Centennial, a city that prides itself on contracting for service with outside entities — both public and private — has pointed out it has completed similar studies when evaluating other contracts for service, such as public works and animal control.
City councilmembers need more information to have informed discussions about the city's current approach to providing law enforcement service, Allison Wittern, city spokeswoman, has said.
Former Arapahoe County Sheriff David Walcher's retention as a consultant was made by City Manager Matt Sturgeon, in compliance with the city's purchasing policy and with council's knowledge — as is customary for such a consultant, Wittern said.
The city entered into the contract with Walcher Jan. 8. That's the same day Brown and other elected officials in the county took their oaths of office. Walcher's hourly rate is $250, and the city anticipated 320 hours of work for the study, although it's unclear how far past early March Walcher worked on the study. Walcher could not be immediately reached for comment.
In late April, City Councilmember Candace Moon said the city wasn't set on the idea of a police department.
“No decision has been made,” said Moon, adding the city doesn't have a set timetable for potential action. “We're not making a decision to have a law enforcement agency. We're making a decision on whether we're getting the best bang for our buck.”
For the first six years, a Centennial police department would cost the city about $29 million more than continuing to contract for law enforcement service with the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office.
That's according to a study submitted by former Arapahoe County Sheriff David Walcher to the City of Centennial that examined how feasible it would be for the city to cut ties with the sheriff's office and form its own police force.
The study, available on the city's website and to be discussed at the city council's June 3 meeting, came about after leadership at the sheriff's office changed following the November election.
That's when Democrat Tyler Brown took the sheriff's seat from Walcher, a Republican with more than three decades of law enforcement experience. Brown has worked as an officer in Northglenn, Aurora Public Schools and the small Town of Mountain View near Interstate 70 and Sheridan Boulevard.
While county sheriffs are elected, chiefs of police departments are generally appointed by city officials. Allison Wittern, Centennial's spokeswoman, said in February that the city has received more questions about its law enforcement service since the election.
Centennial's contract with the sheriff's office allows city council time to “evaluate the leadership and policing philosophies of the person charged with managing that service,” Wittern has said. “It's a (multiple-year) contract, and the makeup of city council can change during that period. The council seated when there is a transition in leadership with any service contract should have the right to review.”
Citizens had asked about the city's model of law enforcement periodically before the election, too, and the city hasn't decided to create a police department, Wittern has said.
Walcher, a sheriff's office spokeswoman and Wittern could not immediately be reached for comment for this story.
The study, which was expected to be submitted in early March but was not finalized until at least late April, shows that the costs to form a police force would likely require the city to pay millions in debt service for a 30-year funding mechanism.
That's because the city would likely need to construct a new building as a police headquarters, the study said.
It's expected that a large number of deputies would need to transition to a Centennial police department. But on top of that, Centennial would need to add about 20 new city staff members — spread across areas such as finance, human resources and the Centennial Municipal Court — as well as an addition of a few top-level law enforcement positions.
The number of lieutenants or commanders focused on Centennial would increase from four to seven between now and 2021, the study estimates. The number of patrol sergeants would also increase from nine to 12 in that time. The number of top-level personnel, such as a sheriff, chief or captains, would rise from one to three. Currently, the funding for the county's sheriff, undersheriff and public safety bureau chief are not billed to Centennial, although a portion of their time is dedicated to the city, the study notes.
Overall, the number of sworn officers would increase from 144 to 166 between now and 2025, the study estimates. Within that number, patrol officers would rise from 75 to 86.
Centennial pays a large portion of its budget to the sheriff's office, which also provides law enforcement service for unincorporated Arapahoe County areas. The city in its 2019 budget allocated $29 million for the sheriff's office.
Start-up costs for a transition to Centennial's own police department would run anywhere from $7.3 million to $8.5 million for the first year, 2020, depending on how much personnel the city would be able to hire from the county. The low end of that range is based on a scenario in which the city hits what the study calls an ideal number: 75% of personnel for Centennial hired from the county.
“However, many factors may influence the ability or desire of current Arapahoe County employees to move to a City of Centennial Police Department,” the study read.
In all, calculated separately from that first-year budget, about $7 million would need to go toward equipment alone, although the contract between the city and sheriff's office stipulates that the city's financial contributions to the sheriff's office's equipment must be taken into account if the city decides to cut ties with the office. It's unclear how much Centennial would be compensated if the city decided to form its own department.
A more imposing cost would be to establish a police headquarters. Leasing space in the sheriff's office building — located in Centennial — or from a private provider wouldn't be recommended, the study said.
It suggests the city either purchase an existing structure or build from the ground up. For example, it says, Centennial could buy and remodel a building like 7150 S. Fulton St., near where South Havana Street curves into East Dry Creek Road. That would run the city $10 million in current funds along with $15 million in certificates of participation, a type of financing that would require paying $925,000 per year in debt service for the 30-year funding mechanism.
The city's overall fund balance in general — money the city will have saved up after its spending in 2019, not accounting for a possible police department plan — totals $57 million.
Constructing a police headquarters from scratch could cost $10 million from current funds and about $20 million in either bonds or certificates of participation, requiring about $1.2 million per year in debt service in a 30-year plan.
All told, in the short term, the study provides an estimate of how much more the city would stand to spend on a police department compared to the sheriff's office from the year 2021 through 2025. Across the years, the difference ranges from about $3.5 million to $5.6 million. Together with the 2020 start-up costs, the total through 2025 would be $29 million in additional costs.
The study doesn't say much, if anything, explicitly about whether a Centennial police force would provide more effective or efficient law enforcement service compared to the sheriff's office, aside from identifying additional top-level and patrol personnel that would likely be hired.
The study says all costs are estimated at the “highest, reasonable amount.” It also notes that the estimated costs don’t account for additional revenue the city may receive. For example, if ticket revenue increases back to levels seen in recent years, the city could receive additional revenue of about $679,000, compared to 2018 revenue. If the municipal court changes what kinds of actions it hears, the city could also see more money coming in, the study adds.
But the study also assumes some money from the city’s fund balance — its current saved-up money — would be used to finance a police headquarters. If it isn’t, the added debt-related costs would largely cancel out the additional ticket revenue.
Read the study here on the city's website.
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