OV, Millville take step toward shared policing

The towns of Ocean View and Millville joined forces this week in a workshop to discuss public safety. Ocean View Town Councilman Bob Lawless opened up the discussion by saying that there is a “natural relationship there,” between the two towns. He explained that Ocean View doesn’t want to make a profit on public safety service but, rather, wants to cover their costs, with the end result being a “win-win” for both towns.

Millville Mayor Don Minyon thanked Lawless, saying that he had not had that kind of cooperation in the past.

“Thank you for being forthright and honest. You are a credit to your council,” Minyon told Lawless.

Lawless asked Millville officials for specifics of what they are looking for from the Town of Ocean View regarding public safety services.

“What is it we are being asked to provide to you?”

Minyon said that, while Millville does have 911 coverage from the state police — if slower in response times than they would get from a neighboring force, such as Ocean View’s — “What we really want are the patrols. That’s the deficiency.”

He also said the state police have a tendency to “stay in the traffic mindset,” and Millville officials want a more visible police presence in the business district and the neighborhoods. He also said that, currently, they pay $79 per hour for a state police patrolman whose patrol time mostly covers nights and weekends.

Millville Town Manager Debbie Botchie informed the Ocean View council that the Town of Millville has $1.2 million from transfer taxes to fund a public safety department. With that money, the town hopes to fund and pay for the services they are exploring receiving from the Ocean View Police Department.

Both Lawless and Ocean View Mayor Gordon Wood openly stated that Ocean View does not currently have the manpower to provide the kind of patrolling Millville is seeking. Ocean View had advertised for an officer to join their force and received applications, but none of the applicants were already certified. Wood said getting an officer on the street and patrolling would cost an estimated $50,000.

There is also a time constraint on choosing an applicant, as the town has a limited time frame of 30 days to get the chosen officer into the next police academy training program, if he or she is not already certified. If that choice is not made in the next month, the town will have to wait until January for a new officer to begin training.

Minyon and Botchie asked Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin if the town has looked into hiring retired officers from other departments.

McLaughlin said that, although many may think that it is a viable option, the retired candidate would still have to pass the same physical and psychological evaluations and that “most retirees are not interested in full patrol function, including rotating shifts and shift work. It’s just not realistic.”

He noted that the town had specifically advertised for certified officers but received very few responses with that level of qualifications.

Lawless attempted to explain how a potential figure for the cost of the service to the Town of Millville would be determined; explaining that things such as salary and insurance would have to be factored in, along with administrative overhead and amortization of the Wallace A. Melson Administration and Public Safety Building in Ocean View.

“It’s mind boggling, but we have to look at all assumptions and come out with a cost per hour of patrol,” he said.

Botchie asked if they were talking about 911 response or the cost to patrol.

“An hour is an hour is an hour,” Wood replied, adding that Ocean View would have to look at their capabilities to provide 911 service to Millville in a higher capacity than they do now, which is limited to bodily injury and significant property damage.

“That’s where we should start, then,” said Botchie, “if you do have the capability.”

Lawless then said it would be prudent for the “finance guys” of each town to sit down and work out those numbers.

Minyon said the Town of Millville “would certainly like to buy that service if we could,” but said it was Ocean View’s job to come up with the numbers.

Lawless said they were simply trying to be as transparent as possible, so when they came to a number, both towns would know how they got there.

Minyon noted, “Your cost of business is not going to change, whether we are the customer or not,” to which Ocean View Finance Director Lee Brubaker replied that they would have to see how liability coverage might be affected.

“So, what you are looking for is what we would charge an hour?” asked Lawless of Minyon. “That’s exactly right,” said Minyon, “and how you came up with it.”

“So, you’ll come up with a number, and an explanation, and call Debbie [Botchie] and at that time set up another meeting?” asked Minyon. Wood said there was “no other answer than ‘yes.’”

Wood noted a 2008 report by McLaughlin, which stated that of the 255 calls to Ocean View police for a 911 response, 70 were from Millville. Minyon asked how, if the towns were to join in policing capabilities, priority for police response would be determined.

McLaughlin said that, no matter where an officer may be at the time a more pressing incident occurs, the officer would be expected to respond — be it in Ocean View or Millville – and if there were simultaneous emergencies of similar priority level, the state police would still be available as a back-up.

Wood acknowledged that Ocean View residents have mixed feelings about the possibility of a collaboration in public safety, which would result in providing patrol and/or 911 coverage to an extra 12.5 miles of road and Millville’s 259 residents.

“Some say, ‘You’re balancing your budget on Millville’s back,’ and others say, ‘You’re selling Ocean View down the drain,’” Wood pointed out.

When the councils opened the floor for questions, Ocean View resident Bob Svenson questioned the “whys” of the workshop. “Why are we considering this? Is it just the neighborly thing to do, or for profit?”

“Millville has a need and we have extraordinary assets in the chief, in our staff and in our state-of-the-art facility,” Lawless replied. “And Millville’s thought is, ‘Why re-invent the wheel?’”

Svenson pressed Ocean View officials on the issue. “Will we get a return on these investments, or are we just being good neighbors?”

McLaughlin said that, if some type of agreement were reached, both towns would see greater crime prevention and more rapid response from 911.

“Do we have a great crime problem now?” asked Svenson.

“No – and we want to keep it that way,” McLaughlin replied, adding that they don’t want crime to get to the point where it is out of hand.

“I’m more worried about my taxes getting out of hand,” said Svenson.

Minyon noted that this was only one option the Town of Millville was considering and said it was his opinion that “your taxes are going to go up whether we partner with you or not.”

Others present at the joint meeting expressed interest in pursuing the idea.

Robert Wisgirda, who recently moved to Millville full-time, said it seemed to be “the wise thing to do” and a good decision for planning for the future.

“Both Ocean View and Millville are going to grow, and it seems to make sense,” he said.

Brubaker said it would at least the first of the week before he could crunch some numbers. The two sets of town officials decided to meet again at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, July 19, to continue their conversation, with numbers in hand.

Officials from both towns noted that they want to be able to face their constituency and say they did the best job they could, and they expressed a desire to have honest and realistic explanations for the conclusion they come to – if, in fact, an agreement of some sort is reached.