Pine River City Council meet Tuesday, July 3, to explore the possibility of disbanding the city's police department and contracting with Cass County Sheriff's Department for coverage.
They planned to further discuss the matter at another special meeting at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 10, at city hall.
Currently Pine River has $223,000 in police budget for 2012.
Mayor Jim Sabas announced some tentative figures if the city's department dissolved and one or two deputies were contracted to cover the city.
If the city contracted two deputies, they'd end up $7,224 in the hole annually. With one deputy, they'd come out ahead by $77,776, according to the amounts discussed at the meeting.
Those numbers were derived by the revenue lost by disbanding the police department from the annual savings to the city for contracting with the county.
The annual savings to city if the city contracted two deputies was estimated at $74,581. The annual savings to city if the city contracted one deputy is $159,581.
However, the city would lose $81,805 in annual revenue by disbanding the police department. The city receives that amount in revenues outside of their taxing authority. That amount is comprised of outside revenues they qualify for because they have a police department.
Mayor Sabas noted that they could possibly sell the Pine River Police Department's (PRPD) new Ford F150 truck and the older Dodge Durango to the county. He estimated the Ford's worth between $35,000 and $40,000, and the Durango around $15,000.
Sale of the city's Ford truck could cover the anticipated $7,224 annual deficit in the police fund for around 5 years making it a wash.
"It (the budget) wouldn't go up or down and would stay basically the same as it is now. We would have two full time officers (deputies). They would be scheduled according to the sheriff," Sabas said.
Currently the PRPD has one police chief Chad Bouc and two full time officers, Shawn Birr and Nathan Gainey. However Police Chief Chad Bouc has resigned effective July 15. Bouc has been with the PRPD for around seven years and will be working for Cass County as a sheriff's deputy. Bouc said job security was a factor in his decision to seek the new opportunity. The council will need to appoint a temporary police chief for the timebeing.
City Attorney Ted Lundrigan asked the council to clarify with the sheriff's department what type of coverage would be provided to the city if an agreement is formed. Lundrigan said that while the PRPD officers respond to calls outside of city limits, they know that their primary allegiance is to the city. Criminal law enforcement is not a business, it's what people pay their taxes for, he said. The city should not be driven by the thought that their police department must cash flow, Lundrigan said. "You are protecting your citizens from evil people and to hell with the cost."
Lundrigan noted that city ordinances that address civil matters would not be addressed by the county (ie.e stray dogs, zoning, violations of setbacks, etc.) He asked about how the deputies would address criminal matters, such as unreasonable acceleration, where the city's laws are more stringent than the state laws. Law enforcement has the discretion to write state or city citations when it comes to certain crimes - like speeding - within city limits. Its unlikely that a deputy would write a ticket for a violation of a Pine River ordinance because the deputy would be unfamiliar with the city's ordinances, Lundrigan said.
The city gets 100 percent of its own citations, when it only gets a portion of state tickets. A municipal citation costs the individual being cited far less than a state ticket.
Local police officers write citations keeping in mind that the city has a limited prosectution budget and that they have to make the dollars count, Lundrigan said. "A police officer of your own is aware of the police budget and is a lot more careful about the tickets that he writes."
Sabas asked for the rest of the council's opinion on what should be done. "I see myself, that it's workable," he said. "Naturally there's always challenges to this stuff."
Mayor Sabas said that he's talked with Cass Lake Mayor Wayne LaDuke and that their city is savings money and has better coverage than ever since they contracted with Cass County for coverage. Cass Lake has three full-time deputies covering the city, where before they had three full-time police officers. "They didn't have enough coverage, now they have more," Sabas said.
"I can't imagine we'd have more coverage (contracting with the county) than we do now," said City Councilor Tamara Hansen.
Sabas added that in the last 20 years or so, 130 departments have disbanded in the state; 30 or so departments in the last five years. "Why?" Sabas asked. "It's very costly to have a police department." "This is an option that we need to explore; that's what we're doing right now, we're exploring."
Local businessman Ryan Nelson said that as a business owner he likes the comfort of knowing the local police and seeing their presence. "There are a lot of companies that aren't going to come to Pine River if we don't have a police force," he said. "I signed a longterm lease with the idea that we have a police force," Nelson said. "Any town, when you lose the police department, it starts to die." "If it's not broken, don't fix it," he said of the city's police department. "Our guys do a good job in the community. They are well respected and well liked; they set a good presence," Nelson said.
Lundrigan posed the question of whether deputies in Pine River would have duties outside of the city or if they would be solely responsible for Pine River. "If the deputies are sharing their duties with the county duties and they are called out of town, there won't be anyone here," he said.
PRPD officers already attend to calls outside of city limits, and did so prior to having a contract to provide police coverage to Backus, City Councilor Patty Melby added. The city can't afford to have its police officers working 24-7.
Audience Member Charity Birr responded that the city can afford having officers on from 8 a.m. to 2 or 3 a.m. the following morning most days of the week with the officers they have now. "That covers the majority of the time when things will be happening," she said.
Melby said the city might be able to get more coverage because the sheriff's department has more employees who can cover shifts when vacation is taken, for example.
Hansen asked the council whether there were any fees associated with disbanding the police department and what type of timeline would be involved. "Obviously it's not something you can decide one month and the next month have your police department disbanded," she said. Lundrigan responded that he's unaware of what fees might exist. Later he added that he is not aware of any state statutes specifying notice for disbandment.
Birr asked whether in a contract with the county the city could specify the hours a deputy would be driving and patrolling the streets.
Birr asked whether police officers would be absorbed into the county or whether they would be "thrown to the side."
Lundigan noted that the city would have to pay unemployment to its two officers if the department disbanded.
Other topics at the meeting included the city's contracts with other entities.
The Pine River-Backus School pays for part of police liasion's contract during the school year. The city pays for that officer's salary during the three months school is out. Bouc was the school police liasion before he was promoted to police chief. Officer Gainey was the most recent police liasion.
Melby said that a law enforcement liasion is important to the school. "I was concerned about the school; I work there, I think it's important that we have an officer there. Chad (Bouc) and Nate (Gainey) have both done a super job up there. Not only is the school environment better, but the families and kids know them. They're reaching out way more than the school."
If the city does disband its department it would be up to the school district to contract independently with the sheriff's department, Sabas said.
The city also has a contract with the city of Chickamaw Beach (through Dec. 31, 2012); and the city of Backus (through Jan. 31, 2013) to provide patrol and police coverage.
Sabas said that the next step for the council is compile questions to ask of the sheriff at the next meeting. At the end of Tuesday's meeting the council planned to discuss the issue again on July 24.
However, on Thursday, July 5, the mayor announced a special meeting on the matter at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 10. The sheriff plans to attend.
More information will be published in the July 19 Pine River Journal.
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