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Before police merger, try something simpler

October 18, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

A number of candidates who attended a forum this week suggested that Hagerstown and Washington County could save money by consolidating their police departments. That would be an awfully big task. We suggest the two start with smaller departments and work their way up.

The call for the city-county police merger came at the Wednesday forum sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce. Half of the 10 candidates favored it and none opposed it, although some warned of possible problems, since the city force is unionized and the county Sheriff's Department is not.

Even if the two governments were willing - and any agreement would have to be negotiated like a Middle East peace treaty - there would be tremendous logistical problems to overcome. Pay scales, benefits and seniority rules would have to be changed, for one thing, as would how the officers are deployed. We'd like to see how this has been done successfully elsewhere before officials spend a lot of time and energy re-inventing the wheel here.

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A better approach would be to begin the merger process with something simpler. One that's been suggested repeatedly is the permits and inspections departments. Each has a relatively small number of employees and both function in much the same way. And if a small merger works, it will be easier to move onto bigger things.

Two other things should be explored. One is workplace re-engineering, which the City of Cumberland used to cross-train workers so the work force could be reduced gradually through attrition. The second is the cross-connection of the city and county sewer systems.

City and county staff members worked hard on a sewer pact that would save both government thousands each year, but elected officials can't agree on the final version. We've suggested a mediator be called in, but that hasn't happened. It's time for both sets of elected officials to put their egos aside and get some help to get this thing settled.

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