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August 15, 2018

12/1/2017 2:58:00 PM
City Council workshop on Lakes Area P.D. contract well attended

Lindstrom City Council and in fact, many local councils, hold “workshops” periodically which is an informal meeting format, allowing staff and elected officials to devote time on one or two issues to be picked apart and discussed more so than a regular 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. meeting agenda allows.  No votes are taken in workshop.  If action is needed, the matter goes onto a regular council agenda.

Monday night this week one final look at Lindstrom’s 2018 budget (before having to adopt a number in December) was on the workshop agenda, along with the city administrator’s annual performance review and the Lakes Area Police joint powers contract.  The contract renews every five years and in 2018 it will be up for action again.  

Lindstrom Mayor Keith Carlson explained to a crowd that overflowed into the Community Center, from council chambers,  that an imbalance in tax capacity and Chisago City land area expansion,  along with other issues, have gotten council members thinking about revising the 50-50 contract with Chisago City that funds Lakes Area Police.

Mayor Carlson shared numbers on land mass growth resulting from annexation activity increasing the size of Chisago City. The city’s ability to generate property tax (tax capacity) has out-stripped Lindstrom’s since the police departments merged under a 50-50 contract adopted 14 years ago.  For every one dollar Lindstrom chips into running the police-- Chisago City taxpayers theoretically at least-- chip in less than one dollar, explained Council member David Waldoch.

Judging from comments made by those in the audience it was the police agreement that attracted the 100 or so in the audience.

They expressed dismay and disappointment that Lakes Area Police Department service was even under review. Several from the audience took turns speaking of personal, positive encounters and calls for police help being answered and handled compassionately.  Many speakers were chastizing the city council for even endeavoring to analyze expenditures. A handful of audience members laughed out-loud and mocked Council Member David Waldoch for asking questions about how expenses are apportioned in the contract along with other accounting and budget equity concerns.  He good naturedly went along with the chiding and  when he joked that  he’d asked his last question-- he received applause.

Mayor Carlson asked the audience, if not now,  when would be a good time to review these costs? He said when the police commission looks at the agreement in coming months it would be helpful if there were options to consider, even possibly un-merging the department, said Carlson. “If we don’t work up any alternatives, there’s nowhere to go (in talks.)”

Lindstrom gathered a basic contract to compare a sheriff patrol and investigation level of service to existing-- which was not met with any support.  Public speakers predicted sheriff deputies will be a distance away, or they won’t prioritize locally when there’s a Chisago Lakes call if there’s something happening that affects the county.  Another speaker pointed out loss of “local control” if another agency is contracted with.

Middle School Principal Jodi Otte stated that there can’t be a price put on the relationship between schools, students and the current police personnel,  and she had concerns if the county took over, for example. The school may get a different deputy for each response, the Lakes Area SROs now participate in coaching sports and attend school events,  and an outside agency just couldn’t measure up, she added.   

(The budget and levy of Chisago Lakes District funds 10 months of two school resource officers’ costs.)

Council member Kevin Stenson noted that for what Lindstrom spends in the 50-50 contract,  the city is getting a terrific deal.  There are 13 officers and 24/7 service. The numbers of calls that are coming from Chisago City and from Lindstrom split almost equally.  

Stenson said public safety isn’t a hardgood product you can cost-out, it is a service and he feels that each city’s population is receiving equitable service for the price they pay.

The two and a half hour meeting ended with Mayor Carlson explaining the 50-50 contract will come up for discussion at the police commission level and review will continue.  The police commission is made up of  two elected officials from each city.

Council member Stenson added that the commission has checks and balances on the department, saying one year there was a tie vote on a proposed budget hike-- so wages and expenses stayed status quo.  Stenson said the sustainability of the Lakes Area Department is in the balance of the commission and that citizens need to “pay attention” when there’s an election. He declared,  “Council needs to listen to the wishes of the residents.”

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