Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos and Sunnyvale city managers are considering merging their emergency-dispatch centers, record-management facilities and fire-prevention services to save money during lean times.
But possible consolidations are of specific services, not a wholesale merger of fire, police or other departments.
The Palo Alto City Council Tuesday night will consider a resolution instructing City Manager James Keene to explore sharing equipment and emergency services with Palo Alto's Peninsula neighbors. The other three cities are expected to consider similar resolutions, Keene said Wednesday in an interview with the Weekly.
The push toward consolidation of some services gathered steam last year as Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos all began to upgrade their respective dispatch systems, Keene said. He said the city managers agreed to purchase the same communication systems, use the same kind of software and broadcast on the same megahertz cycle.
Once the upgrades are completed, a communication center from each city will have the ability to coordinate dispatch across city lines. Keene said the effort could also reduce overtime costs by enabling cities to help each other cope with particularly busy periods.
"We'll have the opportunity to potentially back each other up," Keene said. "We're all on the same system, even if not on the same space."
Then the city managers decided to take it one step further. Keene said he began to have regular conversations with Kevin Duggan and Doug Schmitz, the city managers of Mountain View and Los Altos, respectively. Sunnyvale City Manager Gary Luebbers later joined the discussions.
"Once we had that, what I thought and what the other city managers thought was that in these times we've got to be exploring any opportunities we have for shared services," Keene said. "Should we take it to the next level and at least potentially start to look at bricks-and-mortar consolidation?"
Talk of merged emergency operations isn't new to Palo Alto. In the last two years, as the city's tax revenues plunged, Keene and the council have occasionally talked about regionalization as a possible way to cut costs.
The proposed resolution, Keene said, is a way to "publicly announce" that consolidation of services is an option that is now being seriously explored.
The resolution states that each of the four cities currently has its own public safety communications center and that the cities "wish to further explore the possibility and feasibility" of consolidating these centers.
The resolution also states that the city managers had also discussed consolidating centralized records management, evidence facilities, office or field equipment, emergency planning, arson investigation and fire prevention. The council resolution would endorse this exploration of coordination opportunities.
The resolution also directs Keene to include in next year's budget funds for an "independent study of a joint public safety communications center."
Keene's report also notes that the cities already cooperate on a variety of services, including SWAT teams, solid-waste facilities and animal services. Keene said the managers' decision to pursue more consolidation came "partly because we're in the same geographical area and partly because we have experience sharing different services."
He also emphasized that the proposed resolution is not binding.
"We just wanted to start the conversation," Keene said.