By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE – The City Council approved a motion to enter into a central dispatch and jail consolidation agreement with Dearborn Oct. 5, with Councilman Wheeler Marsee casting the lone dissenting vote.
Interim Police Chief John Allen said he has held discussions with the Dearborn Police Department to address concerns about officer safety.
“We are going to be on the same system as the rest of Downriver,” Allen said. “If we need backup we can call them for ourselves or the Dearborn dispatcher will call for us.”
Allen said Melvindale police officers will still use Allen Park, Lincoln Park and other Downriver cities for mutual aid as well as Dearborn.
“We are going to share the same radio frequency as Dearborn, so they will hear what is going on within the city of Melvindale, so if there’s a problem they have already agreed they will send officers,” Allen said.
Dearborn will house Melvindale’s prisoners and do the bookings if Melvindale decides to close its jail, Allen said.
“It’s going to be a minimal time frame for an officer to go to the city of Dearborn, but it won’t be as bad as if they have to sit there and book the prisoner, which would take 20 to 30 minutes,” he said. “We are hoping for a five-, 10-minute turnaround at best.”
Police Lt. Dan Jones said supervisor officers’ contracts are up for renegotiation, and they have had extensive discussions with the city about its financial outlook that is “over their heads.”
“We know for a fact that we are in the fifth year of our deficit elimination plan, and we are $1.1 million in the hole,” Jones said. “We know for a fact that our deficit plan has been sent back to us, and we believe that it is directly related to when we voted down combining central dispatch, because they want consolidation.”
Jones said he and other officers fear if they don’t find a way to find a debt consolidation plan that the state will approve, an emergency manager will be assigned to the city and will nullify the current police officer contracts, put two officers on the road and they will consolidate the Melvindale Police Department with a centralized dispatch despite what the city might want.
“We are coming to (the council) in agreement to be proactive with you guys, and in contract negotiations we are speaking about a restructured program that I can’t get into because it is contract negotiations,” Jones said. “But we have been working with patrol (officers) so we can coordinate with them, in order to get this matter resolved so we can make this work.”
Jones said the officers were supporting the consolidated dispatch, and had some ideas and plans that could save the city a substantial amount of money in police overtime to help the city get out of debt and eliminate the threat of an emergency manager coming in to take over.
Jones said any agreement the officers agree to will not result in the loss of any jobs.
“Nobody will lose their job,” Jones said. “There will not be a reduction of any manpower on the street. At certain times under this scenario there will actually be an additional officer (on the street) that wouldn’t have been there before due to the fact that Dearborn would be taking over our phone lines.”
Jones said the city needed to save money and move forward, and he knows there is opposition to a dispatch merger.
“If we don’t move forward and save money, we are going to be up here yelling at an E.M. instead of you guys,” Jones said.
Allen said he is 100 percent behind the dispatch consolidation.
“I think operationally the police will operate a lot better,” Allen said. “The officers will have more time and opportunity for training, and I do believe there will be more officers on the street.”
Cpl. Robert Kennaley, local president of the patrol officers union (through the Police Officers Association of Michigan), said he is in favor of central dispatch.
“It will be brought up with the rest of the union, but as far as negotiations are going, they are going extremely well,” Kennaley said.
Councilwoman Nicole Barnes commended the Police Department for taking this issue to their union in the last two weeks and working out an agreement.
Councilman David Cybulski confirmed that the agreement with Dearborn was for five years of free centralized dispatch.
City Attorney Lawrence Coogan addressed resident concerns over the lack of a contract with Dearborn for centralized dispatch at this time.
“We are not going to negotiate a contract unless it is the pleasure of this body that we engage in the negotiation process,” Coogan said. “And if this body votes on it this evening, then we will begin that process of negotiating.”
Coogan said nothing would be finalized until the council approves the contract with Dearborn.
Dearborn Fire Chief Joseph Murray said it would take time to implement a centralize dispatch, but the cities are taking the right steps now.
Resident Sandy Ortiz challenged the council’s intention to vote on centralized dispatch when they do not know what the program will cost Melvindale in five years after the initial free period.
“If we don’t have these details worked out yet, how are we ready to vote?” Ortiz asked. “How can we vote on something that we don’t have all the details on and we don’t know what it is going to cost the taxpayers five years down the road? Do we have an exit strategy?”
Mayor Stacy Striz said there is an exit strategy built into the proposal that the city can invoke by giving a one-year notice.
Councilman Carl Louvet said Dearborn is upgrading its 400 megahertz radio system to the superior 800 megahertz system no matter which cities elect to join in the centralized dispatch.
Louvet said the Downriver Community Conference had a grant that would allow Melvindale to upgrade its system to even better 800 megahertz equipment.
Louvet said Melvindale paid $360,000 in police overtime last year. Overtime cost has an impact on legacy pension expense as well.
Striz also addressed the contractual concerns of residents, stating that the five-year agreement with Dearborn would be non-binding, and they would not be obligated to stay with Dearborn centralized dispatch after the first five years.
“In that non-binding agreement it says ‘no cost for five years,’” Striz said.
Coogan said it is difficult for him as an attorney to negotiate a contract that is “better than zero for five years.”
Striz said the city has already taken steps to save money, by pulling out of the Wayne County Library System, and converting the ice arena to indoor soccer.
“In three years we have saved almost $1.2 million,” Striz said. “We have saved by consolidating the fire (department),” Striz said. “We eliminated the (city hall) cleaning service. Right now someone in the clerk’s office and the Police Department cleans city hall. We have taken our DPW – there used to be double digit DPW (employees), we have six.”
Striz said the city can’t continue to pay high ranking officers to take 911 calls. She said because Dearborn is already getting Melvindale’s fire calls, it isn’t that much more to add the police calls.
“The only place we haven’t taken a hard look at is the Police Department,” Striz said. “There is nothing left to cut. So I would prefer not to ‘become Deaborn,’ and that is why we are fighting and working hard to not let that happen.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at email@example.com.)