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Town council considers police study

JOHN A. BAYLESS, Sierra Sun

Should the Town of Truckee have its own municipal police department?

It’s a question that’s dogged the town since incorporation and the signing of the town’s contract with Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, which provides police protection and law enforcement services to the town for about $2.3 million yearly.

Town Manager Steve Wright told the council during a special meeting that the question has come up several times over the past couple of years, with members of council who wanted to know how much it would cost to form a police department.

“Two million dollars each year for law enforcement is a significant part of the town budget,” Wright said.

Last year, the town commissioned the consulting firm of Lewis-McCrary Partners to study the cost of a police department, and the firm revealed the results of its study to council on May 18.

No action was taken by council at the meeting, which was strictly a presentation of the information compiled in the study.

“Our purpose was to present the structure, organization and staff and projected cost for the town for a town police department in 2001-2002,” consultant Bill Lewis said. He said the study was focused on a police strategy heavily involved with the community.

“There is a strong desire on the part of council to have all town services closely related to the community,” Lewis said.

He said the firm was conservative in its projections, estimating high in every category.

“We felt the worst thing we could do was to present you with something and have it be $500,000 more than you expected,” he told council.

Under the structure outlined in the report, Truckee would pay $1.5 million in startup costs, and about $3 million yearly for operations. According to Lewis, those operation costs are in line with anticipated increases by Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, which will soon be giving a raise to its officers.

He estimated the cost of the sheriff’s contract at $2.96 million after the pay increase.

Wright said the startup costs are an issue the town would have to address immediately if it chose to develop a police department.

“The report suggests the startup year will cost $1.5 million,” Wright said. “That same year, you will incur around $2.5 million in costs with Nevada County. There’s a challenge there. How do we pay for the $1.5 million startup while paying for the existing contract?”

He said the analysis should be performed at a staff level by the town, in order to give better direction to council.

“We also need time to look into grant funds to do this,” Wright said. “Right now California and the federal government have law enforcement grant dollars that might be available.”

Lewis said the most significant initial expenditure would be to build a police station – which in the study is located inside Truckee’s new town hall, out on Highway 267.

“If you could enter into a contract with Nevada County (for a building), the startup costs would be much less,” he said.

Wright said the figures must be carefully evaluated by staff in order to ensure a true “apples to apples” comparison.

“There’s a whole list of things we need to provide to you that fall under local control,” Wright said. “We will provide you with a list of non quantitative issues, both positive and negative. For example, right now Nevada County negotiates with law enforcement unions.”

Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal, who attended the meeting, spoke in public comment, emphasizing the benefits that the town currently receives from Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, at no extra cost.

He said the substation jail is a valuable service, and that under the police station proposal outlined in the study the town would be shipping prisoners to the Placer County jail in Tahoe City, losing at least an hour each time in transit and paperwork.

In addition, he questioned the projected costs for the sheriff’s office after the coming Nevada County pay raise, stating that the numbers he had placed the cost at around $2.7 million rather than $2.9 million.

Another benefit the town receives from the sheriff’s office is its extensive supply of manpower, Royal said. He cited the recent murder investigation in Prosser Lakeview as an example, saying that numerous officers from outside the Truckee substation participated in the manhunt for suspect Ron Blamey and that officers even traveled to Los Angeles and San Diego to interview witnesses.

Royal said he would be willing to cooperate with a town police department in any way that he could, but could not promise anything related to facilities, such as use of the substation building.

“I am not in a position to negotiate county space,” Royal said. He said the county is doing its own facilities study, and may allocate it to probation or some other office, since space is at a premium.

Truckee resident Mike Gray said the town should have its own police department, in order to complete the community.

“If we are to be a self-governing community, law enforcement is one thing that should be under our control,” Gray said. “The only connection we have with the other side of the hill is a boundary line drawn 100 years ago.”

Glenn Jobe also spoke during public comment, asking how the town would provide affordable housing for its officers.

“Entry level housing in town increased from $160,000 to $220,000 in the past year,” he said. “They must be adequately compensated. Can the town take care of these individuals better than Nevada County? I am concerned that we are pricing our service-level people out of our community.”

In response to a question from council, Sheriff’s Capt. Gary Jacobson said officers currently working at the substation live in Nevada City, Grass Valley, Yuba City and Sacramento.

Wright said after the meeting that there’s a lot of work to be done yet before town staff can present a recommendation to council

“There are a huge amount of details that need to be evaluated,” Wright said. “I’m pleased with the study because it got into that level of detail.” He said the information provided by the sheriff and the consultants gave town staff the knowledge to move on to the next step in the process.

“The other thing I want to produce is a pros and cons list of non-fiscal issues they ought to consider,” Wright said. He said that list, along with a more intensive study of some fiscal issues by the consultants, should be ready when the council receives its next presentation in two or three weeks. He also plans to publish the entire police department study on the town’s web site.


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