Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach should consider combining their police and fire dispatch systems and contracting with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office to provide dispatch services, the county’s civil grand jury recommended.
In a report released last Thursday, grand jurors said they found through interviews with various city managers and law enforcement officials that “some consolidation of police and fire dispatch is feasible and desirable.”
In addition, grand jurors suggested that other agencies, including the Five Cities Fire Authority and Cal Fire, should meet with a facilitator to consolidate dispatch services at one center run by the Sheriff’s Office.
Doing so could save money, grand jurors noted, though how it would be set up is left to the individual jurisdictions to work out.
The Sheriff’s Office and Cal Fire have been discussing the possibility of a shared dispatch center, Cal Fire Chief Robert Lewin said.
The two agencies could save costs by sharing a facility, Lewin said, and strengthen the relationship between the two entities. Cal Fire would continue dispatching for fire calls, while the Sheriff’s Office would continue handling calls from unincorporated areas of the county, he said.
Some money is proposed to be set aside in next year’s county budget to hire a consultant to study the idea.
The idea of combining police departments isn’t a novel suggestion to officials in Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach. Both cities have studied the possibility, but the discussions between the two cities came to a halt last spring.
“We’ve looked at consolidation numerous times since the ’80s,” Grover Beach police Chief Jim Copsey said. “We’re open to any kind of service consolidation if it meets or increases service levels and there’s a cost savings to it. The proposals we’ve put together for Grover Beach haven’t met those goals.”
Last year, council members in both cities looked at dispatch consolidation and decided to study the potential of combining their police departments, as they believed the possible savings could be larger, Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams said.
But the Grover Beach City Council rejected a proposal from Arroyo Grande to provide police services under a five-year contract. They were worried about the cost and added that paying for services did not constitute “full consolidation.”
In the grand jury report, Sheriff Ian Parkinson said he believes Grover Beach could save at least $150,000 a year if it contracted for dispatch with the Sheriff’s Office.
“I’m interested in working with each of the cities if it is determined that consolidation would be advantageous to everyone involved,” Parkinson wrote Monday in an email. “However, the decision to combine the dispatch centers and contract with the Sheriff’s Office is something the cities themselves will have to make.”
Copsey said the information received by the city was a preliminary estimate and would require further study.
Adams said Arroyo Grande officials have had informational discussions with the Sheriff’s Office about dispatch services, but the option hasn’t been fully studied.
Five Cities left out?
If the cities decide to contract with the Sheriff’s Office for dispatch services, it’s unknown which agency would provide dispatch for the Five Cities Fire Authority, the joint department serving Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano.
Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach police currently provide dispatch for the fire authority.
The grand jury interviewed former Five Cities Fire Authority Chief Joel Aranaz, who said in the report he was not in favor of Cal Fire taking over fire dispatch services.
Current Chief Mike Hubert said he would be satisfied if Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach could work out a solution to consolidate their dispatch services. In the long run, he thinks a regional communications center in the South County, which could also include Pismo Beach, may provide an efficient, cost-effective solution for Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach.
“Anyone in public safety needs to do what’s in the best interest of their communities,” Hubert added. “I would do what I felt was the best, safest option for the people we serve.”
Lewin said he’s open to talking about contract services with any entity, but it’s up to an interested agency to approach Cal Fire. To date, Five Cities Fire has not done so, he said.
The grand jury report can be found at http://slocourts.net/grand_jury/reports. The cities, fire authority, Cal Fire and the Sheriff’s Office are all required to respond to the non-binding report by June 29.