By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park could save more than $2 million a year by contracting police services to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, according to a draft proposal from the sheriff’s office.
The proposal contains three options with different service levels costing $9.2 million a year, $10.3 million and $11.3 million.
Currently, Rohnert Park’s police services cost just under $12 million.
Sheriff Steve Freitas, whose department also provides police services to Windsor and Sonoma, said Tuesday that Rohnert Park would also have access to the much larger department’s greater resources.
“That’s one of the huge advantages,” he said.
But the city’s public safety officers, noting that the Sheriff’s Office only provides law enforcement and some emergency services, say that any of the three options would deliver less service and be less cost-effective overall.
“And at this point, when you combine everything we do — police, fire, animal control and emergency services — I don’t see this proposal saving any money,” said Dave Welch, past president of the Rohnert Park Public Safety Officers Association.
The Sheriff’s Office’s most costly proposal foresees a minimum staffing level of six deputies between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. Currently, there are eight Rohnert Park officers on patrol from 9 p.m. on, Welch said.
“Based on those numbers, it is definitely a huge cut in services,” Welch said.
The City Council has yet to officially review the proposal. Tuesday, Mayor Gina Belforte said it was premature to comment on it.
“All across the board, I have a lot of questions,” she said.
Rohnert Park City Manager Gabe Gonzalez asked for the proposal as part of an analysis of public safety costs, the first in a series of similar studies of departments that the city, which faces a $1 million deficit, is pursuing.
He has since hired a consultant to assess the city’s Department of Public Safety costs and the Sheriff’s Office proposal.
The proposal does not address fire safety, animal control or emergency services, which in Rohnert Park are combined with law enforcement in the public safety department.
The officers association has begun to openly resist such a move. At its Easter egg hunt event, officers distributed fliers asking for public support against it.
The fliers stated, among other things, that contracting for law enforcement would violate promises city officials made in a successful campaign last year for a 0.5 percent sales tax increase to preserve city services.
“The citizens reaffirmed when they passed Measure E that they wanted to preserve public safety services and they wanted to keep their tax dollars here in Rohnert Park,” Welch said Tuesday.
On Friday, Gonzalez pushed back, sending a letter to community leaders that later will go to all residents, outlining the city’s fiscal challenges.
The letter did not specifically mention public safety, but emphasized a need to examine each department’s costs and whether alternatives exist.
He said on Tuesday that he does not “see it as a battle” with the POA but as him doing his job.
“I am simply looking at the cost. I am not contracting out; that’s not my call to make,” Gonzalez said. “My job is to look at the cost and to inform the City Council and our citizens how and where the money is being spent.”