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Police Contract Cost Shocks City Council
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Besides learning of health insurance and retirement cost increases for the next fiscal year, Riverbank City Council members in a Dec. 20 budget update meeting heard the cost of police services to the city would rise by an estimated $480,000 next year.

The shock provoked suggestions the city should consider reforming its own police department or partnering for law enforcement with a neighboring city such as Oakdale.

Since 2007 the city has contracted with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department to provide police protection. Now the contract is projected to rise from its current $2.9 million to $3.4 million for fiscal year 2011-12 and again to $3.6 million for the subsequent fiscal year. Retirement expenses for officers are projected to increase by 75 percent and workers' compensation by 400 percent.

"There is a perfect storm in law enforcement," said Police Chief Bill Pooley, who is a Sheriff's Department lieutenant but appointed police chief by the council so he reports primarily to the city. "There is more crime. A court order has released many inmates. There is an upswing in gang activity. And there are layoffs among police officers."

To control the budget, Pooley suggested either a 'Plan A' that would cut one traffic deputy by 33 percent, a detective by 25 percent and a community services officer (CSO) by 100 percent; or a 'Plan B' that would require no patrol and CSO reductions but use the state-provided Supplemental Law Enforcement Services Funds (SLESF) of $100,000 per year to offset a deputy's salary. His recommendation was Plan B, although this would mean no reserve officers available to cover community events and directed patrols.

Pooley also recommended making the cuts in January to make salary savings of five months or 42 percent instead of waiting until the start of the new fiscal year in July.

The council, in the absence of councilman Jesse James White, who did not attend, generally agreed with Pooley to choose Plan B.

"I would love to see an option that requires no cuts in our deputies," commented newly elected councilmember Dotty Nygard.

"I remember Les Weidman in 2005 telling us going with the Sheriff's Department was the best decision," said Mayor Virginia Madueno. "Now we see that contract will cost us another $480,000. Where did the money go? Can we contract with another city? Can we start our own police department again? Plan A is not an option for me."

City Manager Rich Holmer cautioned the city has to give the Sheriff's Department a least one year's notice to terminate the contract and said it would take at least that long to set up a policing arrangement with another city. He also preferred Plan B because it involved no layoffs.

"Plan B is the more palatable," added another new councilmember, Richard O'Brien, who also questioned whether the city needed a chief of police to handle administrative and budgeting duties that he felt a sergeant could do.