The Palm Coast City Council Tuesday signed off on a new, three-year contract for police services with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, preserving the same cost–$2.6 million a year—in effect since 2009, and, barring the unexpected, projecting a maximum cost increase of 3 percent starting in Oct. 2015.
The $2.6 million contrasts with the $20 million cost to the county for the Sheriff’s Office as a whole, though that $20 million is underwritten mostly by Palm Coast taxpayers. Bunnell, which has a police department with just half a dozen officers, pays upwards of $1 million a year for the service.
“For the most part it’s been a very good relationship and I think it’s been very cost-efficient for our taxpayers,” City Manager Jim Landon said. That approach, in place 14 years, is set to continue for the foreseeable future. The city council endorsed the new plan with few questions, and most limited to the six school cops the sheriff provides, one of whom is paid for by the city.
“Looks good to me,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts said. The agreement will be formally ratified at a subsequent city council meeting. But in effect, it is in place. (See the full agreement below.)
Assuming there was no agreement between the city and the Sheriff’s Office, the sheriff would still be required to provide 16 deputies to patrol the city, since the city is part of the sheriff’s jurisdiction. The agreement calls for an additional 22 patrol deputies, for a total of 38. That translates to a minimum of nine deputies per eight-hour shift.
The agreement reflects a slight error, however, that was not corrected as of Tuesday: the sheriff’s deputies work in shifts of 12 hours, not eight, and the sheriff’s office is organized around two shifts per day, not three. The change will affect the number of deputies on each shift.
Should the staffing level fall below nine for any shift, the city will deduct the cost from its bill. That provision is still in force even when the sheriff has to increase its patrols in unincorporated areas of the city, except in cases when the sheriff is lending extra help to another agency—what’s considered “mutual aid.
A key part of the new agreement reflects the city’s desire for a measure of control over its precinct commander, Mark Carman—and a buffer from Manfre’s mercurial way with staffing. The agreement builds in explicit shields and checks against unexpected changes.
Carman has been in charge of the Palm Coast precinct only with a brief interruption since the precinct’s inception, and as a liaison with the city administration. Carman and Manfre have had some friction in the past (Carman in 2004 ran against the sheriff, for example), and there was speculation, as Manfre carried out numerous changes through the agency, that Carman would eventually appear on a list of demotions, transfers or dismissals. He’s survived. The agreement with the city builds an explicit layer of protection for the position. (Carman’s position in the agreement is referred to as “coordinator.”)
“The sheriff,” the agreement states, “agrees to not change the current Palm Coast coordinator without conferring with the city manager and providing written notice to the city manager. Any such change must be made in good faith by the sheriff and in the best interest of the city.” Should Carman lose or leave the job, Manfre agrees to interview three candidates jointly with the city and agrees to “consider the recommendations and requests of the Palm Coast city manager prior to making the selection of the replacement Palm Coast Coordinator.” Carman is also responsible for keeping the city apprised of any personnel changes affecting the Palm Coast squads.
“Mark works for the sheriff,” Landon said, “and so obviously the sheriff has to have that supervisory authority, the hiring and firing authority. It doesn’t work to have that under the city in any way. But we also want to make sure that before any changes occur, that we have the requirement the sheriff has to come and we confer, we try to work through things.”
Landon hinted that Carman’s tenure is far from assured. “If there is, heaven forbid—right, Mark?—if there is a change, the fact of it is there will be, later than sooner, as I understand it,” Landon said, “that the city and the city manager or his designee will be involved in that hiring process and should be part of the interviews. Ultimately the sheriff is the one who’ll make that final decision, but we will be involved. And same thing, if Mark does something we don’t like, the contract allows us to sit down with the sheriff and chat about it, and how we can correct what we think needs to be corrected.”
The agreement is retroactive to Oct. 1, 2013, and in effect through Jan. 31, 2017. The 2017 date coincides with what will be the beginning either of Manfre’s second term or the start of a new sheriff’s administration.
The agreement may be terminated with four months’ notice, except in the unlikely event that the city goes bankrupt and fails to make its due payments. In that case, the agreement can be immediately terminated. But Palm Coast isn’t Camden, N.J. Nevertheless, the agreement leaves open the door for an eventual Palm Coast Police Department, and calls on the Sheriff’s Office to “cooperate in good faith in order to effectuate a smooth and harmonious transition” to such a department, should that occur.
If Palm Coast is “unable to provide the same level of police protection through its own police force” when the agreement is terminated, “then the pending term of this agreement shall be deemed automatically extended for a period of 180 days or until [Palm Coast] is capable of rendering such police service, whichever occurs sooner.” The agreement also gives the city first dibs to buy police equipment, such as vehicles, in case of a severance.
Palm Coast’s cost for policing through September 2014 is $2.6 million. The cost for the following year is virtually identical (but for a $23,000 increase). The cost for 2016 Subsequent years through 2016 isn’t set. It may increase, but by no more than 3 percent.
Also included in the agreement, at no additional cost to the city, are crime scene investigation support, air support (through Flagler County Fire Flight, the county’s helicopter, which often lends tactical support to the sheriff during searches and pursuits), prison and jail services, marine patrol, canine units, criminal investigations, and so on.
Conversely, the city will make available all its records—utility billing, tax rolls, and so on—to assist in investigations.
Deputies may be assigned to special events or special functions in addition to normal staffing levels, and at no additional cost. The additional staffing would be arranged by Carman in consultation with the city administration and the sheriff.
In an additional arrangement, the sheriff will provide dispatching services for public works-related matters after hours (between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.), at no additional cost to the city. The sheriff will also be directly patched in to alarm calls throughout the city. Previously, those alarm calls went through a private company and were then relayed to the sheriff’s dispatch center. The new arrangement cuts out the middle step, but may increase the sheriff’s workload. “So this is another nice enhancement that’s in our contract that we haven’t had in the past,” Landon said.
No deputy is allowed to perform city functions that are outside the scope of a deputy’s job description.
Manfre was not at the city’s workshop discussion of the agreement Tuesday, but is expected to be at the city council meeting on Feb. 4, where the agreement will be ratified by vote.