GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - A consultant hired to evaluate the idea of combining Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Kentwood's three most expensive services -- police, fire and EMS -- into two separate departments estimates it could save the cities $17 million each year.
While it's far from a done deal, a Thursday meeting between elected officials in the three cities showed they are serious about exploring the idea of combining police and fire services.
A service consolidation in which the three cities would combine certain functions is one option studied by a consultant hired by the communities. A second option is full-blown merger that would create a Metropolitan Police Department and the West Michigan Fire Rescue Authority.
On the police side, consulting firm IMCA said cost and service efficiencies could be realized by sharing services.
But they also suggested a merger -- one department, one chief, one detective bureau, etc. -- would save an estimated $10 million annually.
== Read IMCA's report (pdf) ==
On the fire side, the consultants say merger would be the best way to go. They said adjusting staffing levels based on-call volumes, limiting emergency medical responses to the most serious cases and adding smaller, cheaper multipurpose fire engines, which the Grand Rapids Fire Department has already done, could save nearly $6 million.
But the devil is in the details. A number of issueswould have to be worked out.
Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt says the fire side of the plan would actually cost his city another $2 million annually. IMCA's report suggested if Wyoming decides not to merge, the city should investigate cross-training police officers and fire fighters to form a public safety department similar to those in East Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.
Any merger would also incur short-term startup costs.
There are also differences on the percentage of the budget each city puts into their current police and fire services and how those are funded. Kentwood and Wyoming have dedicated millages. Grand Rapids funds public safety mostly through the general fund.
And different labor contracts that would have to be renegotiated.
Those are potential effects on taxpayers' wallets. But what happens when you pick up the phone to call 911?
Merged departments would need fewer people, according to the consultants report.
Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Kentwood currently have a combined strength of 450 police officers. The number would eventually drop to 318 after a merger.
The report also says the force wouldn't need three police stations. It suggests using GRPD as the combined department's headquarters, while using Kentwood Police headquarters as a sort of substation.
The report does not suggest what Wyoming would do with its police headquarters, which opened in 2001.
On the fire department side, the estimated $7.2 million in savings would be realized by cutting firehouses, firefighters and their tools of the trade.
There are currently 21 fire stations between the three cities, including three stations in Wyoming manned by on-call firefighters who respond from work or home when there's an alarm.
Under the consultant's plan, the number of fire station would be reduced to 16, staffing fewer rigs with fewer people. Four of the stations would be staffed part-time, during peak times. The consultants suggest using more part-time firefighters as well.
Elected officials in both communities will meet in Wyoming Thursday to vote on whether to form committees to look at the ideas more closely and come back with some recommendations by January 2014.
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