By HILARY SCOTT
Special to the OBSERVER
Consolidating the two largest policing agencies in the county is not an easy task. The effort is actually in its fifth year.
The consolidation of the Jamestown Police Department and the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office is a complicated and delicate process, as there are six different bargaining units and management associations between the two agencies, which means there are six different agreements that contractually stipulate things like employee compensation, pay scales and benefit packages.
Consolidation requires resolving the differences in compensation, work-week scheduling, health care benefits and retirement plans, and determining number of patrols and response times, appropriate level of support staff and office locations, and how to merge equipment. Possible merger models include "flipping the switch" and having two entities immediately become one, or have two entities function under one command that will transition into one entity.
Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi got the ball rolling on the consolidation when he broached the topic in his annual State of the City address in 2007. A task force for the effort was formed later that year. Funds were needed, however, to hire consultants and third-party legal counsel, as well as to complete studies.
The City Council decided to apply for a grant from the state Department of State Local Government Efficiency program to study the consolidation in December 2008 and in July 2009, the city was awarded a $400,000 grant.
In 2009, the city and county completed a consolidation study with the state Division of Criminal Justice Services resulting in a baseline analysis of opportunities and challenges confronting the first city/county merger of police operations in the state.
The City Council voted in January to take the next step in the consolidation process by entering into a contract with the Center for Governmental Research for $168,000 to analyze the differences and similarities between the two departments and draft a plan for implementation. The study, which began in February, is funded by the grant from the Local Government Efficiency grant. According to CGR, the study process is expected to take 12 months.
During the second police consolidation meeting last week, representatives from the CGR presented a detailed analysis of some key areas in the two departments to the steering committee.
Chautauqua County and the city of Jamestown budgeted a combined $239 million for the fiscal year 2012. The sheriff's department budget is three times larger than the JPD budget, as it provides several services not offered by the city and also encompasses the county jail. The JPD comprises 23 percent of the city's budget of $33,200,000 and the sheriff's office comprises 11 percent of the county budget of around $205,900,000.
The JPD and sheriff's office have a combined workforce of 184 people, with 84 percent of that being sworn personnel and the balance being civilians. That number does not take into account several division of the sheriff's office which would not be affected by the merger.
Divisions in the county that should not be affected by the merger include the jail/corrections, training, dispatch, tech services and court services divisions. City divisions that should not be affected are the crossing guard, court security, animal control and matron divisions.
The headcount of civilians in the city police is close to half the count of the county. The city civilian number excludes the positions in court security, crossing guards and matrons. County employees have more years of service in each position, though the weighted average overall shows a two-year differential.
The average length of employee service in the county is higher for every position compared with the city. The average length of service for a deputy is within one year of a police officer. The average length of service for a sheriff, contrastingly, is more than double that of a police chief.
PENSION DIFFERENTIALS AND OPTIONS
One of the key areas that needs resolved is the difference in retirement plans between the two departments.
Retirement and Social Security Law stipulates that only police and fireman are eligible to participate in the Police and Firemen Retirement System. Deputy Sheriff's of a county are not considered police officers because sheriff's departments are not considered a "police force" in a county. Under this rationale, police transferring to become county deputy sheriffs could no longer be eligible to participate in the PFRS. Similarly, current deputy sheriffs are not eligible to transfer into the PFRS system.
The majority of the Chautauqua County Sheriff Deputies participate in the Employee Retirement System 14-b (551) plan. This is a 25-year retirement plan with eligibility of 50 percent of final average salary at retirement. All city police officers participate in the PFRS 384-d plan, which is a 20-year plan with eligibility of 50 percent the final average salary at retirement.
The CGR said that there are three basic options available for transitioning the pension obligations.
Option 1 is both existing plans could remain intact, allowing existing staff to "age-out" with their current plan. This means that the overall transition would occur via attrition over time, as city police officers would remain city police officers in order to be eligible for their current plan. New hires would enter into the available plan at their time of hire with the Chautauqua County Sheriff.
Option 2 is that the county could consider adopting a 14-b (552) plan, which is a 20-year plan that's comparable to the 384-d in the PFRS. This would allow for leveling up of the pension benefits.
Option 3 is that the county and city could pursue legislation to allow current sheriff deputies to be brought into the PFRS. The CGR said, however, that there is no precedent for this action, and though several accommodations have been made for similar requests, they resulted in a variation within the ERS plan.
During the next two or three meetings, CGR and the steering committee will begin using this data to start fleshing out implementation options. The next police consolidation meeting will be Wednesday, June 27.