By Bethany Helwig
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Council considers police department budget changes

 

November 21, 2019



Moose Lake’s city council will be looking into options to reduce costs at the police department. Councilor Walter Lower III brought up his concerns over the current budget at the regular city council meeting on November 13.

“There is supposed to be an increase of $67,000 roughly over 2019,” said Councilor Lower. “The budget would be at $657,000. That’s a $110,000 increase from 2016. That’s an awful large increase in four years.”

According to Councilor Lower, the projected property taxes the city will take in for 2020 is $567,000, which is $90,000 less than next year’s budget for the police department alone. Lower expressed his concerns about being able to afford needed projects to improve the city’s infrastructure and correct failing sewer and water lines.

Lower wanted to initiate a discussion with the council to consider what their options might be. He made a few suggestions, such as changing the police chief from a managing position to a working position (meaning the chief would do patrols as well). He also proposed they look into splitting responsibilities with the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) or having the CCSO take over completely. He expressed he does like the city having its own police department, but that some changes might need to be made.


“I realize this is a delicate issue,” said Lower. “But the budget for the police department keeps increasing but our population and our businesses don’t seem to be increasing, so that is a problem in itself.”

Councilor Doug Juntunen agreed that the city needs to be a good steward of the community’s money and that a working police chief is an excellent idea. However, both he and the council agreed that before any sort of decision could be made, they would need to see figures for each option proposed.

“It’s a big step, I’m aware of that, and that’s why I wanted to bring it out into the open and see what the other people felt about it,” said Lower. “Like I said, I don’t even know how I feel about it yet, but I would be interested in seeing what the figures were and whether it would be a big enough savings to see if it would be something to consider.”

The council proposed talking to the State about offering some kind of monetary support for the police department since two State-run facilities exist within Moose Lake.

Juntunen added, “Right off the cuff, I would say now would be the time to have a discussion with the State facilities and say … if you do desire to have a local police department, I think the taxpayers of the State of Minnesota should be paying since we’re housing their people. They should be kicking in for a police department.”

Lower stated ideally he would like to see savings across the board for all aspects of the city, not just for the police department.

Acting Police Chief Mike McNulty stated in response that a lot of the increased costs are due to technology advancements and system changes, which are often one-time expenses. “That added to our budget considerably, having to take care of those certain things. But that’s not something that happens every day or every year.”

Acting Chief McNulty also spoke about the public support the police department has, thanks in part to the 24-hour service it now provides. “Bad things were happening but they weren’t able to be addressed quickly because the County [Sheriff’s Office] isn’t necessarily going to be available. They’ve got the rest of Carlton County to take care of. By having a 24-hour police department, they’re getting help immediately. A lot of times that can be huge.”

No decision was made except to reach out to the Sheriff’s Office and State to see what information could be gathered about possible options.

The council also discussed how they might expand the city’s campground, whether it be using the baseball field adjacent to the campground or purchasing the tennis court property behind the old school. No definitive decision was made for the time being.

A motion was passed to hire Officer Ray Couture for a full-time position at the Moose Lake Police Department. Officer Couture had previously worked part time for Moose Lake and most recently for the Fond du Lac Police Department.

The Lodging Tax Ordinance was passed with no public comment at the meeting. Administrator Tim Peterson said he has not heard any feedback other than the Chamber of Commerce is for it and the new owners of the Moose Lake Lodge were not opposed to it. Of the funds collected by the lodging tax, 95% will be given to the Chamber of Commerce for marketing and promoting the city. The remaining 5% will be retained by the City for administrative costs. The new tax goes into effect on January 1.

City Administrator Tim Peterson informed the council of a surprise inspection of the campground by the MN Department of Health due to an anonymous complaint. The MDH ordered the City to make certain repairs by June of next year to bring the campground into compliance; repairs include fixing a leak in the men’s shower, better lighting in and resealing the floors of the old shower house, and replacing the rotted wood in the old shower house building.

CITY COUNCIL NOTES:

Approximately $1,500 was raised at the Library Book Sale. The library was able to purchase a new computer.

253.6 lbs of prescription drugs were turned in during the Drug Take Back program at the Moose Lake Police Department (the most out of all locations in the county).

Approved a gambling permit for the Moose Lake Area Historical Society to conduct bingo.

Approved a temporary alcohol permit for the Moose Lake Brewing Company during their ice fishing contest on the lake.

The proposed trail connecting to the school will be discussed with the County on November 21. City Administrator Peterson said they are still at least a year out from seeking bids on the project.

 

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