YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Soon-to-be Freeholder Chairman David Ganz told CLIFFVIEW PILOT he’s asked Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins for a blueprint showing how his department “could cover all the Northern Valley towns” in the wake of last week’s defeat of such a deal for Demarest.
“There’s a lot to be said for police consolidation,” Ganz said, while also noting that the freeholder board that takes control tonight could hit a surprising roadblock in pursuing a plan to merge Higgins’ department with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office.
Ganz also said he’s also found value in a study that outlined how police services could be merged countywide — which he said carries the potential to eliminate as many as 1,400 local officers.
Policing the county will top the agenda for the new board, which reorganizes at 6 p.m. at the county administration building.
In an interview with CLIFFVIEW PILOT ‘s Mary K. Miraglia, Ganz said two Republicans and two Democrats on the outgoing board combined to defeat a proposal for the BCPD to police Demarest primarily because of benefit costs for five retiring borough officers.
“Demarest does not pay health benefits upon retirement,” he said. “But if these men came onto the county payroll, they would be eligible to retire at full lifetime medical benefits from Day One.
“It seems to me there is something untoward about getting lifetime medical benefits on the county’s dime,” Ganz said. “You’re at an age when the potential is for paying 33 years of medical benefits. That would be an expenditure, assuming no growth in medical costs of $594,000.”
Calculating a modest allowance for 2% annual increase in costs, he said, raises the potential amount to $830,000 each.
There was also a “restoration” clause in the contract that required a payback to Demarest if the services agreement didn’t work out. Ganz said he “didn’t quite know what that meant.”
In one of their final decisions, the 2012 freeholders last Friday rejected the Demarest contract by a 4-3 vote.
Proponents of the deal, including outgoing Freeholder Robert Hermansen, said Ganz failed to include more than $2.7 million in costs the borough would have covered for 13 Demarest police officers to join the 89-member BCPD.
Attention now turns to both regional police coverage and the county merger proposal.
ROADBLOCK TO MERGER?
Nothing is certain.
New freeholders Tracy Silna Zur and Steve Tanelli, both Democrats who campaigned on merging the two county agencies, take their oaths tonight, giving their party a 4-3 majority.
However, the 2013 freeholders would still need five votes to override a veto by County Executive Kathleen Donovan, who has opposed the move.
Ganz, who voted against the BCSO-BCPD merger in October, said he sees things differently now.
However, he pointed to what he said is a potential obstacle.
In order to merge the two agencies, he said, the county needs state legislation changing enforcement duties for large-truck weights and measures.
“Right now, we anticipate $4 million in our budget from Weights and Measures enforcement conducted by the county police,” said Ganz, an attorney with a New York practice in general civil law. “Consolidation is a good plan, but it won’t be possible to completely abolish the county police force without action by the Legislature.”
Ganz added that he sees some value in the notorious Guidepost study that recommended consolidation of the forces — something he previously said should be trashed.
“The Guidepost study was a canned brief. It was written as if it were for New York City,” he said. “We have 70 municipalities. We have to deal with home rule and other issues they aren’t familiar with.
“But the numbers are still the numbers. There are valuable things in it,” he said. “They suggest about 1,400 police officers would be required.
“If you were able to consolidate all the police forces in Bergen County into a single unified force, you would have 2,800 people — and you need about 1,400.
“So that would be a substantial savings.”
STORY, GANZ PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia