The Orange County Sheriff’s Department contracts with thirteen incorporated cities receiving approximately 127.5 million dollars per year collectively from those contracts. These revenues represent approximately 35% of the yearly revenue the Department receives. In Aliso Viejo, the per deputy cost of a patrol deputy is approximately 256k per deputy, which includes approximately 90k of added overhead per position. The City of Dana Point pays approximately 310k per deputy after overhead is added in order to cover a “premium” cost enhancement. The remaining cities all pay approximately the same as Aliso, including added overhead. The fiscal uncertainty and the lack of an inclusive partnership with the Department has placed budgetary pressures on the contract cities, who have been asking for help for years.
Allow me to describe a typical budget cycle when it comes to dealing with the Sheriff’s Department. The cities receive a first estimate on what the new contract year amount will be. This number is usually very high, let’s say $600k increase. The cities push back saying the amount is too high and cannot in some cases be absorbed due to budget considerations. The department will come back with a revised number around $450k, resulting in still further pushback from the contract cities. In the final revise the department tells the cities they have done more revisions and the actual final amount will be $300k. The cities are relieved because it is not the original $600k but soon realize it was never going to be $600k and does not include an increase in services. We still have the same number of personnel deployed on the street, the same number of vehicles and the same number of administrative staff. Nothing changes except the cost.
The contract cities continue to push back on these cost increases. In a meeting with the Sheriff and her staff, cities were told and have been repeatedly told, “It’s the cheapest game in town.” Well, that’s true until it’s not true and the contract cities, many of them anyway, are tired of being told there is no way to save money and that we should be happy to be “saving” so much money. So, because of the lack of real partnering on the contract, the contract cities are embarking on a study to find out exactly what is in the overhead costs and is there a more cost effective way of policing our cities. The cost of this study is 300k being paid collectively by the contract cities. It is unfortunate to not be able to work cooperatively with our contract partner and instead have to spend money on a study we should not have had to embark on in the first place. As contract “partners,” we deserve better.
Budgeting is awareness; of priorities, of responsibility, of prudence, of understanding where the money comes from and awareness of the need to control the growth. The contract cities have been asking the Department to look into cost sharing, cutting overhead and any other means to control their costs to no avail. Laguna Hills and Aliso Viejo had the temerity to ask if each city needed a lieutenant, at a cost to the cities of approximately $350k per year per position, or could it partner with each other and share one? The “ask” has been going on for three years. There are other natural, geographic areas where similar sharing scenarios could play out, saving contract partners hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. Imagine that, good governance and saving the taxpayers money while at the same time providing some fiscal certainty for contract cities and not impacting the level of service on the street. I get it, this is the way we’ve always done it, an attitude that is kryptonite to any chance for an organization to improve the level of service provided to the public. The contract cities are not asking for the moon, we are asking to be treated as actual partners, with input on decisions we have to pay for and to not be given the shrug off of “it’s the cheapest game in town.”
A word about Joint Powers Authority and the contract cities. I do not and have not advocated for the contract cities to start their own agency via JPA, similar to what we have with OCFA. I think the cities can afford it but the question becomes is it the best allocation of resources? I do not think at this time it is the best allocation of resources and we should continue to press the Sheriff for a better relationship and a better partnership. We deserve better.