Full merger of City, Park Public Safety Depts. not an option, officials say

Leaders in both cities say they’ll explore other ways to collaborate

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 25, 2013

Grosse Pointe Park and City could both save money by merging their respective public safety departments, according to a new report drafted for the cities by the Washington, D.C.-based International City/County Management Association’s Center for Public Safety.

The ICMA’s report concludes that the respective cities are overstaffed by national standards, and they could save money by cutting back on patrols — something the departments have always insisted deters crime, despite the report’s statistical suggestions to the contrary. But reducing the number of “boots on the ground,” as some city officials have referred to them, is something neither city is willing to do at this time.

Even though the study shows that the number of officers on the road in both cities is “significantly” above the national average, “we’re not at a point where we would be willing to cut patrol staff,” Park City Manager Dale Krajniak said during a June 24 Park City Council meeting.

However, Krajniak said both cities are still looking at other avenues of closer collaboration to trim their respective costs.

“I think we’re all in favor of some sort of consolidation to save money … but the ICMA recommendation, to me, was ridiculous,” Park City Council member James Robson said. “What they gave us was a jalopy with three flat tires” when we asked for a vehicle with better gas mileage, he added.

In April, City Manager Pete Dame said both cities received word they qualified for an award of up to $209,000 from the Michigan Department of Treasury’s Competitive Grant Assistance Program. Those funds could be used toward consolidation startup costs, but the cities needed to approve a “supporting resolution” within 60 days to retain their eligibility to receive the money. As Dame noted, approving the resolutions wouldn’t commit either city to consolidation, but would, instead, protect the grant should they decide to go forward with a merger.

“If we didn’t approve it, they could take the money back,” Dame said.

The City Council unanimously approved the resolution at a June 17 meeting, and the Park City Council followed suit, approving the resolution unanimously June 24.

“It’s without risk,” City Mayor Dale Scrace said June 14 of the resolution. “It just keeps our options open and preserves the grant.”

Park Public Safety Director David Hiller said the funds could be used toward a merged emergency dispatch between the Park and City, something that’s already in the works and slated to take effect by Sept. 1.

At a special meeting the morning of June 14, city officials from the Park and City — including the city councils, city managers and public safety directors — met at Windmill Pointe Park in the Park for a summary of the voluminous ICMA report, which was initially supposed to be completed by the end of 2012 but got delayed, in part, because the five Pointes entered into an automatic aid agreement last year for fire service, on top of the mutual aid pact they already share.

Thomas Wieczorek, director of the ICMA’s Center for Public Safety Management, said the cities could save about 25 percent from what they’re paying for public safety now, “but there’ll be challenges as you go forward,” he warned.

“The key thing you need to maintain is the perception of safety,” he said.

The report called for reducing full-time employees by 12-18 people, which would result in a savings of $1.26 million to $1.89 million total — $756,000 to $831,000 for the City and $428,400 to $504,000 for the Park, individually.

At least one city official felt some staffing reductions might be a good idea. At his council’s June 24 meeting, Park City Council member Daniel Grano said they might want to consider reducing manpower at less busy times.

“I hope the conversation continues,” Grano said. “Certainly we don’t want to reduce boots on the ground. … I know the (public safety department) chief has problems with that. We live in a very safe community. We have a wonderful police force. We pay for it… We owe it to the taxpayers to save them money while providing the same (level of) service.”

Wieczorek alluded on multiple occasions to the crime problems that grip Detroit’s east side, an immediate neighbor of the Park and City.

“In the Grosse Pointe area, you have a unique situation. … You have a unique neighbor that surrounds you on a couple of sides,” Wieczorek said.

“It’s a challenge for you. A lot of how you are staffed is you overcompensating for those issues.”

The ICMA report concluded that the cities could reduce their staffing by roughly 20 percent, using one lieutenant, one sergeant and five officers per shift for the combined department. One of those officers would remain at the Park station for fire and EMS calls. It also suggested trimming the detective bureau to two officers fully dedicated to that role, stating that four detectives between the two cities “are more than is necessary” to serve them.

“The biggest cost you have is personnel,” Wieczorek said.

At his council’s June 24 meeting, Hiller acknowledged that because of the proximity to Detroit’s east side, his is “not the normal answer-a-call-and-respond” community.

“We pride ourselves on visibility,” he said. “And (Wieczorek) agreed. … In reality, we would not be comfortable with the (staffing) numbers we were given.”

The report does call for higher staffing at times when the cities typically have greater call volumes. Wieczorek said they could use part-time or seasonal employees for these “power shift” periods. The part-timers could come from a local police academy, he told officials.

If officials did decide to move forward with consolidation, Wieczorek advocated a “stepped approach” with community input.

“There’s always skepticism,” he said.

Wieczorek also recommended using attrition to reduce the number of command officers, if the cities opt to consolidate.

The cities would need to amend their respective codes and hire a pension actuary to study both pension systems in order to merge the departments, he said. Wieczorek advised creating an authority with representation by both communities to govern the new combined department. The Park and City are already part of a multi-city authority that handles trash disposal, the Grosse Pointes-Clinton Refuse Disposal Authority.

“We think an authority would be the best way to manage this. … An authority gives both (cities) the ability to have input,” Wieczorek said.

Only a handful of residents and employees of the Park and City were in attendance for the June 14 meeting, which was announced only a few days ahead of time. Some residents protested the lack of advance notice, pointing out the significance of the subject matter.

“I think this could be one of the biggest issues facing the city of Grosse Pointe in a long time. … I think the citizens do need to be involved,” said City resident John Hartz.

Park Mayor Palmer Heenan said, “We’re not trying to be secretive,” and Scrace said there would likely be additional meetings in the future to discuss this topic.

Park City Council member Robert Denner said consolidation as a whole was not an option for either city, but said the cities hoped to use some of the data in the study to find savings through other opportunities to work more closely with the City.

“Even though (the report shows) that our staffing is far in excess of (other) communities our size, neither community is interested in reducing road patrol,” Denner said. “That will not happen.”

To read the complete report, visit either of the city halls or click on the Public Safety tab at www.grossepointecity.org.