Outsourcing sought?

Published 1:09 am Sunday, February 13, 2011

Daily News Staff

Six of the seven Beaufort County commissioners have adopted a wait-and-see attitude in response to talk about outsourcing City of Washington police services.
One county commissioner couldn’t be reached for comment.
“Until I could sit down and see where it was feasible to do it I have no plans of doing it,” said Commissioner Ed Booth, a former Washington councilman and current county commissioner.
“It’s an idea that I wouldn’t entertain without having the facts,” Booth added.
Apparently, the proposal to have the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office take over police protection in Washington has its roots in conversations between some city and county officials. Those conversations touched upon outsourcing some services provided by city departments and the city and county duplicating some services each provides.
Councilman Doug Mercer acknowledged he spoke with sheriff’s Chief Deputy Harry Meredith about collecting preliminary budget and staffing numbers concerning the matter.
As reported in Saturday’s edition of the Washington Daily News, the figures compiled by Meredith indicate there could be some savings to the city if Mercer’s blueprint were defined. The county could incur some additional costs, at least in the first year of the transition, but its unclear how the financial burden would be distributed.
As yet, no solid plan exists, and talks of moving in the direction of outsourcing are in the early stages.
Of the commissioners who could be reached for comment on this issue, none was prepared to refute or endorse the concept — at least not yet.
“The fact is, at some point, the City of Washington will have to make substantive changes in its way of doing business, or they will be forced to raise taxes, fees, service rates, or all three,” said Commissioner Stan Deatherage. “It does appear that Councilman Mercer is at least trying to get his head around this immutable fact. There are certain synergies between the City and the larger body politic — the county government.”
Commissioner Jay McRoy pointed to the county’s bottom line.
“Obviously before I would say I would be in favor of it I would have to know it was not going to cost the county any additional money,” McRoy commented, adding, “I don’t want to do something that’s going to increase the county’s costs, but if it could save the towns money, and it could be done more efficiently, I don’t have a problem looking at it.”
Commissioner Al Klemm mentioned the potential for a political and monetary cost.
“Money-wise, it could possibly make sense,” Klemm said. “Politically it probably doesn’t make sense. There would be lots of obstacles to it.”
Like some of his colleagues, Commissioner Robert Cayton confirmed Mercer had contacted him about the proposal.
“We would need to wait and see what the city council wants done first,” Cayton observed. “Secondly we would need to review any report that had been prepared with facts and figures. When you begin to talk about transfer of government responsibility, first of all you’ve got to have a request where one body of government asks another body of government to take responsibility.”
Commissioner Hood Richardson said he was unaware of the details.
“I’d have to see what people are talking about before I could have an opinion on it,” Richardson said.
Asked whether he’d oppose the measure if it increased the county’s costs, he replied, “Oh, I’d be against it.”
Commissioner Jerry Langley couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday or Friday. A message left on Saturday wasn’t immediately returned.
On the city side, Councilman Bobby Roberson, Washington’s mayor pro tempore, responded to inquiries by e-mail.
“I do not know who has been involved in the discussions about the merger of the Washington Police Department with the Beaufort County (Sheriff’s Office). I have not been involved in the conversations with either agency,” he wrote.
“As an elected city council person, I should always look at way to reduce cost and maintain the efficiency in any operation of local government. However, the process is very important and the ‘cart is way in front of the horse’ on this matter,” Roberson continued. “Therefore, I am not prepared to move forward on the merger discussion because I have been focused on balancing the budget at the end of the fiscal year. Thus, I am not ready to discuss the merger until we hire a city manager and balance the up and coming fiscal year budget.
“I do not believe we should even contemplate a discussion on this topic until this time next year. We have a budget to balance and that is my priority for the rest of this fiscal year, plus hiring a city manager. Maybe next year after we hire a new city manager. I have not even looked at facts or information so I can not offer an opinion, but our Police Department continues to improve and Chief Reed has turned the page for us and during these difficult time we need to work collectively in problem solving and this department is not on my ‘radar screen’ for any merger.
“The merger is not on my agenda, however, someone will have to show me where it has worked in North Carolina before I even begin to consider discussion on any merger.”
Other council members commented for a previous article.
For more coverage of this issue, see future editions.