On April 28, the city of Forest Lake released the details of Washington County’s finalized proposal contract for the provision of law enforcement services in the city, which, if accepted, would result in the dissolution of the Forest Lake Police Department. The city also released a new 2018 budget proposal from Forest Lake Police Chief Rick Peterson which proposes cost savings by not replacing two officer positions that are currently vacant and by incorporating a 0 percent wage increase for supervisors and patrol officers, as put forward by the Law Enforcement Labor Services union at the Forest Lake City Council’s April 24 meeting.
The council will discuss, and possibly vote, on these items at its May 1 workshop (starting at 6:30 p.m.) and special council meeting.
The proposal from the county estimates that its services (which would begin on Sept. 1 if approved) would cost the city approximately $2.9 million during the first year, $2.97 million the second year and $3.05 million the third year, though the city would pay the county the amount the police service is actually calculated to cost, not the estimated amount. Estimates for the fourth and fifth years of the five-year contract are not available.
If the city approved the contract and then decided later to leave the agreement prior to the five years being up, they would owe the contract costs to the county for the remaining years. How exactly this would be determined, given the fact that the county will be charging the city actual costs, not cost estimates, is currently uncertain. City staff said the city would need to seek clarity from the sheriff’s office regarding this issue.
In a memo prepared by City Administrator Aaron Parrish, he estimates that switching to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for services will likely cost the city about $125,000 extra in the 2018 police budget (with the savings from the police department costs being offset by layoff and other transition costs) and then save the city about $387,000 in 2019. The memo projects similar savings over the next three years of the contract, assuming that the FLPD’s budget would grow at a similar rate, resulting in a projected savings of about $1.42 million – or $1.78 million if potential savings in the city’s capital improvement plan are included (the projects in the capital improvement plan have not yet been authorized by the council, however).
Parrish’s memo does not give the council a recommendation as to what decision it should make. However, another memo, which along with Parrish’s was released in the packets of the May 1 meetings, was written by Peterson, who recommended that the city retain the FLPD. Peterson’s memo proposes that, in order to find greater cost savings, the city does not replace the two police officer positions that were vacated by resignations earlier this year. To not reduce patrol coverage, the FLPD detective assigned to the Washington County Drug Task Force and the detective assigned to the Crime Prevention and Community Policing Unit would be reassigned to patrol positions. The memo also accounts for a 0 percent wage and benefit increase to officers in 2017 and 2018, as suggested by LELS, though Parrish’s memo noted that the union would likely try to negotiate in 2019 and beyond to make up for the stagnant wages.
Peterson’s memo projected an effective cost to taxpayers of about $3.13 million for his amended plan, down from the current estimated effective cost of $3.34 million. He estimated that, accounting for the layoff transition costs of moving to the county, his proposal would save the city about $367,000 over the county plan in 2018, though it would still be slightly higher than the 2019 and 2020 projected county costs.