The North Branch City Council chambers were filled with dozens of residents Monday night who turned out to support their police department.
At the council’s work session Thursday, Mayor Ron Lindquist suggested the city look at disbanding its police department and contracting with the county, which could potentially be a money-saving venture that could help pare down the city’s debt.
The lone councilmember to voice opposition to that measure was Kathy Blomquist.
“Cost cannot be the only consideration,” she said at the work session, 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 have 10,000,” she said. “If you’re going to have a city with 3,000 people, you’re going to have fewer calls.”
Residents voice opposition
Resident after resident at the Monday meeting walked up to the podium and told the council contracting with the sheriff’s office would be a mistake.
One of those residents was American Family Insurance agent Rob Sanvik.
“There is no doubt this would have an impact,” he said. “We’re talking about a 10,000 resident, 36-square-mile city. (Not having a police department) would leave us susceptible to more than you might think.”
He added, “We strongly support our police here in town. That is not a knock against the sheriff’s office. I just don’t think it would fit in a community our size.”
Chris Thoma, an 11-year North Branch resident, told the council he’s in a “rather tough position” when it comes to the decision about whether or not to contract with the county. He told the crowd he’s a Chisago County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
“In my opinion, the sheriff would do a fine job,” he said. “However, you’re going to lose a very important aspect: having your own police department.”
He said the sheriff would present the city with how much it would cost to extend deputy services to North Branch, and then the council would then select services from a “menu.”
“You’re going to order it off a menu like you do at McDonalds,” he said. “It’s a poor decision, in my opinion.”