Merger...maybe

Anyone who was around and paid attention during previous discussions of Bellevue and Avalon being served by one police department learned at the outset that words we often use interchangably actually have very different meanings in this field.

When experts talk about a merger, they mean that one police department ceases to exist and is taken over by the other. A consolidation, on the other hand, means that both individual departments cease to exist and a new department is formed of the two.

The distinction is not particularly significant to most of us at the moment, but it could have major implications as to who is in control of the police services in an area.

Many years ago, when consolidation of the two departments was ready to go into effect, and needed only the authorization of the Bellevue voters, there were numerous advantages to both departments. At that time, both had dispatching services operating 24/7. The elimination of one, as well as the elimination of the use of a police station, would have provided significant cost savings for both boroughs.

Unfortunately, a mere handful of Bellevue voters rejected the ballot referendum that would have allowed the consolidation to occur, and here we are, decades later, still trying to figure it out. Since the first attempt, however, Bellevue has amended its home rule charter so that voter approval is no longer needed for a consolidation or merger of police services among Bellevue, Avalon and the nearest North Boroughs municipalities.

Right now the financial incentives for a consolidation -- or possibly even a merger -- of Bellevue and Avalon police do not seem to exist. Dispatching is now conducted by the county. Having one police station, with its administrative staff, is unlikely to save anybody money, as Bellevue seems incapable of doing anything new without adding more personnel.

The constant sticking points have always been salaries/benefits and part-time officers. Bellevue officers get paid a whole lot more than Avalon officers, so either someone would have to take a pay cut, or someone else would have to get a nice raise. Avalon has part-time officers, which are a lot less expensive to put on the street than are Bellevue's full-time officers.

Is the merger or consolidation of the Bellevue and Avalon police departments still a viable option? For Bellevue, sure, it would be great to pass along some of the costs. For Avalon, not so much, as things currently stand. If a new consolidated department looks the same as the original model, then Avalon has no incentive to accept it. The reality is that Avalon can put its officers on the street for much less than it could by having anything to do with Bellevue.

Which is not to say that officials from both boroughs should not move ahead with a state study that would determine what options are available. This time, however, officials -- particularly in Bellevue -- are going to have to be open to accepting a very different picture of police services. It may mean fewer officers. It may mean part-time officers. It may mean giving up some control. It may mean letting in a couple more players.

If everyone is ready for that, then let's get moving.

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