No contracting in North Branch

Council makes unanimous decision 

to keep police department

The council chambers were overflowing with supporters of the North Branch Police Department at the Thursday and Monday City Council meetings, many holding blue-and-white “We stand with NBPD” signs.  Photo by Derrick Knutson

The council chambers were overflowing with supporters of the North Branch Police Department at the Thursday and Monday City Council meetings, many holding blue-and-white “We stand with NBPD” signs.
Photo by Derrick Knutson

Over the course of two North Branch City Council meetings Thursday and Monday, dozens of residents approached the council dais to voice their support of the North Branch Police Department.

Not a single person who addressed the council was in favor of disbanding the department and contracting with the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office as a cost-saving measure.

Those pleas to keep the department — which is composed of 10 officers and two administrative staff — might have been the deciding factor for the council.

At the end of the Monday meeting, the council voted unanimously to not pursue contracting any more this year.

That decision elicited applause from the audience of residents that filled the council chambers and spilled out into the hallway, but some on hand for the meeting thought that decision wasn’t good enough. They wanted a lifetime ban on disbanding the city’s police force.

City Administrator Bridgitte Konrad addressed those comments by explaining, by state law, that suggestion is an impossibility because the current council cannot bind the decisions of future councils.

 

City now ‘has the numbers’

After the decision to keep the police department was made, Mayor Ron Lindquist noted the effort to track down how much it would cost to contract police services with the county was not without merit.

“I know all of you are mad as hell for (the council) bringing this up, but we have the numbers now,” he said to the crowd.

He explained that he, a few years ago when he was a council member, had brought up the idea of getting a proposal from the county to see how much it would cost to contract, but he didn’t have the support for the idea at the time.

But now he and the council know just how much of a cost savings it would be, and Lindquist said the “apples to apples” comparison was not enough for him to keep pursing the issue.

Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan at the Thursday workshop told the council the cost to contract with the county was about $953,000 a year, which would save the city about $138,000.

He noted that amount was for the same level of service as provided by the North Branch Police Department.

The council also asked him to provide a proposal that would save the city more money.

He came up with a scenario where all investigative services would be absorbed by his office, and there would be the hour equivalent of 8.5 officers instead of 10.

He explained that the contract is based on hours, not full-time employees.

As part of the second proposal, Duncan also said the amount of hours patrolled in the city in the wintertime could be reduced because that’s when crime tends to be lower.

Under that proposal, the city could have saved more than$500,000 a year, but the reduction in services was less than palatable for some.

“The sheriff’s proposal is a reduction because you’re taking patrol hours out and you’re taking investigator hours out,” North Branch Police Chief Dan Meyer said at the workshop.

Under the first “apples to apples” scenario, Councilmember Trent Jensen said the cost savings for residents living in an average-priced home in the area — around $150,000 — would have been about $32 a year. Under the second scenario, that savings would have increased to more than $100 a year, according to Jensen.

Resident Doug Brown said he doubted those savings would equate to lower taxes for residents, and he implored the council to think about more than money when it comes to the police department.

“I would like you to consider all of the people who are in here when making your decision,” he said, referring to the crowd of supporters.

In her 10 years on the council, Councilmember Kathy Blomquist said she has never seen “so many new faces” at council meetings as the result of an issue the council was discussing.

“I want to thank you for expressing your opinions,” she said to audience. “I’ve never been more proud.”

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