Members of the Washtenaw County police services steering committee (PSSC) have spent more than a year working to reach agreement over the cost of putting a sheriff’s deputy on the road. The amount for what’s called a police services unit – $176,108 – was accepted in a unanimous vote by the county board of commissioners at their meeting in early December.
But when members of the PSSC gathered again in mid-December, they were already focused on what several members characterized as their next, far greater challenge: Determining the price that municipalities will actually pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy.
Sheriff Jerry Clayton told committee members that after board approval of the cost – “which I think we all agree is a good thing” – the committee needs to start working on a price recommendation, which the board must also ultimately approve. Starting Jan. 1, municipalities are paying $150,594 for each contract sheriff’s deputy they hire to patrol their jurisdiction, an amount that includes overhead in addition to salary and benefits. It’s a 4% increase over the 2010 rate – and one major question is how to set that price in the future. The difference between the cost and the price is paid out of the county’s general fund.
In addition to determining price, Clayton said other policy issues include setting the contract length – he’s in favor of four-year terms – and developing a policy to handle requests to add or subtract deputies from a municipality’s contract.
As part of a wide-ranging discussion with the committee, Clayton also noted that the two unions representing sheriff deputies had worked out new agreements that would save the county several million dollars. Those savings would, he hoped, help convince county commissioners to flatline the price for contract deputies at the 2011 rate. [The next day, on Dec. 16, the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) union announced a ratified agreement with the county that's expected to save $4.426 million over the next four years. The Command Officers Association of Michigan (COAM) union is expected to vote on a similar agreement this month.]
Police Services Price: Gathering Data
Much of the PSSC discussion focused on issues related to setting a price for the contract deputies.
Clayton reported that he’d talked with officials in Manchester, after its village council had initially put off a vote to approve their 2011 police services contract for three deputies. The village council had questions about how the 4% increase was determined. The response to that question, Clayton said, is that it’s based on the will of the county board of commissioners.
Though that’s the reason, he said, “I think we’re at a point right now where that’s just not good enough.”
According to minutes from Manchester’s village council meetings, the item for voting on a new contract was removed from the agenda at its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting. At the council’s Nov. 1 meeting, a discussion resulted in councilmembers tabling the item. From the Nov. 1 minutes:
[Marsha] Chartrand commented that the 4% increase included in the proposed contract has no basis, especially in this economy. Council generally agreed noting that 24/7 police coverage needs to be discussed with the residents. [Pat] Vailliencourt reported that one of the goals of the [police services] steering committee is to get to a cost structure based on detail and then tie future increases to a list of criteria. [James] Dzengeleski suggested that the Village, along with the townships, work toward options with a set of deadlines.
The council’s following meeting, on Nov. 15, was attended by Clayton and commander Dieter Heren, who made a presentation about the 2011 contract. From the meeting minutes:
Chartrand thanked the Sheriff for his presentation and noted that Manchester’s deputies have been excellent. She expressed concern about the necessity of police contracts when county taxes should be paying for this service and that non-contracting jurisdictions still get service. Clayton discussed per capita police costs. Vailliencourt commented that the Board of Commissioners need to recognize the value that the contracted deputies bring to the entire county.
At that meeting the village council later voted unanimously to approve the 2011 contracts for three sheriff deputies at $150,594 per deputy.
At the Dec. 15 PSSC meeting, Clayton said this pushback by the Manchester village council demonstrated the importance of being able to justify the price that’s charged – something that he said hasn’t been transparent in the past. He noted the rigor that went into identifying costs associated with sheriff’s deputies who are under contract with municipalities – costs like salaries, benefits, and vehicle fleet, among other things. [Clayton presented this information in detail at a November 2010 working session for the county board.]
Now that the PSSC has collected the data used to set a cost for police services, Clayton said it would be useful to go back and calculate what the increases would have been if they’d set that cost five years ago. That might be a guide to future increases, he said. From a policy perspective, the county board of commissioners could choose to say that future contract increases are based on actual increases to items like salaries and fringe benefits, for example.
Clayton told PSSC members that it’s his personal hope to resolve these questions by June of 2011, so that contracting municipalities will have firm numbers to use as they prepare their budgets for 2012.
PSSC Members Weigh In
Bill McFarlane, supervisor for Superior Township and a member of the PSSC, told Clayton that “the key is the base price, obviously.” He mentioned that he’d seen reports comparing the costs of contract deputies in Monroe and Oakland counties – he cited figures of about $113,000 and $138,000, respectively – and noted that those costs are significantly lower than what’s being charged in Washtenaw County.
McFarlane wanted to know whether those lower costs were because fewer services were being provided. Without knowing that, he said, the cost comparisons could be misleading.
Clayton said that some of the cost difference relates to the services provided. But in the case of Oakland County, he added, there’s a different philosophy about how much of the cost is picked up by the county’s general fund. It’s a higher amount than in Washtenaw, he said, which means that the municipalities pay less for services provided by their contract deputies.
Clayton offered to collect data from those counties and create a spreadsheet for comparison.
Pat Vailliencourt, president of the Manchester village council and a PSSC member, recalled that she had previously “not so kindly” chastised the county commissioner who represented her district for not taking into account the size of the population when evaluating how much they pay per police services unit. There’s a big difference if the municipality has a population of 6,000 or 1,700, she noted. Because their population is lower than many parts of Washtenaw, Manchester residents are paying about $200 per person to have police coverage, Vailliencourt said – per capita, that’s more than many other communities, she added.
Vailliencourt said it seems some county commissioners feel that parts of the county aren’t willing to pay a fair share for police services. On a per-capita basis, she said, they are actually paying more.
Clayton said it’s also important to look at economies of scale that come from collaboration and contracts with the county – that’s what helps to drive down costs. He pledged to gather data from surrounding communities, as well as from counties that are comparable in size to Washtenaw County.
Clayton also pointed to the situation in Pontiac, a city in financial crisis that had attempted to contract with the Oakland County sheriff’s department for police services. Though Oakland County commissioners had rejected the proposal at their Dec. 9 meeting, Clayton noted that when new commissioners are sworn in at the beginning of the year, the new Republican majority will likely approve the deal.
Even if Oakland County charges what Washtenaw County does per police services unit, Clayton said, Pontiac would still save more than $1 million and put more officers on the street. It’s a no-brainer, he said.
Turning to the situation in Washtenaw, Clayton noted that the county’s Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) union had agreed to concessions that would result in significant savings to the county, and he expected the Command Officers Association of Michigan (COAM) union to vote on a similar agreement in January. [The next day, on Dec. 16, the POAM union – which represents 244 employees – announced a ratified agreement with the county that's expected to save $4.426 million over the next four years. The bulk of the savings comes from forgoing raises in 2011 and 2012, and getting 1% raises in 2013 and 2014. Employees represented by the union will also begin paying for part of their health care premiums – $50 a month – starting in 2013.]
Those savings would, Clayton hoped, help convince county commissioners to flatline the cost for contract deputies at the 2011 rate of $150,594 – and to make future adjustments from that base.
McFarlane told Clayton that they applauded him for helping reach these union agreements. “That’s why we voted for you,” he joked.
Police Services: Next Steps
Clayton suggested that the PSSC financial subcommittee – a group that had done the heavy lifting to research costs and make the final recommendation on that issue – next take up the task of making a price recommendation.
The subcommittee members have included Clayton; Saline police chief Paul Bunten; undersheriff Mark Ptaszek; Gregory Dill and Dieter Heren, both executives in the sheriff’s office; county commissioners Kristin Judge, Wes Prater, Jeff Irwin and Mark Ouimet; Ann Arbor Township supervisor Michael Moran; Michael Radzik, the police services administrator for Ypsilanti Township; Lima Township supervisor Kenneth Unterbrink; and Jennifer Watson and SiRui Huang of the county’s finance office.
There was some discussion about which county commissioners would participate. Any of them can be involved, but in the past Ouimet, Irwin, Judge, Prater, Ken Schwartz and Rolland Sizemore Jr. had been the primary commissioners taking part in PSSC discussions. Both Ouimet and Irwin are now state representatives, and Schwartz lost his bid for reelection – he has been appointed by his former colleagues to the Washtenaw County Road Commission.
Clayton said he’d talk to the chair of the board of commissioners about future representatives from the board, and he thanked Schwartz for his service on the PSSC. [Other commissioners weren't at the December meeting.] For his part, Schwartz noted that the sheriff’s office accounts for more than a third of the county budget, so it’s important to have a broad perspective when discussing these issues.
Pat Kelly, a PSSC member and Dexter Township supervisor, said it’s also important to have Ann Arbor’s perspective – even though it was a perspective that she and others from contracting municipalities have often disagreed with. The Ann Arbor voice on the PSSC previously was provided by Irwin, who represented District 11 – one of four Ann Arbor districts on the county board. Ann Arbor commissioners have generally been vocal in their desire for contracting municipalities to pay more of the costs associated with a police services unit.