Productive conversation: City, county workgroup seeks efficiencies through cooperation
CRAIG — Faced with the ongoing issue of declining revenue, officials from Moffat County and the city of Craig are looking to identify ways in which the two governments can work together to increase efficiency and save money, including the potential consolidation of city and county law enforcement agencies.
During a Tuesday meeting, the Joint Services Workgroup, an advisory committee comprised of representatives from both the city and the county, discussed these issues before a crowd of residents, who filled the Council Chambers at Craig City Hall nearly to capacity. Though members of the group agreed that discussing concrete plans would be premature at this point, they did decide to further study the potential for cooperation between city and county — a prospect that might include consolidation of the Craig Police Department and the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Parks and Recreation departments of both governments.
Even so, the group stressed that any such consolidation — if it occurs at all — would come far down the road and would need to involve extensive community input and buy-in.
“This is a monster of a project,” noted Craig City Council member Derek Duran.
Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume opened the discussions about law enforcement consolidation, saying that some type of contractual arrangement for the sheriff’s office to handle municipal law enforcement is something he had previously researched with former Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta.
“We accumulated a significant body of data then, but didn’t do much with it,” Hume said.
He added that similar arrangements are in place in Eagle, Laramer, and Arapahoe counties.
However, the sheriff expressed some uncertainty as to the “scope” of what the committee is looking for, noting there are many configurations such an arrangement might take. These range from cooperative agreements for some services to a full consolidation of agencies.
He said determining this “scope” would require “a deeper conversation than this setting,” but such a conversation would be essential before moving forward.
Hume acknowledged the Craig Police Department does “an outstanding job,” noting that his office and the CPD already routinely work together.
Committee Chairman and City Council member Chris Nichols agreed, saying that current talks should in no way be seen as a negative reflection on the job performance of local law enforcement.
“We’re not saying anyone’s not doing a good job,” Nichols said. “That’s not why we’re going down this road. It’s a question of fiscal responsibility.”
Nichols also stressed that any proposal should be developed with the understanding that law enforcement services will not be cut.
“We would never promote decreasing the number of officers on the street,” he said.
Even so, Hume said more specifics are needed before moving forward.
“How does this look?” Hume mused. “What’s it like at the end of the day?”
Craig Police Chief Jerry DeLong had similar questions.
“We need to get a clear picture of what this does to my employees and to the community,” DeLong said. “It boils down to what is the cost and what level of service this community demands.”
City Manager Peter Brixius agreed.
“We need to set goals,” Brixius said. “What are the goals of consolidation … what do we hope to achieve.”
Added Duran: “The bottom line is, can we provide adequate services at a cost savings?”
According to the group’s consensus, the goals are simple: Maintain services at a level that meets the needs of both city and county residents and determine if there are any cost efficiencies to be realized through combining services or consolidating agencies, altogether.
On the sheriff’s recommendation, the committee agreed to task Hume and DeLong with meeting individually to discuss the possibilities in greater detail, with an eye toward forming a committee to identify the precise levels of service required. This new committee would include Hume, DeLong, and Brixius, plus a yet-to-be-determined number of sheriff’s deputies, city police officers, and community members.
The final component — community involvement — will be crucial, members agreed.
“The community is frustrated that government, in general, can’t get things done,” Hume said, but through open, honest discussions, he added, “we can straight face tell them, ‘as least we tried.'”
Committee members noted that — if the proposal to consolidate moves forward — it will require both internal and external expertise. Hume suggested the group reach out to communities that have combined law-enforcement services in place to gain a better understanding of the benefits and pitfalls.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to what’s best for the city, the county, and the community,” Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck said.
The committee also discussed the potential for similar cooperation or consolidation in terms of the two parks and recreation departments and agreed to move forward in a similar way — with individual meetings between the two department heads with an eye toward developing specifics.
The committee’s agenda had also included a discussion of potential next steps to ensure funding for Moffat County Libraries and the Museum of Northwest Colorado, but this discussion was removed from the group’s revised agenda due to the feeling that such discussions would be “premature.”
Contact Jim Patterson at 970-875-1790 or jpatterson@CraigDailyPress.com.