All 13 Orange County cities that contract with the Sheriff’s department will conduct a joint study on how to curb the rising costs for police services after some cities worried about spending nearly half of their budget on sheriff’s services.
“The fact that … it has been absolutely unanimous up until this point says a lot,” Mission Viejo Mayor Wendy Bucknam said Tuesday night during the city council meeting.
Mission Viejo is the lead agency and the last of the 13 cities to sign a memo that addresses their financial concerns and pools funds from the different cities -- based on population size -- to finance the estimated $300,000 study.
For example, Mission Viejo has a population of 96,000 and is paying $45,000 while a smaller city, like Laguna Woods with a population of 16,000, is paying $7,500 for the study, according to the staff report.
Unlike his suggestion earlier this month, Mayor Pro Tem Ed Sachs said the study isn’t about the cities forming their own regional police force.
“I want to clarify for everyone, I’m not proposing that the cities … form their own JPA (joint powers authority). I don’t know that that would ever pencil out,” Sachs said. “If we got to the point where that was a consideration, then we have to take it very seriously.”
Additionally, Sachs said the study proposal is missing one key element.
“What it doesn’t address is what I consider to be the crux of the matter … the number one driver of … contracts going up and escalating: deals with labor costs. And none of the contract cities have any input into negotiations,” Sachs said.
He said while the study is underway, he hopes the cities can establish better communication with the Orange County Board of Supervisors and possibly gain some weight in contract negotiations.
“We essentially have five people negotiating on behalf of (the cities),” Sachs said. “They negotiate the contracts and we pay the bills for those things.”
City Manager Dennis Wilberg will send the study proposal out to bid Monday and the deadline for bidders is Oct. 23.
He said the city’s had a good relationship with the Sheriff, but the rising costs are concerning to the cities.
“However, the cost of that contract has continued to escalate and has reached the point, in our case, our contract now is over $19 million. At the current rate, we expect that in five years it would reach 24 to 25 million,” Wilberg said.
The study will look at options such as cities sharing lieutenants and sergeants in a potential command consolidation, a countywide split on substation costs, consolidating the Sheriff’s human resources and examining if traffic citation revenue credits to the cities is reasonable, according to the study's scope.
The 12 other cities that have signed onto the study are: Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Stanton, Villa Park and Yorba Linda.
Mission Viejo currently spends 33 percent of its budget on police services, according to the staff report.
“Public safety is our number one concern. Looking at ways to provide that public safety with fiscal prudence is what we’re doing right now,” said Councilwoman Trish Kelley.
Some of the other cities’ spending on the Sheriff contract is approaching half of their budgets.
Laguna Woods and Aliso Viejo, both of which signed the memo last week, spend nearly half of their budgets on contracting with the Sheriff. Laguna Woods has 16,000 residents while Aliso Viejo has 50,000.
Like Laguna Woods, Aliso Viejo projects Sheriff’s spending could account for over 55 percent of its budget without any increase in service in the next five years.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.