Government Technology

    Digital Communities
    Industry Members

  • Click sponsor logos for whitepapers, case studies, and best practices.
  • McAfee

City Outsources Police, Fire and Parks



April 7, 2011 By

Update: 27 April 2011. According to an article in the San Mateo, Calif. Daily Journal, "The city of San Carlos has a tentatively balanced budget without a structural deficit for the first time in 11 years, based in no small part on $1.5 million in savings from dismantling its joint fire department with Belmont and pursuing a hybrid model with Redwood City."

San Carlos, Calif. -- in Silicon Valley -- has many advantages: an educated workforce, pleasant climate and a fairly affluent population of 28,000. This 85-year old "city of good living," however, saw its full-service mandate eroding under a decade of relentless budget cuts.

Those cuts weakened the Police Department and left the city unable to afford maintenance of some school athletic facilities. Police and fire protection costs grew to 62 percent of the city budget. Fire services costs rose 30 percent in the past five years while revenue stayed flat. And voters turned down four separate revenue measures.

Vallejo -- a neighboring city of 120,000 -- saw police and fire costs rise to 70 percent of the budget before the city declared bankruptcy. A former city manager warned that San Carlos had maybe three years of "business as usual" before it, too, would suffer a similar fate.

Andy Klein -- who grew up in San Carlos and became vice-mayor in 2009 at age 27 -- said that for years the city kicked the can down the road as budget cuts kept coming and things got worse. Finally, he said, the city decided enough was enough. Payroll was outsourced to ADP and then the city contracted out maintenance of parks. "These were warm-up matches," he said, "for the big fights," of police and fire protection.

Landscape and Parks Maintenance

The city wanted a savings of $500,000 per year for the same level of landscape and park maintenance. And got it. In fact, said Assistant City Manager Brian Moura, the level of service improved.

The transition -- while not without its problems -- went fairly smoothly, said Moura. Most maintenance staff were transferred over to the Sewer Unit at the same job classification and pay, but with less draw on the general fund, as sewer service is funded by ratepayers.

The contractors plunged in, upgrading sprinkler and other systems, and instead of individual staff members rotating through the various maintenance tasks at fixed locations, the contractor brought crews in to do them all at once, and moved the crews around as needed.

Police Contract

With two successful "warm-up matches" under its belt, the city approached policing. In the beginning, said Klein, there was opposition from the police officers and from the public. Fire and police services -- the bulk of many cities' budgets -- are critical for the safety and well-being of a community, and tinkering with them can be politically treacherous. In addition, city residents identify with the police and fire departments -- to the public, they are the city. But the city figured it could save $2 million per year -- 8 percent of the general fund -- and that finally won the day.

Nearby Redwood City was interested in the contract, as was the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, and the Sheriff was chosen. "We had 38 people," said Moura, "and the Sheriff has 623. That's a deep bench." The Sheriff hired the city's police staff and even bought all the city's patrol cars. Sworn staff got a 10 percent pay raise and that deep bench was attractive to many younger staff who could rotate through different departments gaining valuable experience for later -- something not possible in the smaller city Police Department. Only the shield and motto changed on the patrol cars, so most residents didn't notice that Sheriff's deputies had replaced city police officers. And the savings allowed the city to add back some services cut earlier, such as a school resource officer and a traffic unit.

According to an article last month in the San Jose Mercury News traffic citations dropped, and felony arrests increased in the three-month period following the transition. Emergency response time is the same. According to Klein, six months after the transition, the public loves the Sheriff's Department, the schools are happy about the new resource officer, and there are now plans to reinstate the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program.

Fire Services

The city is now tackling fire services. It currently shares fire protection with the neighboring city of Belmont, but costs have risen substantially. The savings benchmark for fire was set at $1 million per year. Wackenhut, a private firm, said it could triple the savings and still improve services. That is very interesting to Moura, as might be expected. "If we can save $3 million per year on fire and can guarantee it for 10 years, we could do some interesting things with $30 million," he said. "Like handling our flooding problem, or fix some buildings that have deteriorated."

Insourcing

And the city has some other ideas as well. Like insourcing. The city has a good recreation program, says Moura, and just won a contract to provide recreation services to the neighboring city of Half Moon Bay -- which on April 2 also decided to outsource its Police Department.

Trend

Klein said he thinks that contracting requires some courage and that San Carlos was at the forefront with a sort of "leap of faith." Now that there are some successful examples, he thinks many jurisdictions will follow.


| More

Comments

Add Your Comment

You are solely responsible for the content of your comments. We reserve the right to remove comments that are considered profane, vulgar, obscene, factually inaccurate, off-topic, or considered a personal attack.

In Our Library

White Papers | Exclusives Reports | Webinar Archives | Best Practices and Case Studies
Digital Cities & Counties Survey: Best Practices Quick Reference Guide
This Best Practices Quick Reference Guide is a compilation of examples from the 2013 Digital Cities and Counties Surveys showcasing the innovative ways local governments are using technological tools to respond to the needs of their communities. It is our hope that by calling attention to just a few examples from cities and counties of all sizes, we will encourage further collaboration and spark additional creativity in local government service delivery.
Wireless Reporting Takes Pain (& Wait) out of Voting
In Michigan and Minnesota counties, wireless voting via the AT&T network has brought speed, efficiency and accuracy to elections - another illustration of how mobility and machine-to-machine (M2M) technology help governments to bring superior services and communication to constituents.
Why Would a City Proclaim Their Data “Open by Default?”
The City of Palo Alto, California, a 2013 Center for Digital Government Digital City Survey winner, has officially proclaimed “open” to be the default setting for all city data. Are they courageous or crazy?
View All