It was a split vote at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, but a proposal to have the Sibley County Sheriff’s Department provide “on call” coverage passed by a 3-2 margin.
Under the agreement, Sibley County will provide “on call” coverage for approximately 12 hours per day. The four month trial period with the County will begin on September 1st. City Administrator Kevin McCann said the City Council still needs to determine what type of calls it wants the County to cover.
Council members voting in favor of the County providing “on call” coverage were Pat Pinske, Chad Muchow and Carl Wetzel. Opposed were Brenda Pautsch and Jessica Uecker.
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 earlier this month. 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 recommended 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. Estimating one emergency call per day, McCann determined this would result in a budget savings of approximately $60,000.
Weighing cost savings against police presence/patrol appeared 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.
Gaylord police currently provide approximately 20 hours of patrol time during the week and 12 hours on weekends. Starting September 1st, Gaylord P.D. will provide approximately 12 hours of patrol time per day. The County would then handle calls when a City officer is not on duty.
Council member Muchow said he was concerned about more cuts in Local Government Aid (LGA) and expressed the need for the City to plan ahead. “I don’t know if we can afford a chief and two officers,” Muchow said. “We are going to have to get comfortable with a lot of things we haven’t been comfortable with before.”
Council members Pinske and Wetzel expressed concern about hiring Boon as the chief since he is now living in St. Peter.
Council member Pautsch said the City worked with an interim chief that lived out of town and that didn’t seem to be a problem. But, Pautsch said ideally she would like the City to keep its own department. Council member Uecker apparently agreed with Pautsch. She believes the City needs to hire a new chief.
Boon, who has served as a police officer in Gaylord since 2003, believes the City does need a full-time Police Department. He believes the four month trial period with the County providing “on call” coverage will be a good measuring stick.
There was only one citizen who spoke to council members on the issue at last week’s meeting. He spoke in support of a full time police department and said the steady patrolling that is going on now is a good preventative measure.
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.
McCann also provided information about other cities law enforcement practices:
• Norwood Young America (pop. 3594), and every other City in Carver County except for Chaska, contracts with the Carver County Sheriff’s Department. There are deputies dedicated to each City, McCann explained.
• Elko/New Market (pop. 3,817) disbanded their police department and contracted with Scott County. That arrangement lasted for two weeks. Many citizens’ complaints led to the reestablishment of the police department.
• Mora (pop. 3,681) contracts with Kanabec County and recognizes a budget savings of $170,000. The contract calls for the County to provide one deputy at all times and includes patrol, court, ordinance enforcement and report writing. McCann’s report said this arrangement made sense because Mora is the Kanabec County Seat and there was a duplication of services.