Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County to merge police dispatch operations
The Ann Arbor Police Department and Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office are officially merging police dispatch operations starting in March.
The Ann Arbor City Council voted unanimously early Tuesday morning to approve a contract to have the county provide dispatch services for the next five years.
The city will pay the county $759,089 per year, an amount partially offset by the $12,520 a year the county pays for the space already used as a dispatch center by the city and county.
"This is something that is happening all over the state and all over the country," Hieftje said. "I believe in consolidation and regionalization. It's one of the great ways that communities can save themselves in these times, and it's something certainly that the state is promoting."
The city and the county co-located dispatch staff into one center in June 2010. The council's latest action marks the start of a new level of cooperation.
Police Chief Barnett Jones and Sheriff Jerry Clayton appeared before council members to talk about what the consolidation means for both parties.
Jones said it's an effort on his part to avoid further cuts to the city's police force. The police department has faced significant reductions in force over the past decade, Jones said, and he's tasked with cutting another $1.1 million from the budget in the next fiscal year.
"My reality is a $1.1 million budget deficit target for me going forward, which would mean I would have to probably eliminate more dispatchers and still have to eliminate police officers," he said. "I can't afford to lose any more police officers on the street. We all know that. So good public policy is to try to put dispatch together with the sheriff's department."
Jones and Clayton both stressed the consolidation does not sacrifice quality of service, but rather changes the way service is delivered.
But city dispatchers disagree with that assertion. Three of them spoke out at the meeting, letting council know they disapprove of the plan.
The city's dispatchers are losing their jobs and will have to apply for new jobs with the county. According to information provided to council members, county dispatchers make about $9,000 less to start than city dispatchers, so they can expect less pay, but comparable benefits.
According to a recent presentation on the merger, Ann Arbor's dispatch operation includes one manager, one supervisor and 18 full-time dispatchers, while the county's dispatch operation includes one supervisor and 17 full-time dispatchers.
With the merger, there still will be one manager and two supervisors, but the number of full-time dispatchers between the two operations will drop from 35 to 30, while 10 new part-time call-taker positions will be created, according to the plan presented in September.
Jones said he expects about 13 or 14 of the city's dispatch employees will end up employed by the county. Clayton said he's going to give first consideration in hiring to city dispatch employees who are being laid off, but he can't guarantee them all jobs.
Dispatchers who were present for Monday's meeting said they've felt out of the loop and said they've struggled to get information from the city about the consolidation. The Ann Arbor Police Officers Association, which represents dispatchers, has a filed grievance against the city.
Anne Daws-Lazar, a dispatcher for the city, said if it seems like the county is handling more calls with less people, it's because the city's dispatchers are lending an assist already.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Daws-Lazar said the city's dispatchers bring significantly more years of experience to the table than county dispatchers.
"Why is this true?" she said. "We have seen firsthand the conditions that they work under and the treatment of Washtenaw County dispatch by their administration."
Danyelle Tucker, another city dispatcher who spoke, said county dispatchers have clocked more than 5,000 hours of overtime already this year, a figure Clayton didn't dispute. She suggested county dispatchers work multiple double shifts per week and are fatigued.
Council members indicated they plan to carefully monitor the new dispatch operation to ensure quality. Either party can terminate the contract with 180 days written notice.
The sheriff's office has operated central dispatch since 1990, providing dispatch services to Northfield Township, Michigan State Police, the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority, as well as contract policing jurisdictions. That includes the city of Ypsilanti.
Clayton said the sheriff's dispatch operation would like to add staff, but can't within the present budget. The benefit to the county from the merger is that the city will provide the funding for additional staff, while allowing the county to have a larger pool of resources to deploy.
Tom Crawford, the city's chief financial officer, said the consolidation initiative can be reported to the state in January to help the city win state aid under a new incentive program that replaced statutory state revenue sharing. One of the requirements under the new program is that communities demonstrate they're moving toward collaborating on services.
Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, pushed for a postponement of the consolidation until the council's second meeting in January.
"I'm not so sure this is a good deal for the city," he said.
But only Council Member Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, supported his call for postponement. After further discussion, the entire council voted 11-0 on the consolidation.
"I believe it is in the best interest of the city," City Administrator Steve Powers said of the merger. "It is unfortunate that there are disruptions to individuals."
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's e-mail newsletters.