By Claire Harlin
The Del Mar City Council on Jan. 9 directed the city’s finance committee to look for alternatives to contracting with the county Sheriff’s Department.
The move is in response to the cost of the contract, which has escalated about 5.5 percent annually, from $966,000 in 2001 to $1,720,00 in 2011. Pensions alone have risen from $14,300 to $51,400.
“I don’t like the way the sheriff’s contract is negotiated. We have virtually no role in setting the terms of that contract, yet it commits a major part of our budget,” Del Mar Councilman Don Mosier said. “When I first came on council I was shocked at how much we were spending for the level of service we are getting.”
In addition to pensions, Sheriff’s department salaries have increased by about $15,000 from 2002 to 2010 and overtime payouts have increased by about $10,000.
Finance Department Chair Jeff Sturgis brought the analysis to the council after being directed in July to examine the increases.
“There has not been a loud outcry of concern regarding the service provided, but rather the expense,” he said. “The city may want to look at different types of services than what we are currently asking our Sheriff to provide.”
Sturgis outlined three options: contracting with another city; keeping the current contract; or forming a joint powers authority similar to that which the city uses for fire services. At this point, city staff will further assess the costs and benefits for all possible options and return to council for additional direction.
Carlsbad is a nearby city that has its own police force and could be a viable option to contract with, officials said. Mayor Carl Hilliard said he has already been in conversation with Carlsbad regarding this option.
Sturgis said other cities have also identified pensions and retirements as a problem.
“This isn’t just unique to us,” he said. “Everyone else is in a contract and they are feeling the same inflation that we are.”
He also added that the city has no negotiating leverage.
“We owe it to the community to explore all options and find out the best possible service at the lowest cost,” said Councilman Mark Filanc. “The rate of increase in the pensions is not sustainable.”
Officials said it is harder to measure public satisfaction with Sheriff’s services than to assess costs. To share input on this issue, email firstname.lastname@example.org.