July 7, 2023 at 1:22 p.m.
New P.D. gets little support in council budget workshop
It started as a budget-setting workshop for Lindstrom City Council, in the early stages of writing next year’s property tax levy. But last week’s informal discussions veered into a vote of no confidence for the long-sought new public safety facility.
The Lakes Area Police Commission could adopt its budget at its regular every-other-month meeting, in July, ahead of the two police service area cities finalizing their fiscal needs. The Chisago City-Lindstrom joint law enforcement department is built into both city budgets 50-50.
Discussion in the work session Thursday, June 29 developed a consensus that the new police station proposed in Chisago City be put on the back burner.
Chief Bill Schlumbohm asked about Lindstrom council support for funding a legislative lobbyist to represent the planned facility at hearings in St. Paul. He added the police want to host a visit for Senators and the Office of Management and Budget who are already planning for the governor’s bonding bill line items for next session.
Newly-elected Council member Brian Norelius expressed concerns about not understanding “the business side” of the potential $9 million public safety facility. The details developed so far are to use already public land near the Chisago City Fire Hall. Studies show the location to be central to the service area and to where population growth is most likely. The police commission has done square footage assessments and reviewed addressing current shortcomings in storage of evidence and offender detention and other considerations for training space and keeping vehicles.
Council member Norelius also said if Lindstrom is expected to contribute $3 million (The plan is a state $3 million grant and Chisago City funds $3 million too) he wants assurances there will be a tangible Lindstrom asset should the police department split in the future and become separate city programs. Furthermore he wants “police presence” in Lindstrom and he argued there needs to be a facility in Lindstrom—to promote school safety in particular.
Chief Schlumbohm reminded the council the school district pays wages for the months that School Resource Officers are in the high school and middle school in Lindstrom. The level of service from the department with patrol, investigation, etc will not change if the facility is in Chisago City.
Council member David Waldoch had financing concerns. He suggested a revised payback formula for the project debt. He said Chisago City has way more land mass in which to grow its population (and tax base) than Lindstrom does and tax capacity should be the driving factor in payback for what each city contributes.
Expecting $3 million equally from each city is not fair, he argued.
City Administrator Dan Undem, who wasn’t even due to start his job until after the July Fourth holiday, advised that he needs to see the overall plan for the project, and get the full picture of what this public safety facility is expected to cost not only to construct, but to run annually. He will also be referring to Lindstrom’s 10-year plan, which was not finalized for last week’s workshop.
Mayor Judy Chartrand, attending on-line, said she was hearing Lindstrom is not ready to commit to the $9 million project. The council may review temporary spaces to address problems with existing police operations, or, the city could look at moving city offices and using all of city hall as a law enforcement office.
Chartrand and Norelius serve on the Lakes Area Police Commission and will broach the budget concerns expressed with commissioners July 12.