Northwood Considers Swapping Police Department for County Protection
Worth County Sheriff Jay Langenbau said the city could save about $70,000 to $130,000 in the first year.
The difference depends on whether an additional county deputy would be hired to increase service and how much the city actually spends on its police force, including overtime.
The Northwood Police Department, headed by Chief Leo Dorsey, has two officers. There is a third officer opening that has not been filled.
Overtime is the driver of discussion, all agreed.
Northwood City Councilman Gary Nerlien said he is in favor of hiring another officer, but would not allow any overtime, a situation, he said, that has “been out of control.”
He said the law does not require overtime be paid unless there are five officers in the department, according to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
Ultimately, he said, Northwood has always had a police department and that should continue.
“This is our problem,” he said. “I have nothing against the sheriff and I think he does a good job. But I think it is easy to pass our problem on to someone else. This is the city’s problem to fix.”
But Mayor Randy Severson is not so sure.
“In order for the city to eliminate the overtime the city would have to hire at least five people, which is not affordable for the salary and health insurance costs,” he said.
More than $13,000 in overtime has been spent by the Police Department between July and September, according to figures gathered by Councilwoman Jane Bloomingdale and Dorsey.
Severson said excess overtime brings other problems — officer burn-out being a big one.
“So they look for other employment where they possibly have a set schedule, getting some time to spend with their families,” he said.
Although Severson wants to see more study on costs, he said Langenbau’s proposal could provide a “large savings for taxpayers.”
Nerlien, however, said contracting with the Sheriff’s Department for services is unnecessary and entering an unknown realm that makes him nervous during tight times.
Langenbau said he would guarantee a budget of $225,665.50 for sheriff services for one year.
That contrasts with an estimated cost of $307,640 for the city Police Department, according to figures and averages developed by Bloomingdale and presented to the City Council.
Neither of the figures includes overtime.
If the city wants another deputy, Langenbau said the cost for a one-year contract would be $290,554.
He presented figures for both a one- and five-year contact. A 28E agreement would hammer out the details of a partnership between county and city.
Part of the agreement would have the county taking over use of the city police department, cars and equipment.
If the sheriff’s proposal went forward, Dorsey and his two officers would be hired as deputies. Their duties would be concentrated on city beats, Langenbau said, although they would periodically be pulled to county duties.
While the officers would start at a lower rate of pay, their salaries would exceed their current salaries after one year — as much as $10,000 more, Langenbau said. Deputies would also receive increased training.
The salary Dorsey would be offered would be $6,000 less than the $51,000 he is paid now. That figure does not include overtime.
Langenbau said he was contacted by City Council members two months ago about how the two departments might work together to save costs, or what would be saved if the sheriff’s department operated law enforcement for both the city and county.
No other county in Iowa has such an arrangement, Langenbau said.
There would be cost savings, he said. Langenbau said his department would not have the level of overtime recorded by the city’s police officers in 2010. He estimated that at the current rate the city will have more than $50,000 of overtime this year.
While the county also had overtime last year — $42,000 — it was spread among 20 employees, he said.
Other savings would come in lower health insurance costs. The city pays 100 percent of family health coverage, while only half of family coverage is paid by the county for its deputies.
With four additional deputies and the seven already with the county, the city and county would receive 22 hours of patrol and two hours of call time per day.
If a fourth deputy was not hired, citizens would get 16 hours of patrol and eight hours of call time each day.
“Our deputies receive between 50 to 60 hours of training every year, although the minimum is 12 hours,” Langenbau said.
“We would also have the manpower needed to do some programs, such as bringing back DARE,” he said.
Langenbau said the Worth County Board of Supervisors and Civil Service Commission “are all on board” with the proposal.
If Dorsey and officers took deputy spots, each would start at a beginner deputy pay and be on a one-year probation required of all first-year deputies, Langenbau said.