|Merger vote expected Thursday night|
|February 24, 2011 Jerry Purvis|
A vote of the Gering City Council is expected to be called on Feb. 24 on whether to accept or reject a proposed merger of the Gering and Scottsbluff police departments.
On Thursday, Feb. 24 at 6 p.m., the Gering and Scottsbluff City Councils will meet in joint session at the Gering Civic Center to discuss the proposal, which has been researched since March of last year. The public is welcome to attend.
Proponents claim a merger of the two departments will save money in the long run, as well as provide better police protection for both communities. But opponents say Gering would cause Gering to lose control over its own police department. And because most crime occurs in the larger community of Scottsbluff, police would be pulled over there and out of Gering.
Two committees, with membership from both city councils, looked at both the financial and operational structures of such a combined department and gave their reports on Feb. 2, 2011.
The consensus of the two committees was to form an independent political subdivision for the combined police department. The subdivision would have its own bureaucracy. It would have taxing authority and ability to hire administrative personnel. Under state statute a political subdivision must be created by a vote of the city council, not a general vote of residents.
The combined department would be headquartered in Scottsbluff’s recently constructed public safety and law enforcement building on Avenue A.
The proposed police merger figured as a major factor in the 2010 Gering mayor’s election. Merger opponents claimed the proposal was a first step toward eventually merging both cities. Gering Mayor Susan Wiedeman had testified in favor of the eventual merger before the Urban Affairs Committee of the state Legislature that February.
By early fall, two candidate had lined up to run against the mayor. Ed Mayo and write-in candidate Kent Ewing both opposed the police merger. Between the challengers, they garnered 70 percent of the vote in November. Ewing came in second place and Mayo was elected mayor.
As per his campaign promise, Mayo’s first order of business at the Dec. 13, 2010 city council meeting was to call for a vote on the merger. That was tabled as most council members wanted to hear the final report from the two committees before deciding. Council members who weren’t a part of the Feb. 2 committee reports have since been briefed on the findings.
Mayo said that after both city councils discuss the proposed merger, he intends to call for a vote of the Gering council to decide the matter.