City considers safety services study

Leonard Matarese knows he can save the city money. Whether Sandusky will use his organization and listen to its suggestions is another matter.
Jason Singer
May 11, 2010

Leonard Matarese knows he can save the city money.

Whether Sandusky will use his organization and listen to its suggestions is another matter.

Matarese, a consultant for the International City/County Management Association, said Monday night the association, if hired, would provide the city with unbiased, honest suggestions -- supported by the numerical data -- that would improve the efficiency of its safety services.

But he couldn't guarantee savings for the city because Sandusky must implement those suggestions to reap the benefits.

"We will tell you the truth," Matarese told the city commission. "What you do with the truth is your choice."

Matarese spoke to the commission as part of a presentation on the various ways the city can improve the efficiency of its police and fire departments.

Acting police Chief Charlie Sams and acting fire Chief Paul Ricci suggested national accreditation for the police and fire departments.

The accreditation agencies both support "best practices" and have strict monitoring programs. By meeting the agencies' high standards -- which identify the strengths and weaknesses of each department -- the departments would naturally become more efficient, the chiefs said.

Police accreditation would cost about $18,230 over a five-year period, and fire accreditation would cost about $17,000.

Matarese said he encourages both departments to achieve accreditation -- a multi-year process with no guarantees of becoming accredited -- but accreditation does not offer the same benefits as the ICMA.

Only the ICMA, Matarese said, will do an in-depth analysis about the departments' efficiencies and inefficiencies.

Matarese said one of the keys to the ICMA's analysis, which costs $63,500, is a unique software that measures workload.

As opposed to call volume, the statistic most departments use, his association's software measures the amount of time officers are actually working, he said.

Two separate police departments can both receive 2,500 calls per month, but depending on the type of call and the time it takes to solve those problems, the agencies could either be extremely busy or have significantly extra time on their hands.

Identifying a police or fire department's workload is paramount to making decisions on staffing, Matarese said.

In some cases, as in the case of Wyoming, Mich., ICMA suggested the police department needed more officers. In that city, the police officers spent more than 90 percent of their time attending to calls from residents, which is too much to run an effective department, Matarese said.

In other examples, officers spent as little as 50 percent of their time actively working, which is too little, he said.

The decision over whether to use ICMA has divided the community and city commission, partly because the city recently endured across-the-board layoffs, with more coming in June.

Meanwhile, revenues continue to be lower than projected in 2010.

City commissioner Kim Nuesse said the city must take action to improve its efficiency for the long-term financial health of the city. Nuesse said the five cities she contacted who used the ICMA, including Huron, saved at least $100,000, and some saved more than $500,000 after implementing the recommendations within the past year or two.

The ICMA provided city officials with a list of five cities as references.

"The way I look at this is as an investment," Nuesse said.

Jerry Garrett of the NAACP said he supports the study after speaking with acting chiefs Sams and Ricci and hearing Matarese's presentation.

He cited the ICMA's unique expertise and resources. The ICMA has 9,000 members in 37 different countries. Its goal is to help governments provide better services to residents.

Still, some citizens balked at the idea of spending the money when the commission might not implement the cost-saving suggestions.

Andy Dunn, one of six laid-off police officers, asked, "How can the public back a study if we don't know that you're going to use what they say and we've spent $63,000?"

Dunn also wondered why the city would take $32,500 from 2010 and 2011 general fund budgets -- one possible funding suggestion for the ICMA study -- instead of using that money on safety services.

Sharon Johnson, a fiscal watchdog, said she'd prefer the city only use grant money on the study, and suggested it should freeze all spending until it aligns its budget with declining revenues.