Increased law enforcement a talking point
The Columbus City Council has approved a net increase in its 2013 preliminary levy for a raise of $28,272 (1.41 percent) over this year’s levy which was $730 shy of $2 million. The city projects an increase in the 2013 budget of $47,792, or nearly 2 percent, and will certify a final levy for next year in December. The final levy could be lower but no greater than the figure set last week.
According to preliminary numbers, Columbus would increase its levy line for police protection by more than the overall levy increase, or by $29,137. Council and staff welcomed Tom Wells, chief deputy for the Anoka County Sheriff’s Department, and Bryon Fuerst, a sheriff’s lieutenant who is assigned to Columbus, to discuss the county’s coverage Sept. 12.
The county keeps an office at Columbus City Hall where a deputy is based eight hours per day for work that includes response to calls and some traffic patrol. That level of “dedicated coverage,” as the county describes those hours, expanded from five to seven days weekly about 10 years ago, Wells later said.
By its contract, Columbus is covered for other call response and services through the remainder of each day by county deputies who are also patrolling Linwood, Ham Lake, Bethel, East Bethel, Andover, Oak Grove and Nowthen. Wells said there are always at least two deputies on shift to cover those eight communities which contract for county services.
“The cities see savings, because they get shared services,” he added. Deputies from the neighboring communities join Columbus’ deputy when needed on certain calls, Wells explained, and they may be dispatched as first responders to a Columbus call when the city’s own deputy is on an earlier call.
The county proposed an increase to 12 daily hours of dedicated coverage for Columbus in 2013. The city and county appear to be headed towards approving a compromise of 10 daily hours.
Wells said Columbus lost some direct coverage above and beyond the eight hours with the dissolution two years ago of an agreement with Linwood to fund a school resource officer at the communities’ elementary schools. The SRO worked year-round, Wells said, and served as an extra deputy on patrol for all of Columbus and Linwood when school was not in session.
That partnership was funded first through a federal grant, then after the grant stream ended, Columbus, Linwood and Anoka County each agreed to fund one-third of the position (costing the city about $30,000) to maintain the SRO’s presence in their schools and communities.
Anoka County announced two years ago that it would no longer fund its share of the agreement due to budget reductions, and Columbus and Linwood declined to split the extra cost. “This was not an arrangement we had with anybody else,” Wells said.
Though he told the Columbus council last week that he would still hope to see the city reach 12 hours of daily dedicated coverage eventually, Wells said an extra two hours now will help. “It is a good, progressive step to take,” he said.
Council member Jessie Messina noted the city’s costs for county coverage have risen in recent years even without an increase in dedicated hours.
“That’s the cost of business going up,” the chief deputy replied. “Everything’s going up,” Messina said.
Council member Bill Krebs asked about sheriff’s services that are covered through the county tax levy. Wells explained those dollars support jail operations and the work of county investigators that must handle cases both in the county’s contracted cities as well as Anoka County cities which fund their own police departments.
Council member Denny Peterson said he, too, is concerned about increasing costs but that as a resident and Columbus business owner, he sees great value in the service which the county provides. Peterson said he had a problem with theft at his business two or three years ago, but no more.
Mayor Dave Povolny concurred on the rising costs but also on the value in service. “If you talk to people that have their own police departments, we’re getting off pretty cheap,” he said.
“Columbus is getting a very fair deal with law enforcement services,” Wells said in a phone interview. “We stand by our product and the price.”