Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Study: Police Merger Would Save Costs; Some Doubt the Possible $542,000 Savings Is Worth St. Marys-Camden County Deal

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Study: Police Merger Would Save Costs; Some Doubt the Possible $542,000 Savings Is Worth St. Marys-Camden County Deal

Article excerpt

Byline: Gordon Jackson, The Times-Union

ST. MARYS -- A University of Georgia study shows the St. Marys Police Department is effective in keeping crime rates low, despite being understaffed at all levels.

Despite the favorable study, researchers with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government -- Governmental Services say the city could possibly save more than $542,000 a year if the city police department merged with the Camden County Sheriff's Office.

The study was criticized by elected officials and the public at a meeting Thursday night, however, for not making a clear recommendation on consolidation and using ambiguous terminology.

The $24,500 study was commissioned by the St. Marys City Council.

"I would never count on this $542,000 savings," Councilman Bill Deloughy said. "Based on what I've seen in this report, it will cost us more money."

Deloughy called for the study after some council members voted to have a non-binding referendum on November's ballot to vote on consolidation of law enforcement with Camden County. He questioned how the city can save money when sheriff's deputies performing comparable duties are paid more and have better benefits than city officers.

"I cannot see a savings," he said. "The whole approach and process was wrong."

The researchers who conducted the study told council members there wasn't a clear recommendation they could make. Their goal was to give city officials different options to consider if voters approve the Nov. 2 referendum.

"We're not here to say you should or should not contract for services," said John O'Looney, a public service associate with the Carl Vinson Institute who helped write the study.

Harry Hayes, another researcher on the study, said consolidation would give local law enforcement a greater ability to address regional crime problems. Hayes could not answer what the county would charge the city to take over law enforcement because there were so many different ways an agreement could be made.

Options include paying the sheriff's office per incident or by population, the study showed.

"I think you have a top-notch police department; I think you have a top-notch sheriff's office," Hayes said. …

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