Date set for meeting on police-merger plan

Date set for meeting on police-merger plan
Asbury Park Press 08/26/06

The civilian leaders and chiefs of the eight municipal police departments in southern coastal Monmouth County, which Belmar proposes merging into one force, will meet Sept. 12 in Spring Lake to discuss the idea.

Belmar Mayor Kenneth E. Pringle and Police Chief Jack Hill are the architects of the plan to combine the forces of Belmar, Brielle, Lake Como, Manasquan, Sea Girt, Spring Lake, Spring Lake Heights and Wall into a South Monmouth Police

So far, a sample of official reaction to the proposed merger has been skeptical. While municipal leaders have appeared reluctant to put too much effort into the plan, Pringle said public reaction to the idea is encouraging.

"The devil is in the details,'' Pringle said. "I think so long as everyone is assured that they'll continue to get the level of police protection they need, they will be in favor of our trying to find ways to provide police protection at a lower cost.''

Lake Como Mayor Lawrence G. Chiaravallo said he'll be at the meeting with his borough administrator. Though he was first opposed to the idea, Chiaravallo, a proponent of home rule, said he is willing to reconsider his position after he
recently spoke to Pringle about his concerns.

Chiaravallo said he now believes that the eight towns could save as much as $1 million in police chief salaries, benefits and pension costs alone. That's a figure he just can't ignore when 55 percent of the borough's $2.8 million budget goes to the town's nine-officer department.

"I said to him (Pringle): "Look, if it's going to save the town money without sacrificing police services, if we can be sure people will still get the same protection, I'll consider it and bring it up at a (council) meeting,''' Chiaravallo said. "I said to Kenny, "If it works, I'm with you 100 percent.'''

Nevertheless, Chiaravallo still has unanswered questions: "Will the police officers have parity of pay? Also, I want to know, would we have one police chief? Will the other police chiefs retire? Will they take a lesser role? Will we have our own court? Will we have a civilian police administrator? Will our police station become a police precinct?''

Three deputy chiefs

The answers to those questions are up for discussion, said Chief Hill, who … with Pringle … will lead a presentation at the Sept. 12 meeting.

Hill proposes a plan in which the eight municipalities would be divided into three districts … north, south and west … to be supervised by three deputy chiefs who would answer to a single chief.

The regional force would be established under one name: the South Monmouth Police Department, with its own badge, insignia, uniforms, police vehicles and other equipment. Civilian control and oversight of the new department would come
from a civilian commission or council with representation from all eight towns.

No job losses

While the existing eight departments would be giving up their own identity and organizational culture, no officer from the existing eight would be laid off or lose pay or rank during or after the transition.

The savings would come in the years ahead, when attrition and buyouts would trim the megadepartment to a size that best fits the needs of the region. After the merger, one collective bargaining unit would negotiate contracts for the rank-and-file officers.

"This is simply an idea,'' Hill said. "It's scalable, it can be retracted or expanded as needed. It's just an idea. We have some very talented chiefs in this area who can come up with a very workable structure and coverage plan. . . for this to succeed would be a model for the rest of the state.''

Brielle Borough Administrator Thomas Nolan said he has received Belmar's invitation to the meeting and would include copies in agenda packets going out to his Borough Council members this weekend.

"What action they're going to consider, I'm not able to advise you at this point,'' Nolan said. "There was an article in the paper, but we have no detail, no model to go on. Until we really see something concrete, I don't really think it's appropriate to really formulate any type of response.''

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