The Columbus City Council voted 4-1 Dec. 12 to approve a final levy for 2013, and also voted 3-2 to go ahead with further policing from the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office that will include a boost in coverage next July.
Councilmember Jessie Messina cast opposing votes on both motions, after showing support for the extension with Anoka County at a meeting in October. “I did it (then), because I thought (the extension) was more of a ‘have to’ than a ‘choose to,’” Messina said last week.
Anoka County’s deputies currently keep an active presence in Columbus eight hours daily, including weekends. The city is one of eight cities and townships across the county’s northern region that share service from a minimum of two deputy vehicles working in those communities during all other hours.
The city’s benefit will grow to include 10 hours of daily dedicated coverage starting July 1, 2013, and continuing through 2014 or the end of the contract term. Sheriff’s Office personnel reported to Columbus this fall that the increased direct presence is more reasonable due to a growth in calls from the city.
Without a majority voting in favor of the contract last week, Columbus would have stayed at eight daily hours of dedicated coverage throughout the coming year while also losing prompt, prioritized response to non-emergency calls such as noise complaints during the 16 other hours. Mayor Dave Povolny and the full council agreed this fall to begin a study of future law enforcement options not involving Anoka County.
An increase in costs that Columbus is now contracted to pay the county for 2013 is roughly equal to the city’s approved levy increase of $22,870, or 1.14 percent. Messina arrived at last week’s meeting with questions whether the city could find somewhere else to cut that funding at the final minute and leave the levy with no increase.
Through several sheets of budget tables and numbers, he noted a total of $130,000 is budgeted for a blacktop fund next year – and again annually through the next 10 years – though the city is planning no major blacktopping projects in 2013. City Administrator Elizabeth Mursko said that the council has been budgeting those dollars for building a fund, to avoid consideration for passing much larger levy hits in years when blacktopping will be scheduled.
While not disagreeing with Messina’s interest to cut more from spending, his council colleagues did advise against any thought of reducing the blacktop fund.
Krebs did join Messina last week in voting against increased costs and coverage from the county, and he cast a lone vote opposing the option two months ago. Krebs said he has reviewed the county’s call records and he disagrees with a need for increased coverage.
“It’s their standards. They don’t feel like we’re up to their standards,” he said after last week’s meeting. “It was forced down our throats.”
The new contract outlines the city and county rights for renewal or termination. Anoka County reserves the right to propose increased costs for 2014 if the county determines and can demonstrate they are needed, but would have to notify Columbus of that information with at least 120 days remaining in 2013.
If a proposed increase would exceed 5 percent of the city’s payments to the county in 2013, Columbus could rescind from the contract for 2014 as long as the city would notify Anoka County of that choice with 90 days remaining next year.
“You would have 30 days to make a decision whether to terminate the contract,” City Attorney Bill Griffith, Jr., told the council last week. “I don’t know that necessarily gives you comfort, but there it is.”