9/28/2017 4:53:00 PM Request for contract information ignites tense discussion on Lakes Area P.D. future
The agreement that covers the Lakes Area Police department and its 50-50 budget shared by Chisago City and Lindstrom, is up for another five year renewal at the end of June 2018. The merged municipal departments have operated as a united service agency covering both cities for about 14 years. The unity may be eroding, however.
The question that divided the Lindstrom City Council at last week’s regular meeting was: can the existing agreement be analyzed in comparison to options such as contracting out for law enforcement services from the sheriff, without setting off a firestorm?
Lindstrom Council member AnnMarie Brink, for instance, declared last week she doesn’t even want the possibility of investigating a sheriff’s contract put on the table.
Forest Lake city council created a “war zone” she continued, when it recently considered a vote to dissolve the police there, and contract with Washington County. That sheriff ultimately put the issue to rest when he declined talks to provide contracted service.
Lindstrom has been provided a standard sheriff contract template from Chisago County, and Council member Kevin Stenson learned of this prior to the city council meeting. He put the matter on the agenda at the start of the meeting.
He questioned why and who authorized this level of communication. Stenson said, “This would be a sea change” (contracting out.) He was distressed that the issue wasn’t first brought to council for a transparent debate.
Mayor Keith Carlson-- who has previously expressed his concerns regarding the fairness of the two cities evenly splitting Lakes Area Department’s budget-- said he simply spoke with the sheriff at church about the concept.
He did not request the contract that arrived at Lindstrom city hall, he said.
The county provides deputy hours for Taylors Falls, Shafer, Rush City, Center City, and Harris -- and somebody sent over the standard deputy contract template to Lindstrom city hall. Carlson said he only inquired about what the sheriff’s personnel might be able to provide as far as 24/7 presence.
Lindstrom budgeted $710,270 for 2017 for Lakes Area Police and has added $21,000 in the preliminary budget line item for 2018.
Council member Stenson said Sheriff Rick Duncan has told him he doesn’t want anything to do with this without a directive officially coming from council.
Council member David Waldoch was of the opinion that the council wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t review all scenarios for providing law enforcement that’s “in the best interests” of Lindstrom taxpayers.
Council member Curt Flug, longtime police commission member agreed, saying, “Don’t get me wrong, we have a great department, but we should at least evaluate (costs.)”
Carlson said the police commission members from Chisago City have floated the idea of a 10-year renewal for the next contract. He didn’t want to wait until shortly before the five year agreement expires this summer, to begin gathering information.
Mayor Carlson has often commented at commission budget-setting time that Chisago City, with more inhabitants, is getting a deal on per capita expenditures under the original 50-50 split to support the department. Chisago City commission members Bob Gustafson and Jeremy Dresel counter by pointing to the annual list of calls, and where they originate, as being statistically evenly divided between the two areas. The Lindstrom Council discussion wrapped up with everybody agreeing to set a workshop for a deeper dive into the police agreement, for Monday November 27 at 6 p.m. at Lindstrom City Hall.
In two other contract situations: the Franconia Town Board isn’t responding positively to the request to renew its fire service contact.
There are eight-and-a-half land sections within the township serviced by Lindstrom Fire Dept. and the 10-year-old contract was recently presented for renewal. There is a jump in the fee from $9,000 to $16,000 annually.
The city council was advised the township may not use Lindstrom resources and instead direct funds to the Shafer-Franconia Department needs.
The city council decided to attend the township meeting in October and clarify what Lindstrom’s responsibility is as far as expectations in responding to a fire call and if Franconia understands what it might be giving up if it rejects the renewal.
The public works employee contracts for 2017 and 2018 were approved 4-1 at three percent increases in each of the two year agreement. All staff including public works, got an increase in their life insurance from $10,000 to $25,000.
Newly-seated Council member David Waldoch voted no. He questioned why the city administrator didn’t bring the council into negotiations. Administrator John Olinger responded that this is the accepted process, for years and years it’s been the administrator who negotiates.
Council member Kevin Stenson, also newly elected, said Waldoch brings up a good point-- however, this contract was negotiated in good faith using an established approach, and at this stage it really should be adopted. The rest of the council agreed to take a fresh look at this next time union contract talks roll around.