Crescent Springs will turn to Villa Hills for police services, ending its long-term relationship with Erlanger, and turning down offers from Ft. Mitchell and Park Hills.
Monday night's city council meeting was full of contention and accusations.
Councilman Tom Vergamini was most vocally opposed to ending the City of Crescent Springs's contract with Erlanger. He argued that council voted to approve a new contract with Erlanger, and then went back on it.
Councilman Matt Zeck said that Crescent Springs negotiated in good faith with Erlanger but could not reach an agreement, prompting the need to solicit new bids. City Administrator George Ripberger previously told The River City News that his city was looking to save money, and that the cost of having Erlanger patrol the city was nearly as high as restarting its own police department.
With the new Villa Hills offer, the city will save nearly $250,000 compared to its previous contract with Erlanger. Though Erlanger City Administrator Matthew Kremer and new Police Chief Todd Brendel were present at the Crescent Springs meeting on Monday night, Erlanger did not respond to Crescent Springs's request for proposals and their contract will expire at the end of June next year.
That's when Villa Hills will take over. Chief Bryan Allen, who attended the meeting with Villa Hills Mayor Butch Callery, said that his department would need to add six officers.
His proposal topped out at $819,000 for a one-year contract. "We were $300,000 cheaper than everybody else, including Erlanger," Allen said. He said the process was contentious and that some on Crescent Springs city council referred to the smaller Villa Hills police department as "Barney Fife PD", a reference to The Andy Griffith Show's dimwitted small town deputy sheriff. "Some council members were very negative towards us and didn't want to do this," Allen said.
That was clear on Monday night.
"You have screwed this thing up so bad," Councilman Tom Vergamini said to Mayor Lou Hartfield. "I've got a problem with the way you handled this. I think you did it intentionally. It was self-centered and not in the best interest of this community."
Vergamini took issue with what he thought was an agreement to continue with Erlanger, adopted by council in February.
"We had an agreement. The council agreed to ask Erlanger for their final and best offer, which we did," Hartfiel said.
The confrontation also escalated with Ripberger arguing with Vergamini, and Vergamini saying that Ripberger was out of line because he is not an elected official in the discussion.
Additionally, Vergamini, an attorney, suggested that the Duke Energy franchise fee, which is how funds are collected for the Erlanger dispatch center which operates independently from the Kenton County dispatch center, would need to disappear because it was approved solely to fund dispatch operations. The fee brings in roughly $130,000 per year in Crescent Springs.
Zeck argued that the fee was not necessarily earmarked solely for dispatch.
Vergamini disagreed. "It is expressly for the purpose of paying for dispatch, not lights or whatever else we want to pay for," Vergamini said. He also questioned whether the committee put together to evaluate the police contract was appropriately put in place according to state law. "We may need another attorney general's opinion," he said.
The dispatch fee is important because Villa Hills Police responds to Kenton County dispatch center, and while Erlanger is exploring the dissolution of its independent dispatch center
in order to join the county, it still operates a municipal dispatch that was funded in part by contributions from Crescent Springs's Duke Energy franchise fee. Kenton County dispatch is funded by fees attached to property.
Vergamini was joined by Councilman Mike Daugherty in opposing the Villa Hills proposal. Zeck was joined by council members Carter Dickerson and Bob Mueller in approving it. Councilwoman Christie Arlinghaus was not present.
Now Crescent Springs and Villa Hills will get down to negotiating the specifics of the contract.
That's good news for local business owner Jim Cleves who said Villa Hills already responds more quickly when there is an issue at one of the strip centers he owns. "When I call the police, every time Villa Hills answered," Cleves said.
Ripberger said that Ft. Mitchell's offer was nearly $300,000 higher than Villa Hills's and was more than what the city was already paying Erlanger. He also said that Park Hills did not formally respond to the request for proposals but submitted a letter with an idea that was not formally considered.
As for the contention within the government over the decision and his own outburst at a member of council, Ripberger chalked it up to months of difficult back and forth, and called Vergamini unprofessional. "It's just been a recurring thing for severla months and the outbursts and unprofessionalism that I feel shouldn't be showed, it's just hard to take month after month after month," he said. "Be professional. And my outburst, I hope wasn't out of order, but at the time I said what I had to say."
Mayor Hartfiel discounted Vergamini's assertion that the process was mishandled as "his opinion". "I'm looking out for the citizens of Crescent Springs to get the best contract and best police services we can get for the money," he said.
The mayor said the most obvious change that the citizens will see is more Villa Hills police cars in the city.
"I think the way Villa Hills is going to handle it is as one city, not two cities," Hartfiel said. "So, you've got a business district and a residential district, whereas Erlanger handled it as a vendor taking care of another city."
Callery said that his city was a more natural fit for Crescent Springs since they already share a fire department and partner on local events. Villa Hills will also offer a position on its safety committee to a member of Crescent Springs city council.
"We feel more like we're one city," Hartfiel said, "rather than two entities."
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher