Town & Village Take “Baby Steps” Toward Shared Detective Unit

At their May 19 joint session to consider shared services and consolidation, it seemed unlikely that the Mamaroneck Town Council and the Larchmont Village Board could agree on any of the recommendations presented in March by a tri-municipal study group on the topic. Yet by the end of the meeting, the boards had made progress on at least one new cooperative venture with the potential to save $300,000 or more per year.

Town Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe opened with a host of questions about the timing, cost and details of the study group’s first recommendation: a combined Mamaroneck Town-Larchmont Village detective task force under the supervision of Larchmont Police Chief John Poleway. Meanwhile, the Larchmont Village Board had already approved a resolution on May 10 endorsing the idea. “I’m assuming this [resolution] is in theory,” said the supervisor, given that there had yet to be any discussion between the two boards.

Mamaroneck Town Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe, Larchmont Village Mayor Josh Mandell and their respective boards made some progress on a proposal for a shared detective task force .

Everyone was in favor of cutting costs, but where was the data to support the report’s assertion of a $300,000 savings, she asked. How could the committee recommend a particular leader without interviewing both chiefs? Shouldn’t the boards consult first with the chiefs, the police departments and with their labor attorneys?

Larchmont Mayor Josh Mandell, who was also a member of the Tri-Municipal Shared Services/Consolidation Study Group, defended the proposal and his board’s resolution. In his view, in order to move forward, each board would have to first decide to support the concept.

With help from Bill Dentzer, the chair of the study group, he explained the potential savings. The two departments now employ a total of 9 detectives, but a combined unit could cut back to 7 by eliminating duplication (1 not 2 supervisors and youth officers). Depending on which staff members were let go (or allowed to retire) the savings could range between $300,000 and $450,000.

There were too many “ifs” and “imponderables” to quantify the savings any further, said Mr. Dentzer. Cutting a senior staff person would save more than eliminating a junior position. But even if there were no staff cuts, said Mayor Mandell, having one rather than two supervisors would free up staff to perform other duties – thus improving services.

Mayor Mandell said a “full-blown” merger would “get complicated” and require creating a costly new taxing district and new labor contracts. He was hoping instead to “guilt” the police into going along with the shared detective unit as “not such a bad idea to save money” in the current economy.

Town Councilwoman Phyllis Wittner said costs and staffing are typically decided by going to the chief at budget time. “We’re not police,” said Supervisor O’Keeffe. They were in (sometimes strenuous) disagreement with Town Councilman David Fishman, who served on the study group. He said he was reluctant to leave things up to the department heads. “They won’t ever recommend cuts – they are defending legacy, history, culture.”

As for who would lead the new group – Mayor Mandell praised his chief, while Supervisor O’Keeffe praised hers. Larchmont Trustee Anne McAndrews suggested, “for purposes of going forward, let’s not hang our hat on” a particular person who will be in charge.

As the discussion progressed – and veered away from deciding up front on the exact details of the proposed detective “group” (whatever its makeup and leadership) – there was greater acceptance of the idea from the previously reluctant members of the Town council.

Ultimately, both boards went along with a proposal by Councilman David Fishman on resolutions (one by each board) in support of the “spirit of the thing” – with details on mechanics and feasibility to be determined at a later date. (Read the Town’s resolution.)

That’s fair enough,” said Supervisor O’Keeffe, echoed by Councilwomen Wittner and Seligson. “It’s a baby step, but it’s a step,” said Councilman Odierna.

Additional steps will include: conferring with labor attorneys and the police chiefs and then meeting again in joint session within the next few weeks.

Fire Departments “Working Together Just Wonderfully”

The two boards also discussed a second study group recommendation, which Mayor Mandell characterized as mostly focused on improving efficiency in Larchmont. There was general agreement that the fire departments in Larchmont and Mamaroneck Town were already working together better than they had in many years, as evidenced by joint training exercises and plans to adopt compatible radios and share specialized equipment or staff.

Despite some grumbling on the part of some paid firefighters, said the mayor, Larchmont will be adopting the centralized paging system (run by Westchester County and dubbed “60 Control) which is employed in Mamaroneck Town. This will not only free up staff, he said, but will also make it easier to expand the circumstances in which two or more departments respond immediately to an alarm.

There was less enthusiasm for a third study group recommendation to have the Mamaroneck Town clerk issue parking permits for both municipalities. Viewed as a potential service improvement, but not as a money saver, Mayor Mandell suggested dropping the idea after some council members questioned the logistics and the fairness.

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