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Crescent Springs to Evaluate Options for Policing City

A week after the City of Erlanger voted to reject a short-term contract extension to provide police services to the City of Crescent Springs, the City of Crescent Springs voted not to give further notice about its police plans.

Instead, Crescent Springs may issue a request for proposals from other police departments.

The Crescent Springs city council voted 4 to 2 not to give notice to terminate its contract with the Erlanger Police Department, which has policed the city since 2008, when Crescent Springs ended its police department.

Erlanger and Crescent Springs entered into a 5-year contract n 2008, which was renewed in 2013 for another five years.

At last week's Erlanger city council meeting, it was suggested that both cities must give a 12-month notice if it wishes not to renew. On Monday night, during a special council meeting in Crescent Springs, the interpretation was different.

If the 12-month notice were to be given, a decision would have to be made by Friday, June 30, the traditional end of the fiscal year, since the current contract expires June 30, 2018.

Crescent Springs Councilman Bob Mueller said that the contract does not include an automatic renewal and that it would continue until terminated, though the language is vague, he said, and was unclear about whether the contract would continue on a month to month basis. Members of council then relaxed, believing that they were not under pressure to resolve the issue of notice by Friday.

Now, Crescent Springs may court other offers.

The City of Villa Hills already offered its police department at an annual rate of $546,000 for four years, City Administrator George Ripberger said. Villa Hills submitted that offer without solicitation, he said. Erlanger currently charges $1,068,666 per year and proposed an increase to $1,111,413 per year.

Crescent Springs countered to $953,676.

Ripberger told The River City News last week that his city is looking to bring down its costs.

Ripberger, who was chief of the former Crescent Springs Police Department in the 1990s, said that two other cities have also inquired about submitting a bid if Crescent Springs formally solicits such proposals.

Crescent Springs Mayor Lou Hartfiel started the conversation on Monday night by saying that there was nothing negative about the service that Erlanger has provided up till now, but he believed that the city should do its due diligence to see what other options were out there.

Councilman Matt Zeck also spoke up and said going through the RFP option might find the best use of taxpayer dollars for police services.

"I heard from one businessman who said he favored giving Erlanger notice," Mayor Hartfiel commented.

Negotiations between Erlanger and Crescent Springs began in earnest in February of this year

"This is like when we're married but we want to look around," Crescent Springs Councilman Tom Vergamini said. "So, we like this agreement, but we still want to date. We get this memo, which is so bogus, out of nowhere, and (Villa Hills says) we can do the job for half price. We know they need $800,000 for their current force. But I am not against an RFP."

Councilman Carter Dickerson said that he thought it would be hasty to terminate a contract that they liked without any clear path forward. He said there would be no penalty if council did nothing that night.

Councilwoman Christie Arlinghaus said she had some personal experience with Erlanger Police, having been given a ticket for speeding, and having them come to her house when her brother died, and having an issue with vandalism.

"In all cases there was a quick response, and they were professional and compassionate," she stated. "It is obvious that they know what they are doing."

Erlanger Mayor Tyson Hermes was present at the meeting, as was Erlanger Police Chief Tony Wilson, and Assistant Chief Todd Brendel.  

Crescent Springs leaders asked Hermes whether the $115,000 fee for Erlanger's dispatch center would go away if Erlanger finally joined the Kenton County system, and Hermes was asked to answer.

"I am not in a position to answer that," Hermes said, after some hesitation. "If we were to switch dispatch, it would take years."

Hermes said that the dispatch fee was added into the price for the police services.

Chief Wilson added that it costs $840,000 for six officers, and another $40,000 to give them uniforms and a vehicle, stating that on the low end it took $80,000 before an officer took his first call. Add to that materials, expenses, pension and insurance and the price is higher. Wilson said it would be a massive undertaking to hire 6 to 8 officers to replace the officers that he is currently down, plus the four or five he is going to lose to retirement.

Councilman Mike Daugherty said that the Villa Hills proposal offered two men per shift in peak hours, and one and a half in non-peak hours. He said Villa Hills told him they would hire five officers, and hire a retired officer to fill in the gaps if needed. Villa Hills had also indicated that the price could go up, he said.

Daugherty said he didn't think they could do the job with five officers, or five and a half, and if they get up to seven, then they were getting into the ballpark of what they were paying Erlanger.

Vergamini agreed.

"This is the thin blue line, and it is between law and order and chaos," he told council. "This is a major metropolitan area, and we have major metropolitan issues. Erlanger knows the bad guys. (Villa Hills doesn't) know the bad guys."

In the meantime, Mayor Hartfiel had put out a letter to all the residents and business owners in the city this week, telling them that though the city was essentially debt-free, it had a $100,000 budget shortfall this year, and anticipate a $200,000 shortfall next year at this time. He said the current contract for police is a little over $1 million, in a city with a budget of $2.5 million, and another city has offered a price of about half the cost. "Half the cost" was underlined in the letter. He asked for the opinion of the residents and business owners, wanting their thoughts on keeping Erlanger, going with another city, or even reestablishing the Crescent Springs Police Department with 9 officers dedicated to the city.

Vergamini said the letter misstated the situation and argued that the mayor miscommunicated with the citizens. Mayor Hartfiel took offense at that statement, saying his letter was not bogus. Vergamini stepped back.

"I said that the timing was disingenuous," he said. "Here we are, days before we need to make a decision."

Vergamini made a motion not to terminate the contract. The motion was seconded, and on a roll call vote, Matthew Zeck and Bob Mueller voted no, while the other four council members voted yes.

After the meeting had been adjourned, Chief Wilson asked if Crescent Springs intended to keep negotiating, and he received an affirmative reply. An RFP would be issued, though.

Later, Mayor Hermes indicated that his city would still be open to negotiating with Crescent Springs, if city council agreed.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor

Photo: Erlanger Mayor Tyson Hermes speaks to Crescent Springs City Council (RCN)