City considering alternatives to sheriff’s deptartment

DEL MAR — Although there are no major issues with the service provided by the county Sheriff’s Department, the city is considering other options for its law enforcement.

At the Jan. 9 meeting, council members directed the Finance Committee liaisons and staff to explore alternatives with other agencies to reduce costs for police services.

Council tasked the Finance Committee in June to develop strategies to reduce the cost of the sheriff's contract as its first priority.

Jeff Sturgis, Finance Committee chairman, said salaries have had modest and fair increases during the past 10 years.

For example, he said, a sergeant was paid about $77,300 in 2003 and $94,940 in 2010.

The problem, Sturgis said, is pensions and overtime have been “rapidly escalating” at a rate that can’t be sustained by Del Mar’s small-city budget.

In 2003 pension and overtime for a sergeant were $14,300 and $5,700, respectively. In 2010 those costs jumped to $51,400 and $15,200.

“I think that the current model is unsustainable and we need to fully explore all of the viable options,” Councilman Don Mosier said.

“I think we owe it to the community to explore all options and find out the best possible service at the lowest cost,” Councilman Mark Filanc said.

“We are limited in options,” Sturgis said, adding that Del Mar could either stay with the county Sheriff’s Department, attach to a different city or form a shared-service model with nearby cities similar to the one used for fire services that was formed a few years ago.

“This has been a worry of mine,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said. “Having no negotiating leverage is, I think, an issue.”

“I don’t like the way the sheriff contract is negotiated,” Mosier said. “We have virtually no role in setting the terms of that contract yet they commit a major part of our budget.”

In 2001 the budget for the law enforcement contract was $966,000. In 2006 that increased to $1,229,000, and last year the cost was $1,720,000.

“When I first came on council I was shocked at how much we were spending for the level of service we were getting,” Mosier said. “We have made some adjustments.

“We no longer have a motorcycle patrolman who gets paid a full day’s salary to polish his motorcycle once a week,” he said. “That’s a small improvement and … no noticeable loss of service there.”

Mosier also noted that many law enforcement calls are dispatched to the state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds.
“I am convinced that we are subsidizing public safety at the fairgrounds,” he said. “So if we go forward with any kind of shared-service agreement … maybe the fairgrounds, as an independent entity, should be part of that and should start paying a little bit of the cost.”

Filanc and Sinnott, council liaisons to the Finance Committee, will work with that group to explore the options presented and develop a preliminary set of costs and benefits for each alternative to be presented to the full council later.

They will also work with staff and talk to officials in Carlsbad, which has its own police force, about possibly contracting with that city for services.

“I think the problem is bad and going to be much worse,” Mayor Carl Hilliard said. “It is critical that we go out and see what alternatives are available.

“We need to take a good, hard, close look at this,” he said.

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