New cities benefit from public safety outsourcing
When Deltona, Fla., incorporated 15 years ago with 86,540 residents, it was an anomaly among cities of its size because it did not have its own police force, relying instead on the Volusia County sheriff’s office for law enforcement. Today, Deltona looks more like a trendsetter, as experts say more small- and mid-sized U.S. cities, particularly newly incorporated cities, choose to outsource public safety to the county or state to save money and resources.
Increasingly, new cities are either contracting or sharing city services, says Leonard Matarese, director of Public Safety Services for the International City/County Management Association. “Elected officials are coming to the understanding that we just can’t afford to do business [in the traditional sense] any longer,” Matarese says.
He points to Weston, Fla., the 14-year-old city of 63,000 residents that contracts out virtually everything, from police and fire to public works. Farming out operations can allow a new city to focus on policy and mapping out a vision of what the community wants to be, Matarese says. “It eliminates a lot of the headaches of managing a city because the line management is performed by the people you’re contracting with,” he says.
The decision to outsource services also a matter of cost, an issue that came to the forefront in 2008, when Deltona explored forming its own police department after a consultant told the city it could organize one for about $12 million. Deltona pays the county $9.2 million for law enforcement. The idea gained enough support to go to a public ballot, but voters defeated the issue.
Leading up to the vote, the sheriff’s office maintained that the city was getting a bargain for law enforcement services, and that police departments for cities of similar size cost two to three times as much to operate. For example, the Daytona Beach Police Department protects a smaller population than Deltona’s and with an annual budget of $29.3 million.
Volusia County also contracts with two smaller cities, DeBary and Pierson. All three cities have access to the county’s helicopters, boats, K-9 unit, bomb squad and SWAT team, in addition to administrative staff. “The most visible aspect of a law enforcement agency is that patrol car going up and down the street,” says sheriff’s spokesman Gary Davidson. “Most people don’t realize everything going on behind the scenes and the other positions and labor that go into running a police department.”
Given the costs and complexities of creating and maintaining a police department, contracting those services could become more common for the next generation of cities. Because public safety is usually the most expensive component of a city’s operations, accounting for three-fourths of the budget in some places, many new cities intend to contract or share services for the long term, Matarese says. “Obviously things change, and governments change with them,” he says. “But, in most of these new communities, the premise is that this is the way the government is going to be set up.”