Mine HIll and Wharton Join Forces
Shared Police Department Brings Safety and Savings
by Vito A. Gagliardi, Jr., Esq.
Frank A. Custode, Esq.
Generally, municipalities are apprehensive about entering into a consolidated services arrangement with neighboring towns for fear of increased costs and loss of services. However, as this case study reflects, if the municipal partners are carefully chosen, and the arrangement is carefully negotiated, municipalities can achieve better services while simultaneously reducing the cost to taxpayers.
A Look at Mine Hill The Township of Mine Hill is a small Morris County community of approximately 3,700 residents. In February 2001, the Mine Hill Police Department had been operating without a police chief since the retirement of its last chief in October 1999. Without a police chief, there was substantial internal strife within the Mine Hill Police Department that led to ineffective and inefficient police services.
In an attempt to resolve some of these problems, Mine Hill Mayor Richard Leary and the Township Council hired Blue Shield Consulting LLC (Blue Shield) on February 17, 2001, to perform an in-depth study on the Mine Hill Police Department and to make appropriate recommendations regarding how to improve the overall level of public safety. At the same time, Mine Hill sought to reduce its operational budget and long-term capital expenses while providing its citizens with more efficient and effective police services.
Ultimately, Blue Shield recommended that Mine Hill dissolve its own Department and contract for services with an adjacent police agency, namely, the Wharton Police Department. Blue Shield opined that this recommendation was advantageous to Mine Hill for a variety of reasons.
More specifically, because Mine Hill had only a nine-person force, a larger police department would be necessary to have at least two officers on patrol on a 24-hour basis, to eliminate officers from working alone on their respective shifts. Additionally, the dissolution of the Mine Hill Police Department would save a large sum of money on future capital expenditures for items such as new police equipment and vehicles. Furthermore, Mine Hill’s operating budget would be reduced greatly by not having to add officers to its own force, which would have been necessary to increase the efficiency of the Department, had it continued to exist. Further, the consolidated services provide Mine Hill with the unmatched leadership of a police chief, Anthony Fernandez, something Mine Hill had been without since October 1999. (The preference for a pro-active police presence under the leadership of a local law enforcement professional led Mine Hill to dismiss readily the option of relying solely on a State Police arrangement for its public safety needs). Thus, on May 1, 2002, Mine Hill entered into an Interlocal Services Contract with Wharton. Pursuant to the terms of the contract, Mine Hill abolished its police department and contracted with Wharton for the provision of local police services for a negotiated fee. Because Wharton needed to expand its department, some of the Mine Hill officers were offered positions with the Wharton Police Department. (As this was not a merger of departments, they had no “right” to have their tenure and seniority honored by Wharton.)
Approximately two years later, it is clear that the contract has been beneficial to Mine Hill, Wharton and the respective taxpayers of the municipalities. Indeed, as set forth in detail below, Mine Hill and Wharton are now receiving more efficient and effective services.
More Effective Police Services There has been an improvement in the crime statistics and the number of accidents reported in both municipalities.1 In Wharton, the biggest decreases have been in the numbers of robberies and motor vehicle thefts, which each decreased by a staggering 66 percent in 2003. Aggravated assault decreased by 42 percent, larceny decreased by 36 percent and burglary decreased by 33 percent in 2003. Additionally, the number of criminal complaints received in Wharton increased by 490 from 2002 to 2003. The total adult arrests increased by 49, and the total juvenile arrests increased by 10. Moreover, the increased number of officers in Wharton has improved the number of reported accidents in the municipality. Fourteen more accidents were reported, and 608 more motor vehicle summonses were issued in Wharton in 2003. “Wharton is enjoying the benefits of a larger, more comprehensive police force,” pointed out Mayor Bill Chegwidden.
Likewise, crimes in Mine Hill have decreased since the consolidation of the police services. The number of robberies in Mine Hill was reduced from one to zero. Additionally, the crime statistics regarding larceny, burglary and aggravated assault greatly improved in Mine Hill. Larceny decreased by 42 percent, burglary decreased by 36 percent and aggravated assault decreased by 29 percent in 2003. As in Wharton, the total number of arrests, accidents reported and motor vehicle summonses in Mine Hill increased as well. Savings Prior to its contract with Wharton, Mine Hill was operating its nine-person police force for a projected cost of $1,114,669.13. However, as noted above, the nine-person force was insufficiently providing police services in Mine Hill. Thus, if Mine Hill did not dissolve its Department in 2002 and consolidate with Wharton, it would have had to increase to a 12-person force.
The total costs of the 12-person force was projected at $1,323,811.56 — over $400,000 per year more than the cost of $918,750 to Mine Hill pursuant to the contract between Mine Hill and Wharton. This reduction in costs has led to an annual savings per household of approximately $120 to $250. As Mayor Leary observed, “This contract is saving Mine Hill a tremendous amount of money and, most importantly, it has escalated the safety of our community.” Thus, the police services in Mine Hill are operating efficiently, and actually saving taxpayers money in both communities.
Endnotes 1. The statistical information used in this article was compiled by Ted Ehrenberg, President of Blue Shield.
Vito A. Gagliardi, Jr. Esq. is a principal in the Morristown firm of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, P.C. Frank A. Custode, Esq. is an associate in the firm. They led the team of attorneys who served as special counsel to Mine Hill, in negotiating the shared services agreement with Wharton.
Originally published in the February 2005 issue of New Jersey Municipalities, pp. 74-76.
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