Is Marysville Police on the chopping block?
Politics and police have made for a toxic combination in Marysville this election season.
And recent comments by the mayor about the future of law enforcement in the city have angered an already unhappy Police Department, according to its chief.
At a meeting Wednesday of the Exchange Club of Marysville, Mayor Bill Harris pledged to consider replacing city police officers with Yuba County sheriff's deputies.
The comments came on the heels of a contentious employee contract standoff between police and the city.
"What I said is that I'd assemble an ad hoc committee to look into it," said Harris on Thursday. "There are hundreds of cities all across the state that contract with sheriff's departments. If we can contract for less cost, that's what we should look at."
Harris is running for re-election against Councilman Ricky Samayoa, who has attracted active campaign support from police.
Police Chief Wally Fullerton said the mayor's comments represent a reversal of statements he made in the past.
"He's made numerous comments that as long as he was the mayor, he'd never support this (dissolving the Police Department)," Fullerton said.
"I think the only thing the mayor accomplishes with that other than some political gain is to drive an even larger political wedge between the council and members of the department," he said.
Fullerton said several unique aspects of Marysville would prohibit successful law enforcement under a county contract.
For one thing, he said, the city's force enjoys the services of roughly 20 reservists who do not receive benefits from the city, and who make roughly half the wages of regular sworn officers.
Those officers would not convey to a county contract, he said.
And Marysville police work differs, Fullerton said, from work the Sheriff's Department is accustomed to doing.
"I have great regard for the Sheriff's Department and (Sheriff) Steve Durfor," Fullerton said. "But they do not have any expertise in traffic-related services, and that's a great deal of what we do here."
"It's like asking a boxer to go into a wrestling match," he said.
But Harris said that financial circumstances now require that the city consider changes.
The city operates under a $118,000 deficit.
"And law enforcement consumes half of our general fund budget," he said.
He is especially interested in looking to Live Oak as a potential model for what Marysville could do, he said.
Live Oak, which has roughly 8,500 residents, contracts with the Sutter County Sheriff's Department for seven patrol deputies, a sergeant and lieutenant.
"And the city is doing fine," Harris said.
Live Oak has never had its own police force, Fullerton said.
And with roughly 30,000 people working in or visiting Marysville on weekdays, and roughly 180,000 cars driving through the city on the two highways each day, police work in Marysville bears little resemblance to law enforcement in Live Oak, he said.
"We're much more complex," he said.
Outsourcing services often looks attractive initially, Fullerton said, "because they give you the best price up front."
Marysville has its own history to consider, he said.
The city's historic Fire Department was sacrificed about 15 years ago to make way for what seemed to be a cheaper CalFire contract.
"But CalFire costs continue to increase and we're down to two fire fighters at any time," Fullerton said. "That's a considerable reduction from where we started."
Harris said he intends to review the costs and benefits of continuing to contract with CalFire.
Fullerton said he questions the timing of Harris' proposal.
"The financial situation isn't anything new. Why not two or three years ago?" he said.
Fullerton said that in recent weeks, he has lost several officers because of bad feelings over contract negotiations.
"Morale stinks," he said.
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at email@example.com or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack.