Grant could help with possible consolidation

By: K. Michelle Moran, April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 9, 2014

GROSSE POINTES — A $500,000 grant through the Competitive Grant Assistance Program could create a major partnership between three of the Grosse Pointes, in terms of dispatch and prisoner lockup.

Grosse Pointe Woods applied for the grant and received word April 1 that it was one of 12 Michigan government entities to receive a piece of a $13 million grant allotment to help with costs for changes like interlocal agreements and mergers.

The grant is supposed to help fund a consolidation of dispatch and lockup between Grosse Pointe Woods, Shores and Farms.

“This program continues to be a valuable tool for municipalities and school districts looking to collaborate with neighboring units, implement best practices and get the most of their limited tax dollars,” Gov. Rick Snyder said in a press release. “The local units of government receiving these grants have demonstrated a serious commitment to collaboration, consolidation and mergers, which support the goals of good government.”

Getting the grant award was only part of the process in bringing those dollars home. Grosse Pointe Woods City Administrator Al Fincham, who applied for the grant, said the cities have met to discuss the proposal of merging their operations at Grosse Pointe Woods.

“We would be able to have consolidated prisoner lockup here, and dispatch,” Fincham said.

There’s more discussion to be had, at this point. If the three cities cannot reach an agreement by early June, the grant funding will be forfeited due to grant rules.

The original plan was to get all five Grosse Pointes involved. The issue was funding, Woods Fincham said.

“We couldn’t afford a building to put everything under,” Fincham said.

That led to a split plan for three cities and two cities.

If the cities move forward with accepting the grant, the cities will have a few years to get the project up and running. Fincham said there would be some expansion of the building in Grosse Pointe Woods to accommodate the change.

Fincham and city managers from the Farms and Shores were planning to meet this week, after press time, to discuss the proposal more. They’ve had meetings, and officials from those two communities have visited and toured Grosse Pointe Woods’ facilities.

Besides a cost-saving measure, Fincham said this is another way to show the commitment that Snyder has asked for, in terms of sharing resources among government entities.

“This is another avenue that we can approach, and we can do it more efficiently,” Fincham said.

It’s not a done deal yet, said officials from the Farms and Shores.

“We have had preliminary discussions, but that’s all that’s been done,” Shores City Manager Mark Wollenweber said, noting that the Shores still has a contract with the Farms. “I’m glad (the Woods) got the grant, and I’m looking forward to learning more about it.”

The Shores eliminated its in-house dispatching circa the summer of 2011 and switched to the Farms. At that time, the two cities signed a three-year contract that could be renewed in the future in three-year increments. The Farms-Shores contract calls for a one-year notice, should either city wish to sever the agreement.

“The Farms dispatch, other than some initial problems, has proven to be great,” Wollenweber said. “They’ve given us great service.”

Wollenweber said the three cities have had discussions “on and off” about some sort of consolidation for some time now.

Farms City Manager Shane Reeside said the cities might just consolidate their prisoner lockup, not dispatch.

“We feel our dispatch center is working well and it’s efficient,” he said. “We feel there’s value to having a human body at the (Public Safety Department) front counter 24 hours a day.”

Reeside said relocating dispatch would mean there wouldn’t be someone at the window to assist officers or the general public. This is one of the problems the Shores encountered after it got rid of dispatching. That city now has several part-time clerks at the front desk to respond to visitors and inquiries, a program that was instituted last year after complaints from residents.

“What we’re really exploring is trying to consolidate some of the lockup,” Reeside explained. Additional, modernized cells in the Woods potentially could be used to house arrestees from all three cities, and a single lockup would free up some personnel from handling inmate security, he said. When the Shores stopped dispatching in-house, it also stopped using its cells, with officers taking prisoners to the Farms lockup instead, because Shores prisoners traditionally had been monitored by dispatchers.

Wollenweber said that administrators from the three cities are expected to meet in the coming weeks to continue discussions about how best to collaborate. He said they had no timeline yet, as far as when they might be ready to take action or make any changes.

Whatever decision the cities make, Reeside said it would be based on more than just possible savings.

“There is a certain personal touch that our residents want,” he said. “We want to provide the best service we can. There’s a lot of ways to save on cost, but at what expense?”