organization overseeing more rural areas; and that the city hopes to get $1.5 million in concessions from the police department to help balance the city’s projected deficit of more than $3 million annually.

County Supervisor Anthony Botelho called the decision “understandable” because the report was just an initial study. He also said the timing probably wasn’t right.

“But I believe in the future at some point it still will make sense and should be revisited at a more appropriate point in time,” he said.

 

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