Grover Beach City Council rejects Arroyo Grande's proposal for combining police departments

Council cites concerns about losing control and losing contact with citizens

clambert@thetribunenews.comMay 22, 2012 

Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach police won’t be joining forces anytime soon.

Talks appeared to hit a standstill Monday night when the Grover Beach City Council shot down a proposal from Arroyo Grande to provide contracted police services, saying paying for such services does not constitute “full consolidation.”

“This is kind of Arroyo Grande taking control of the police services, and I don’t think the residents of Grover Beach would appreciate that,” said Grover Beach Councilman Bill Nicolls. “We’d definitely lose considerable control if we go through the contract as laid out here. We’re actually contracting away our control.”

The Arroyo Grande council had voted this month to send Grover Beach a proposal to create a department of 38 sworn officers, 12 nonsworn employees including dispatchers and records clerks, and 16 part-time staff positions.

Under the proposal, Grover Beach police employees would be hired by Arroyo Grande, and Grover Beach would pay Arroyo Grande from about $2.7 million to $3 million annually for personnel, equipment, use of the police station and other costs under a five-year contract.

Officials from both cities have outlined numerous benefits to merging their departments: a larger police force, increased officer safety, a faster response time, an improved coordinated response to disasters and major crimes, and access to additional resources, such as motorcycle and canine units.

But Grover Beach council members decided the cons — mainly, loss of local control and contact with citizens — outweighed the benefits.

In addition, they were concerned that not all police employees would be hired by Arroyo Grande, and that others would be demoted to receive lower job titles.

Members of the Grover Beach Police Officers Association have opposed the proposal for those reasons, as well as the requirement that Grover Beach employees go through a testing process before being hired in the neighboring city.

While initial projections estimated Grover Beach could save at least $100,000 a year, City Manager Bob Perrault said once other costs are accounted for, including anticipated employee pay cuts in next fiscal year, the first year of contract services could actually cost the city $115,000.

Savings to Arroyo Grande were estimated at $311,200.

Arroyo Grande police Chief Steve Annibali, who attended Monday’s meeting, said he was disappointed by the Grover Beach council’s decision. He said changes have been made to the proposed budget to allow the three employees slated for layoff — a dispatcher, a records clerk and the police chief’s secretary — to keep their jobs.

However, that was not part of the proposal the Grover Beach council considered, Grover Beach police Chief Jim Copsey noted.

“I think they understand what they’re looking for,” Copsey said, “and this proposal is not what they’re looking for.”

Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals suggested that if the city is interested in contract services, it should solicit proposals from Pismo Beach and the Sheriff’s Office, as well.

Annibali said the Grover Beach council may have misunderstood what it would mean to contract for services.

“Someone needs to be the host or we have to have a stand-alone police authority,” he said, which is likely more expensive.

Discussions about police consolidation have been ongoing for years.

In July, the Grover Beach City Council made it clear that city leaders were not interested in paying for contract services.

Instead, they said they’d be open to combining the departments, similar to what was done with the joint Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano fire departments.

In that situation, Grover Beach and Oceano fire personnel became Arroyo Grande employees. The Five Cities Fire Authority is governed by a three- member board made up of elected officials from each community, with an equal vote on the budget and other matters.

Grover Beach council members said they believe the Arroyo Grande proposal would not give them similar control over police services.

They also expressed concern that the proposal was created based on the assumption that Arroyo Grande voters pass a $6.7 million bond measure in June to fund construction of a new police station at West Branch Street and Old Ranch Road.

Annibali said the estimate was created with that assumption so that costs for the new station would be built into the proposal, but that merging is not contingent on the bond measure passing.

It’s unclear where the two cities go from here. Nicolls said one possible step would be to form a committee with council members from both cities to discuss options.

The council did not take action on that, but it voted 4-0, with Councilwoman Debbie Peterson absent, to send a letter to Arroyo Grande indicating the proposal is not in Grover Beach’s best interest. Peterson emailed some comments indicating she also opposed the proposal.

“Particularly galling is the downgrading and layoffs and hiring requirements for our officers, the suggestion that we dispose of our vehicles and use (Arroyo Grande) vehicles,” she wrote. “This complete lack of regard despite our clear direction indicates to me that this would not be a happy relationship.”

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