Cornelius police chief says he'll phase out if sheriffs office takes over

Merging with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office would likely cost more money than the Cornelius Police Department has in its entire current budget.

A paper with “DRAFT” hand-written across it, distributed at a Monday night meeting of the Community Oriented Policing Citizen Advisory Board (COPCAB), outlined the police agency’s budget and the financial blueprint for a proposed merger with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

The numbers weren’t what folks were hoping for.

“There are many facets in this decision,” said Cornelius Police Chief Ken Summers. “This is just the financial one.”

The CPD is budgeted at $1.95 million for services, including dispatch fees and paying off accrual debt.

The sheriff’s office proposal costs $2 million, $86,264 more than the police budget.

With inflation accounted for, by the 2016-17 fiscal year, the merger would cost $2.4 million. Cornelius Police’s budget would be $2.21 million — a $146,167 difference.

Currently, Cornelius maintains 13 law enforcement positions, with one in the process of being filled. The sheriff’s office would keep 13 people in town.

“Our officers wouldn’t lose pay or seniority, but they could lose rank,” said Rob Drake, Cornelius city manager. “The structure’s different there.”

The sheriff’s office requires a three-year contract that comes with pros and cons.

“It will give our officers a chance to grow,” said Drake.

He said officers could explore areas of personal interest and join special teams, such as SWAT, if the merger is approved.

“There’s a deeper bench. Instead of five star players, there are a lot of people to back you up,” Drake said.

But the agreement would also mean Summers would no longer be a part of the department.

“The county would prefer to fully manage under contract,” said Drake. “Ken would eventually phase out.”

COPCAB member Marlene Bartels said she’s sure that would be a negative, since — in her opinion — Summers has

done so many good things in his short time in Cornelius.

But Summers assured

COPCAB members, saying “I’m sure they would bring in the very best.”

If the city council proceeds with the merger and if after three years either side decides not to continue the agreement, Cornelius would have to hire a chief, buy back its vehicles and hire officers.

“It’d be mega-bucks to restart a police department,” said Cathy Smalls, a COPCAB member.

If councilors decide not to merge, Summers said he would immediately request an evaluation from the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police at no cost and continue from there.

Some COPCAB members said they were torn between the two directions.

“I wish we could go door to door and talk to everyone,” said Smalls. “It’s a hard decision. We are losing our identity.”

A town hall meeting about the merger will be held at 7 p.m. Aug. 19 at 1310 N. Adair St. Sheriff’s office personnel will give a presentation and citizens will be able to share their opinions.

Drake and Summers said they hope a final decision can be made by the council at its Sept. 3 meeting or — at the outside — by Sept. 16.

“We are better off for this analysis,” said Drake. “Our departments will be closer even if we don’t go through with this. Respect levels on both sides have gone up tremendously. Either way, this is still our police department.”

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