The kind of collaboration displayed on the front page of Friday’s The Union, reporting on a proposed cooperative agreement between the Grass Valley and Nevada City police departments to share resources, is encouraging news for the western Nevada County community.
The fact that both Grass Valley and Nevada City council members will review the proposal next week is also welcome news, as local officials show an open mind in looking for other options on sharing resources to provide the kind of public services their respective constituents expect and deserve. That has not always been the case.
Exploring other options for police services was listed among 30 long-term strategic plan goals during the summer of 2010 by Nevada City’s city council members. But when a preliminary proposal was put forth on Nevada City outsourcing its police services the following January, council members declined to even review prospective reports that were being worked on by the Grass Valley Police Department and the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office. Instead of reviewing potential savings to the city’s then-$1.2 million police budget — comprising 39 percent of the city’s general fund at the time — council members suggested abandoning the project before it progressed any further, citing the issue as too divisive and a preference to keep control of the city’s own policing.
“The council did not meet its fiduciary duty when it failed to consider outsourcing police services,” the Nevada County Civil Grand Jury wrote in a June 2012 report roundly criticizing the decision to drop the proposal without reviewing all options that were planned on being brought to the table.
“I agree,” said Councilman Duane Strawser, who now serves as the city’s mayor and who initially brought the matter before the council after working on the concept with the city’s then-treasurer, who resigned immediately after the council declined to review their work. “There should be no excuses for not fully looking at all options.”
In August, Nevada City officials announced in their official response that they would not implement the civil grand jury’s recommendation to outsource the city’s police services. However, we were pleased to learn in Friday morning’s reporting by The Union’s Christopher Rosacker that the conversation over other options for police services did not end with that decision.
Despite last fall’s voter-approved sales tax hikes in both Grass Valley and Nevada City, the cities are not flush with funding, and police services continue to prove to be costly. Nevada City’s 2013-2014 fiscal year budget calls for a $1.57 million operating budget for the NCPD. Grass Valley projects to spend in the neighborhood of $4.5 million for its police department over the same period. Although any potential cost savings from the proposal remains to be seen, GVPD Chief John Foster and NCPD Chief Jim Wickham believe their communities will benefit from better services provided by their departments due to the sharing of resources.
Over the course of a six-month pilot period, Wickham plans to dedicate one Nevada City officer to work as a shared detective for both departments under the supervision of the GVPD, affording investigative work not currently available to Nevada City. In return, Foster and Grass Valley will provide patrol in Nevada City during “nonpeak” times, which typically see few calls for service. According to NCPD figures from May 2012 to May 2013, the agency receives 25 calls for service per month on average between 3 and 7 a.m. — that’s fewer than one per day during those hours.
“This is the first step,” Foster told The Union. “We need to look at what we can do to share services.”
Similar collaborative measures were seen with last fall’s consolidation of dispatch services for Nevada County law enforcement, now being handled by the sheriff’s office. That decision reportedly will result in Nevada City police saving an estimated $30,000 in the current fiscal year, while the Truckee Police Department is expected to save $200,000 with the consolidation. In closing its dispatch office, the Grass Valley Police Department was forecasted to save about $160,000, which it plans to use in funding three other needed positions. But like the current proposed collaboration, the consolidation of dispatch services was not only about saving money but also based on providing better service through enhanced communication between departments because as Foster said Friday, “The criminals don’t stop at the city limits.”
Local fire departments were recently in similar talks of sharing resources through mutual aid agreements to the point of a proposed alignment of Grass Valley, Nevada City and Nevada County Consolidated fire departments all under the guidance of a single fire chief for the entire community.
Despite the derailment of those talks and Nevada County Consolidated hiring an interim chief May 16, that conversation — and others by all public agencies throughout the community on such opportunities to share resources in collaborative efforts — should continue.
As Nevada City’s mayor suggested at the time of the civil grand jury report, the public expects its elected officials to fully explore such opportunities.
“We need to investigate every option,” Strawser said. “It is our basic responsibility.”
The Our View column represents the views of The Union editorial board, which consists of members of The Union staff and informed members of the community.