by Bob Grawey
(Editor’s note: This is part three of a three-part series concerning the many issues that need to be addressed between Hassan and Rogers before the full merger takes place in 2012. Part one deals with uneven tax rates. Part two talks about TIF districts and their role in the merger talks. Part three is about services and those impacts on the merger.)
One of the big sticking points between Hassan and Rogers and the eventual full merger in 2012 is the matter of services, as well as the level in which Hassan residents are willing to add the cost of those services to their property taxes.
Up to now, Rogers Mayor Jason Grimm says, Hassan residents have paid for services like fire protection, but have not been paying anything toward the capital improvements needed to support those services, like fire trucks and buildings for fire and police.
This is, however, another point of contention between the two communities. The level of services, to be exact, is a raw sore for each side.
Hassan residents, being more rural and laid back, see no need for a lot of services, while the bulk of Rogers residents are relatively new to the community and have come from cities with many established services. They have come to expect that level of service as part of their lifestyle.
The two sides clash over this, especially when higher taxes represent extended services many Hassan residents say they do not want.
Mark Dobberstein and other Hassan residents contend Rogers has too many police officers for its size, and that talk of adding up to three more officers is unwarranted.
He cites a 2009 police staffing report by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). When compared to other cities, such as Minnetrista, South Lake Minnetonka and Mound, all of which have higher populations, Rogers has either a larger or a nearly equal number of police officers on its force as they have in their departments.
At the same time, though, the number of crimes responded to by Rogers police was lower than these other communities. Rogers police reported 371 crimes in 2009. The other three communities in the comparison reported anywhere from 409 to 632 crimes during the same time frame.
Grimm, however, is quick to defend the number of police on the Rogers force. He says the city’s large commercial and retail base makes it a necessity to have a larger police force.
“We have a unique city. If we had a city the size of Medina or Corcoran and we had this size of a police department, I would agree it’s too big,” Grimm says. “But we have (Highway) 101 and (Interstate) 94 running through our city. Fifty percent of our city is commercial and industrial and retail.”
The Rogers mayor adds that with this business base, over half of his city’s taxes are paid by business interests. Grimm says it is a huge benefit for Rogers, but it does equate to a need for more police protection.
“Rogers residents truly like the very fast response times our police give us,” Grimm says. “We want to make sure we have a minimum of two officers on duty at all times. When one is called to Kohl’s because someone stole something, we want to make sure we have another officer available.”
It is also a matter of safety for Rogers police officers as it is for the public, according to Grimm.
“You have to question when you go from five or six square miles to 25 square miles, if two officers can still give that same quick response time as residents in Rogers have come to expect,” Grimm explains.
Rogers does plan to look into the costs, the mayor says, of whether it would make more sense to contract out police coverage of the more rural portions of the Hassan areas with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department.
Grimm admits Hassan residents want a lower level of services, but at what cost? He says whereas Rogers residents like to see patrol cars cruising their streets, Hassan folks do not care if they ever see a squad car patrolling their streets.
“It’s a different mentality,” Grimm admits.
As far as fire protection service, Grimm says Hassan will pay more for that service. In the past town residents have only paid for fire protection. When they are annexed into Rogers, they will then begin helping to pay for capital expenses like new police cars and fire trucks as well as for building updates as needed.
Sewer and water service concerns seem to have been addressed, as Rogers officials have told Hassan residents they will only pay for such services when they hook up to them.
Other things, however, like curbs, gutters and streetlights are things township residents will be assessed for in their city taxes — something Dobberstein says town residents have no need for.
Hassan resident Greg Peppin says the town’s residents have always been careful to keep costs down, including the town’s levy which they have kept flat the past five years.
“The township had adapted to that in spite of rising costs,” Peppin says, “and has continued delivering services in a cost-effective manner.”
Rogers, on the other hand, he adds, has a tendency to increase its levy which causes a “disconnect” between the two communities.
“Let’s step back now,” Peppin suggests. “We’re not growing by gang-busters right now. It’s not like people are lining up at city hall for building permits. Let’s have discussions that can get us to a level playing field.”