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San Carlos approves police outsourcing

 | Published on 9/3/2010


The San Carlos City Council agreed to outsource police services to the Sheriff’s Office, ending months of debate over the plan to disband the department and save the cash-strapped city roughly $2 million annually.

“I’m pretty excited about this,” said Mayor Randy Royce.

The council voted unanimously at a special meeting Thursday night to accept the five-year agreement with the Sheriff’s Office and associated employee agreements with unions, management and confidential units. While the hearing was largely a sign-off — the heavy lifting of working out details and hearing from the public were done at prior meetings — some residents did take the final opportunity to share their opinions on the shift in public safety service.

Police technician Heidi Morrison, flanked by four other non-sworn employees, thanked the council for making the transition smooth. While Morrison said they were sad not to continue their employment with the city, they are “looking forward to new opportunities” with the county.

Nancy Parker said she and fellow residents aren’t against the Sheriff’s Office but supports the local police and hopes the council find the balance between fiscal responsibility and maintaining what the public has come to expect.

“We’re a small community and we were built on being a family,” she said.

Although some residents once voiced loud concern over the plan — and in fact two sets of three residents tried and failed to put a measure before voters to stop outsourcing — last night’s meeting was largely devoid of the public debate that colored previous discussions of outsourcing. Although no police officers or representatives of the Police Officers Association addressed the council, several members have previously told the Daily Journal they are now behind the concept.

The agreement not only saves every job in the 39-member department for at least one year but offers raises and the possibility of mobility within the Sheriff’s Office. Police Chief Greg Rothaus will likely remain as a captain and bureau chief, and in some instances programs like DARE and traffic enhancement will be resurrected or enhanced.

In comparison, the city would have laid off one sworn employee and one non-sworn if it had opted against outsourcing and adopted across-the-board cuts.

Resident Pat Bell said keeping the staffing level is actually a bad move because the new In-N-Out Burger planned for San Carlos should require one or two more officers.

Some department functions, such as records, will be shifted from the police station in San Carlos City Hall to Redwood City but Undersheriff Carlos Bolanos said many aspects will remain unchanged, such as how the council receives reports on police activity.

Jeff Maltbie, administrative services director, said although the city is outsourcing police services it is not also contracting out its responsibility or commitment to quality service.

Interestingly, the council’s vote on the contract comes weeks after it approved a $53.1 million budget that included the assumption the police services would be contracted out. The budget relies on an estimated $1.014 million in savings from police services, a pro-rated amount based on the contract beginning Oct. 31.

After 10 years of cuts, facing a $3.5 million budget deficit and following the defeat of a half-cent sales tax measure, the council agreed to outsource its parks and payroll services. Officials also dissolved the joint powers authority with the city of Belmont to contract for fire protection, with plans to outsource the service, and more immediately asked for proposals from law enforcement agencies for its police department.

The city accepted the Sheriff’s Office proposal earlier this year and has since been hammering out the specifics.

The city will have start-up and one-time costs as it transitions the department — an estimated $850,000 the first year, with $325,00 already being born by the city, and approximately $150,000 in both the second and third years.

Councilman Matt Grocott explained last night that the costs are largely items like uniforms and vacation buyout that had already been approved rather than new expenses.

Grocott, a vocal opponent of outsourcing, said his approval of the agreement was based on the soundness of the contract and not now believing the city should disband the department.

“It doesn’t mean I’ve changed my mind,” he said.

Now that San Carlos has agreed to outsource, some wondered which area jurisdiction will follow.

“We are the first. We will not be the last,” said Councilman Bob Grassilli.

The proposed contract now goes to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors for approval. That hearing is expected this month.