Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated when Arroyo Grande voters will consider a $6.7 million bond measure for a new police station. The measure is on the June ballot.
The Grover Beach Police Officers Association has written a letter opposing a proposed merger of its department with Arroyo Grande police because it could lead to layoffs of a few members.
The union spoke favorably of the plan in February, telling the Grover Beach City Council that a joint operation would improve coordinated response to disasters and major crimes, enable officers to respond to calls faster, and boost enforcement in areas such as traffic.
Arroyo Grande police Chief Steve Annibali said city staff has been combing through the proposal since a meeting last week, trying to determine whether cuts can be made in other areas to prevent layoffs.
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“This thing is so fluid on numbers,” he said. “We were already working on it because we knew that was going to be an issue for them.
“All we’re asking is to move to the next level and start trying to work on the details.”
The Arroyo Grande City Council unanimously voted May 8 to send Grover Beach a proposal for contract police services. If the Grover Beach council decides to move ahead, a committee will be formed to hammer out issues and draft a final agreement.
However, the issue of layoffs could be key to future discussions.
“I think we’d be crazy not to ask you to take this over (to Grover Beach),” Arroyo Grande Councilwoman Caren Ray told city staff. “My concern is that it would be dead in the water before it gets there.”
Annibali said no sworn officers would be let go, but the cuts could lead to the layoffs of a dispatcher, a records clerk and the police chief’s secretary. In addition, a “golden handshake” would be offered to Grover Beach police Chief Jim Copsey.
In response, Juan Leon, president of the Grover Beach Police Officers Association, sent a letter to Copsey on May 3 stating the union would never support a proposal that results in any members losing their jobs. Also, Leon wrote, two members would be demoted from sergeants to senior police officers.
Annibali said a final list for promotions has been compiled and “when we looked at it, we tried to find a way to transition their people without demoting our people.”
The Grover Beach sergeants would receive a nearly $2,000 increase in pay as senior officers and still fill a supervisory role, he said.
Annibali added that all staff would be placed in the next-highest pay step when compared to their current salary.
Leon wrote that the union’s board officers met with the Arroyo Grande Police Officers Association board and were told they would need to go through a testing process to ensure they are “up to Arroyo Grande’s standards.”
“Based on statements that have been made, the GBPOA is highly concerned that the proposed testing process will be used to systematically target and eliminate members that are deemed ‘unwanted’ or substandard,” Leon wrote.
The Arroyo Grande Police Officers Association president couldn’t be reached to comment Tuesday, nor could Leon. Annibali said he wasn’t privy to the conversation but said, “I know all those officers there, and I don’t know of anyone we’re saying is unwanted.”
The Grover Beach officers would be required to pass physical and psychological exams and undergo a background investigation, which is standard for any new hire, even one coming from another law enforcement agency, Annibali said.
The current proposal is also based on the assumption that voters will 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.
If it fails, and consolidation moves ahead, Arroyo Grande could accommodate Grover Beach police in its current station on Halcyon Road — though doing so would be challenging, Annibali said.
Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams said consolidation would allow both cities to improve services and avoid cuts in their own departments.
Combined, the two agencies would have 38 sworn officers, 12 nonsworn staff — including dispatchers, records and property staff — and 16 part-time positions.
Under the proposal, Grover Beach police employees would be hired by Arroyo Grande, and Grover Beach would pay Arroyo Grande a certain amount under a five-year contract ranging from about $2.7 million to $3 million for personnel, equipment, use of the police station and other costs.
Doing so could save Grover Beach at least $100,000 a year, unless that city seeks even further staffing cuts than those proposed in the 2012-13 fiscal year, which starts July 1. It is expected to save Arroyo Grande about $311,200.
“It’s to our advantage that we have good police services throughout the Five Cities area,” Arroyo Grande Councilman Jim Guthrie said. “Clearly this is in both communities’ interest.”