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Public Safety Committee Receives Law Enforcement Shared Services Study

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Public Safety Committee Receives Law Enforcement Shared Services Study

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Legislature’s Public Safety Committee today formally received results from the Law Enforcement Shared Services Study conducted by the Center for Governmental Research (CGR), commissioned by Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca, with participation by Cayuga Heights, Dryden, and Groton police departments.  CGR’s Paul Bishop detailed the findings of his firm’s wide-ranging study from nearly nine months of examination and research, and responded to Legislators’ questions.  Marking the milestone in the study’s process, County Administrator Joe Mareane called it “a very important meeting.”

The study’s focus was to evaluate the way police services are now provided within Tompkins County and assess potential organizational changes that could improve efficiency and effectiveness—ranging from combining certain functions to fully consolidating police agencies.  The study, conducted with support from the Municipal Restructuring Fund administered by the New York State Department of State, includes both a baseline examination of the county’s Law Enforcement services and a summary of options for governments to consider.

The range of options set forth in the study include

Maintaining the status quo—an option that would involve minimal operational changes.  Current annual cost of personnel services totals about $18 million.

Expanded shared services and collaboration—potential areas of expanded shared services include training, fleet maintenance, criminal investigations, and common policy development.  With both the Ithaca Police Department and the County Sheriff’s Office exploring new facilities, the report identifies the opportunity of co-location as having the greatest potential for reducing capital costs, decreasing ongoing costs, and increasing operational efficiency through facility design.

Contracting for service— either to replace existing services or provide new services, with villages or towns arranging for services with the Sheriff’s Office, based on performance criteria, or expanding services, such as for the Town of Ithaca.

Merging County and outside-City agencies—where all or some village police agencies could transition into County Sheriff’s Office operations.   Cost would be determined through negotiation but, the report indicates, could in theory be minimized through statutory changes enabling the County to capture more of the sales tax revenue from the villages receiving enhanced service.

Creating a single police agency—either by expanding the County Sheriff’s Office to encompass all officers and provide services to each participating community, or to create a separate County Police Department.  In either type of combined arrangement, consultants advise that all officers could transition to the combined agency all at once or, through gradual attrition of officers and shift of positions, produce a gradual, incremental transition.  If expenses were funded through property taxes alone, the report projects that County property tax could rise by an estimated 28% to support the single, merged agency, while City and village rates would decrease by 42-63%.  Mr. Bishop said the size of such a force might be reduced through better operational deployment.  Should this option be pursued, he remarked that it would be “an innovative solution,” something not currently being pursued elsewhere in New York State.

Moving forward, the report cautions that any action toward potential implementation will require formal planning by the parties involved and allow for community input.

Public Safety Chair Rich John thanked Mr. Bishop and CGR for the detailed presentation and thorough report.  “It seems we’ve got a number of questions regarding what is feasible, and the process—how to think about the issues we have in this report,” he said.  “We have to be very realistic about the amount of work that is involved here.  With shared services that are actually reachable, we could save taxpayers a significant amount of money.”

The study report, and project documents, may be reviewed at the project website:  https://www.cgr.org/TompkinsLESS, which also may be accessed through the County’s home page at www.TompkinsCountyNY.gov ( see “Popular Links.”)