The clock is running.
The City of Lathrop has given the San Joaquin County just six weeks to answer questions about whether they can match the current contract on the table from the City of Tracy for police services.
If they can’t, or they aren’t willing to disclose numbers that frustrated members of the council say they’ve been seeking for months, the nearly 30-year relationship between the two entities will formally end.
After a marathon session that stretched nearly five hours Monday night, a divided council voted 3-2 to give the county – represented by Sheriff-elect Pat Withrow and Supervisor Tom Patti – a 30-day window to see whether they can reduce the per-officer costs to keep the relationship alive. Councilmen Paul Akinjo and Steve Dresser cast the dissenting votes.
The City of Lathrop contends that it’s the 1937-era retirement program with an annual escalator of nearly 7 percent that is making the prospect of a long-term contract with the county unfeasible as it prepares to adapt to the challenges of managing an explosion of growth while at the same time working to solidify the retail sales tax base along the I-5 corridor that will sustain long-term city services.
In a meeting that was at times contentious, representatives and supporters of the county fired back against the consultant, Municipal Resource Group, claiming that the numbers that are being utilized for a year-by-year comparison between Tracy’s standing offer and the projections they feel it would cost the city to continue with the county based on historical trends were either incomplete or skewed.
But even City Manager Steve Salvatore, at times exasperated with the lines of questioning and the constant fire that was leveled on staff not just by the public but by other elected officials, stood by the numbers that the city says show a clear disparity between the cost of doing business with their longstanding partner in law enforcement and blazing a new trail – a disparity that could end up saving them nearly $20 million over a 10-year period even after all of the initial startup and transfer costs are recouped.
“I want to make sure that we protect the interests of that group of people so that the development and services can be delivered to the people who are already here,” Salvatore said during a long rebuttal to questioning from a councilman. “If you buy a house here, I want to make sure that you’re taken care of into the future.
“If funding services dwindle because of creeping costs in another area, it creates a tremendous burden on me and my ability to run this city.”
According to Lathrop’s financial analysis, it’s the cost-per-officer with the San Joaquin County contract that is raising alarms when planning for the future. According to MRG’s numbers that were included in the staff report, the city will be paying roughly $54,000 more for every police officer they have on the street with the county than they will under Tracy’s proposal – a number that grows through the ranks significantly from there up to $142,000 more every year for a Captain. Even with more than $5 million in startup costs to hire and train new officers, the city believes that they would recoup that money after two years and then save, on average, $2.5 million every year of the contract that follows.
Local developer Susan Dell’Osso, who said that she didn’t plan on speaking on Monday night, pointed out that a city like Lathrop – that is experiencing growth patterns that will take decades to realize – can’t afford to pass up on those savings.
“Yes, there is the upfront cost, but when you get to year three it’s break even, and at the end of the contract we will have actually saved $5 million and that can also be put into our piggy bank,” Dell’Osso said. “The city has projects that we’re going to have a $25 million savings over a 10-year period, but we need to look at what we are going to save in 10, 20, or even 30 years – River Islands isn’t going to be completed in the next 10 years, we’re looking at a buildout of 20 years from this point forward.
“If the city can save $50 million over a 20-year period, I think it’s unconscionable not to do that.”
County says big
changes are coming
But the county maintains that there are already some big changes on the horizon in terms of a new contract with line personnel that will shift the county’s pension obligation by 30 percent – something that Withrow believes stands a good chance of coming to fruition after six years of stalling – and other details can be ironed out with the county’s budget staff and the city to reach the best possible conclusion for all involved parties.
Withrow, who spent the early part of his career with the Sheriff’s Office assigned to Lathrop, asked the council to give him more time to figure out what can be done – pleading for the opportunity to save the relationship.
His sentiments were echoed by Patti, but the Supervisor had no problems sparring with the consultants that have spent the last 18 months crunching the numbers for the city – even at times hurling insults to illustrate what he saw as the pushing a “narrative” that doesn’t jive with the county’s take on things.
“You had ‘six-shooter’ Sam come in here with guns blazing and all he ended up with was some humble pie,” Patti said of the consultants, taking issue specifically with Dan Drummond’s assessment that the county’s financial staff failed to offer a reasonable rebuttal to their financial forecasts.
Patti ultimately apologized for the comment and said that he was just looking for levity, but it set a tone that led to a sharp response from the council and city staff.
“Why is there the disconnect?” Councilman Steve Dresser asked, reiterating that the city has requested numbers time and again and have gotten nowhere. “Nobody wants to tell anybody why – that’s a big concern for me.
“Mr. Withrow – can I call you Sheriff? – and Supervisor Patti, you guys will go there and get ahold of the auditors and whoever makes the decisions and I’m afraid the decision is going to be the same thing. How much latitude do you have to say your numbers aren’t right – we are looking for some savings here.”
Salvatore, almost defensively, noted that the county’s willingness to engage didn’t seem to start until Monday night.
“The sooner the better would have been before tonight,” Salvatore said. “With all due respect, he is on the Board of Supervisors for San Joaquin County, and directs the staff as to what to work on. Those numbers would have been very clearly known if they can be reduced or not.
“If they can’t be reduced, we’re paying the higher cost. Reducing them only means an officer is going to take a pension cut or a pay cut – a severe pension cut or a pay cut. If that’s the case, that’s the case, but we haven’t seen that – yet.”
Patti said that he’s committed to doing whatever possible to keeping the contract alive and will facilitate meetings between those in the county that make the decisions regarding the budget and representatives from Lathrop to see if a deal can be reached.
The City of Tracy is set to meet in a special session at 3 p.m. on Friday to discuss the contract themselves, and interim City Manager Randy Bradley said that they are open to wait until Lathrop’s regularly scheduled meeting of Aug. 13 to find out whether this is something that the city wants to move forward with.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.