Responders push consolidation, but Carmel residents worry about lost control.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
AJoint Powers Authority proposal that would’ve combined resources for Seaside and Monterey’s fire departments went down in flames in 2010, but smaller mergers are thriving.
A dozen agencies provide fire and law enforcement services on the Monterey Peninsula, where the total population doesn’t even equal that of Salinas – which has one fire department and police force.
“From a management perspective, an argument could be made that there should be consolidation,” says Sand City Police Chief Michael Klein. “From a political perspective, it’s a different story.”
Sand City, along with Pacific Grove, contracts with Monterey Fire Department. In September, Carmel City Council voted 3-0 to become the newest member of the Monterey Fire merger, which Fire Chief Andrew Miller says will mean better fire service, with more vehicles and firefighters readily able to respond.
Other mergers are rolling, too. Carmel Valley Fire was absorbed into Monterey County Regional Fire District July 1, and the $160,000-per-year savings have already allowed them to tend to deferred expenditures, like fumigating one station for termites.
Now law enforcement is catching on. Last week, P.G. and Carmel gave the nod to proceed with a third-party report on expanding shared police services.
“I think that’s going to be the future of law enforcement,” says Carmel Interim Police Chief Michael Calhoun. “There are ways to become more efficient by working together.” Shared services totaled about 100 hours last year; the city says its merger with Monterey Fire would save $150,000 a year.
But some stakeholders worry that shared police services are a precursor to a full-on merger. “This is the way the fire services [consolidation] started,” says Barbara Livingston, president of the Carmel Residents Association. “I think it’s a shame.”
As the only city in Monterey County with its own 911 dispatch line and a reputation for good service, Carmel has 14 officers who respond mostly to non-emergency calls like runaway pets and lost wallets. Mayor Sue McCloud says the police will stay.
“They have the most contact with the public,” she says. “Would we want other people coming in, speaking for the city and the brand we’re trying to project? I could not go that far.”
Carmel City Councilman Jason Burnett sees more possibilities for shared services and cost savings in areas without weighty customer service implications, like human resources and I.T.
For Miller, more consolidation is still on the table. “I think it would make a lot of sense to have a Peninsula-wide system,” he says. “We want to support Seaside in the stand-alone system they have today. But if ever they would like to have discussions about future collaboration, we stand ready.”