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From left, Stockton mayor Mary Norell articulates a point as mayor pro tem Barbara Pate and Cedar County sheriff James McCrary listen.

Tentative agreement reached, contract to be finalized in coming weeks

With the new year nearly upon us, the city of Stockton looks to have solidified its yearly law enforcement services agreement with the Cedar County Sheriff’s Office.

Stockton mayor Mary Norell, mayor pro tem Barbara Pate, Cedar County sheriff James McCrary, county clerk Heather York, northern district commissioner Don Boultinghouse, southern district commissioner Bob Foster and presiding commissioner Marlon Collins were all present for the

annual negotiation.

Norell led the conversation off by explaining the city’s logic for questioning certain cost points and variables in the current agreement.

“We’re here to let you know the aldermen, our city attorney and myself have been working on this,” Norell said of her presence with mayor pro tem Barbara Pate. “We’ve done a lot of research, held several workshops, contacted a number of similar cities and we feel we’ve done our due diligence.”

Norell, the city’s board of aldermen, city clerk Vanessa Harper and city attorney Peter Lee have made time over the previous months to evaluate figures published by the county and use them as a basis to assess and arrive at an agreeable amount to pay for law enforcement services rendered by the Cedar County Sheriff’s Office.

Norell questioned several differences in numbers from various county personnel, mentioned the CCSO receives a $111,000 supplemental grant which is dispersed at different levels between sixteen CCSO employees and noted written oddities in previous contracts as being unclear. Collins agreed older contracts did have a few unclear talking points, but cited the recent contracts as being largely devoid of such issues.

When Norell asked additional questions regarding differing figures from county employees, the commissioners were quick to point out the contract had gone well over a decade without being increased, despite the increased costs of living during the same period of time.

“The county is really subsidizing the city here,” Collins said of the overall cost to operate a law enforcement entity like an independent police department.

“Everyone who lives in Stockton lives in Cedar County, too,” McCrary pointed out. “We’re responsible for that in a several ways and that’s part of our consideration here.”

McCray pointed out the contract is largely based on a five-deputy allotment for the city, as this is the number of personnel needed to maintain a 24/7 year round law enforcement presence within the city of Stockton.

Norell suggested several different ways the contract could be negotiated — on multi-year terms or with incremental annual increases — Collins and Boultinghouse both outwardly opposed the idea because numerous changing-cost variables cannot be predicted in years ahead.

“There are too many things involved with this that change significantly year-to-year,” Boultinghouse said. “I just don’t see how we could do it that way.”

Norell inquired about assessing the annual cost on a fixed-percentage basis as well.

“You don’t want to do that,” McCrary said. “You can, but this [annual law enforcement contract] amount is way below the total operating costs of a [standalone] police department.”

McCrary suggested an annual meeting between county officials, CCSO and leadership from the city of Stockton be written into the agreement and all in attendance agreed this would be a clarifying measure.

The annual meeting will tentatively take place in August each year and be scheduled before any city or county budgetary deadlines are imminent.

Pate inquired as to the law enforcement liaison CCSO provides for city meetings and McCrary confirmed the position is still that of Corporal Mike Bullinger.

Norell also complimented the strength and quality of the law enforcement being provided and said the city’s negotiation efforts are purely based on financial numbers, clarification and transparency.

“These men and women are underpaid and perform a valuable service to the community,” Norell said. “I think we can all agree to that.”

The room collectively chuckled and all in attendance confirmed they indeed shared the same viewpoint.

After confirming McCrary will make a couple of minor changes to some mutually-agreed upon verbiage, the contract will be ready for confirmation and signatures between the city of Stockton and all necessary Cedar County officials in the weeks ahead.

Norell called the agreement a solid starting point for future negotiations and noted the agreed upon amount was not an increase over last year’s contractual price.  

The law enforcement contract will total $176,000 from Stockton’s city budget and will provide round-the-clock law enforcement within the city limits for another full calendar year before being revisited.

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