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Will BE keep its police?

By Staff | May 9, 2011

Kathy Bailey

Will the City of Blue Earth hire a new police chief, or abandon the police department altogether and contract with the Faribault County Sheriff’s office for law enforcement coverage?

Those were two of the five options the City Council studied during their work session last Monday night.

With the announcement of impending retirement from current Chief Dean Vereide, the council decided to take the opportunity to explore its options as far as providing law enforcement protection for the city.

City Administrator Kathy Bailey presented a list of the five options, with an estimate of cost savings involved with each one.

Option one is to replace the chief and hire a new patrol officer. There would be savings here, Bailey says, because a new chief could be hired at a salary of $63,767, lower than the current salary of $80,000.

“We would see a savings of $8,279 just in the remainder of this year,” she says.

In option two, the new police chief would do patrol work and another officer would not be hired. That would save the cost of the officer’s salary and benefits, or $74,502 per year, Bailey explains.

The third option is similar, but also cuts back on the amount of patrol time, meaning the city would not have 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week coverage. The savings here would be $77,646.

The fourth option would have the city contract with the sheriff’s department or another city’s police department to provide law enforcement coverage in Blue Earth. Bailey estimated the savings at around $70,000.

“I have talked to the sheriff and he has given me a rough figure of $455,000 to provide the full 24/7 coverage,” Bailey says. Since the city’s police budget is $525,000, the city’s annual expense would be reduced by $70,000. In addition, Bailey says, she has talked to the City of Winnebago about providing police coverage in Blue Earth and they are preparing a proposal.

Bailey adds that she has also talked to Winnebago City Administrator Austin Bleess about option five.

“This option involves forming a joint powers agreement for law enforcement with a neighboring city,” she explains. “The new police department would be run by a joint powers police commission, made up of council members from both cities.”

Savings with this plan are estimated to be in the range of $100,000, Bailey says.

While council members discussed all the options, they seemed most interested in finding out more about having the sheriff’s department provide the coverage. They instructed Bailey to set up a joint work session with the county sheriff and county commissioners to discuss the matter further.

“I think it is important that we continue 24/7 coverage, and this option would do that,” council member Glenn Gaylord says. “This is a good opportunity to talk about this and look into it.”

Councilman Russ Erichsrud agreed, but added that he felt it was important to explore all the options.

Bailey says any changes will bring forth many issues and questions, including what happens to the police union contracts, squad cars and the rooms at the Public Safety Building.

“Have you thought about moving City Hall into that building if it is not used by the police?” Councilman John Gartzke asked. “It would be much more efficient to have it there.”

“Yes, I have thought of that,” Bailey responded.

She also suggested that any proposal of change could “stir up a lot of conversation in the community.”