Council to consider disbanding police department, contracting with county

The North Branch City Council at a work session Thursday came to a consensus it would approach the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office about contracting for law enforcement services.

If a contract with the county were approved, it would mean the disbandment of the city’s police force.

The city has been searching for ways to reduce its debt load for quite some time, and Mayor Ron Lindquist suggested contracting with the county for law enforcement services could be a way to do just that.

The lone councilmember to voice opposition to measure was Kathy Blomquist.

“Cost cannot be the only consideration,” she said, noting factors like response times and public opinion should weigh heavily on the council’s final decision.

She added that the official meeting on whether or not to contract with the county would likely have to be held in the high school auditorium, because “there’d be so many people in town who wouldn’t want (the council) to do it.”

Lindquist and the other council members stressed looking at contracting doesn’t mean that would be the decision the council would make.

“I always look at everything,” Councilmember Theresa Furman said. “If you don’t have the information, you can’t look and evaluate. I’m OK with looking. I don’t know what I’m OK with doing or not.”

City Administrator Bridgitte Konrad suggested the council form a committee to address a possible contract with the county so they’d be comparing “apples to apples.”

She explained she and city staff would track down all of the pertinent information for the committee to consider.

“We would craft a proposal to bring to the sheriff that would say, ‘This is what we want; how much would you charge?’ Then we’d be doing an equal comparison.”

Councilmember Trent Jensen suggested the city talk to other cities in the area that contract with the Sheriff’s Office to hear how the service is working for them.

He added North Branch should also consider contacting cities in the state that used to have police forces in town but decided to contract with their respective counties as cost-saving measures.

Blomquist expounded on Jensen’s suggestion, noting that if North Branch does contact other cities about their experiences with contracting, it should find cities of a similar size.

“I don’t want to compare a city that has 3,000 people to us that has 10,000,” she said. “If you’re going to have a city with 3,000 people, you’re going to have fewer calls.”

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