It appears City Council members have chosen a direction they would like to pursue for law enforcement services in the City of Gaylord.
Council members concluded, in a workshop meeting last week, that they favor eliminating one police officer position while contracting with the Sibley County Sheriff’s Department for “on-call” daytime coverage. The City Council is scheduled to officially act on this proposal at its July 21st meeting.
It was only a few months ago the City hired a new police chief. The new chief resigned after one week and that prompted the City to review its law enforcement options.
Options were discussed during the workshop meeting last Wednesday that included all five council members, Gaylord interim chief Eric Boon and officer Tom Webster, Sibley County Sheriff Bruce Ponath, Gaylord Fire Chief Dean Schons and Mark Brandt of the Gaylord Ambulance Services. Options ranged from continuing with a chief and two full-time officers to eliminating the police department and contracting with Sibley County for all law enforcement services.
According to McCann, City staff is recommending the option which eliminates one full time officer. With this option, the City would continue having Eric Boon (current interim chief) serve as chief and have one full-time officer. Sibley County would provide day emergency coverage for eight hours.
Weighing cost savings against police presence/patrol appears to be the biggest challenge facing the City Council. Council members questioned when police coverage is needed most. That varies, according to interim chief Boon. He said every day and every week is different.
If the proposal is approved, the Gaylord Police Department would provide approximately 12 hours of patrol time per day. The County would then handle calls when a City officer is not on duty. Gaylord police currently provide 20 hours of patrol time during the week and 12 hours on the weekends.
Council member Carl Wetzel recognizes the cost savings but did question if the loss of patrol time would jeopardize safety. Brenda Pautsch said she sees patrolling as a prevention piece. It’s not just about reacting, she said.
On the other side, the City Council is questioning if 20 hours of patrol per day is necessary. Council member Chad Muchow asked if the City may be living beyond its means.
With the proposal of having the County provide “on-call” coverage, response time has also been a concern for council members. Ponath recognized that concern and said Winthrop had similar concerns and issues that Gaylord is currently having. But, in the years the County has provided “on-call” coverage for Winthrop and Arlington, Ponath said he does not know of one complaint. “Communication is everything,” Ponath said. “We consider ourselves pretty good at keeping communications open.”
Brandt listed several ways on how law enforcement assists the ambulance service. He did express concern about the impact on services to Gaylord residents as well as county residents.
Schons said his department has no problems with the Gaylord P.D. or the Sibley County Sheriff’s Department. “Both have done a great job for us,” he said.
After 90 minutes of discussion Wednesday, council members listed staff’s recommendation as their top option. According to McCann, the City still needs to determine what type of calls it wants the County to cover. If the proposal is approved, a four month trial period would begin in September, McCann explained.
Estimating one emergency call per day, McCann determined the top option being considered would result in a budget savings of $66,686.
Being short staffed, the City of Gaylord is already contracting with the Sibley County Sheriff’s Department for on-call coverage when its officers are off duty. This coverage typically runs when the night officer’s shift ends, according to City Administrator Kevin McCann. Then, Sibley County would provide on-call coverage for approximately four hours. The County would be reimbursed $45/hour for any call outs during this time.
The City of Winthrop contracts with Sibley County for emergency day coverage. Arlington contracts with the county for some patrol and emergency day coverage. Sibley County also provides law enforcement for New Auburn and Green Isle.