Nowthen to be covered, after all

by Eric Hagen
ECM Publishers

Nowthen will be covered by the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office in 2012 after all and into 2013.

At a special council meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 28, the Nowthen City Council unanimously approved a two-year contract for eight hours of daily patrol coverage.

Two weeks prior, a slim majority of the council voted against raising the 2012 levy to pay for a sheriff’s office contract. Mayor Bill Schulz and Council Member Jeff Pilon voted for a levy increase that included the sheriff’s contract. Council members Orval Leistico, Laurie Olmon and Harlan Meyer voted against this.

Under the new agreement the council approved Dec. 28, Nowthen will pay the sheriff’s office $105,511 in 2012 for patrol services. The costs increase to $213,740 in 2013. Commander Paul Sommer of the sheriff’s office clarified that although Nowthen’s 2012 contract technically begins on July 1, 2012, the sheriff’s office will still provide coverage during the first six months of 2012 now that Nowthen signed a contract.

In order to pay for this contract, the council refinanced the $684,000 balance of a bond taken out in 2006 to build the public works building, according to Corrie LaDoucer, Nowthen’s city clerk and treasurer. By gaining a better interest rate and extending the debt repayment period from 2017 to 2022, the city freed up $132,940 for 2013, $52,890 for 2014, $53,952 for 2015, $49,915 for 2016 and $55,870 for 2017. LaDoucer noted that these are estimates provided by the city’s financial advisor.

The city will also utilize some of the $180,000 it has in its emergency services fund, LaDoucer said.

The idea for refinancing the bond to gain revenue for the sheriff’s contract came from the city’s financial advisor, who met with Schulz and Pilon to discuss options after the council voted down the sheriff’s previous proposal.

In the days when they were working on financing plans, Schulz said he received “quite a few” calls, e-mails and handwritten letters from residents who were unhappy with the council’s decision. He did not hear from anyone who supported the decision.

“I think we made the best decision that would be possible for this city,” Schulz said.

Leistico said his vote in early December was not about not wanting the police contract. He was concerned with how much taxes could have increased.

Olmon said she previously voted no because she felt the citizens of Nowthen would not have been getting what they paid for. She did not see the need of a full-time deputy patrolling Nowthen, considering there were only 339 arrests in 2010 compared with 10,101 for all of Anoka County, including the sheriff’s office and independent police departments. Instead, she preferred the method of a “floater” deputy who could patrol in and out of Nowthen and respond to calls when necessary.

According to Olmon, Nowthen residents contributed to the sheriff’s office budget through the county property tax levy, to which all communities contribute. So therefore, she said Nowthen did not get its law enforcement for free, which was implied by the sheriff, other cities and the media, Olmon said.

Leistico said he changed his vote on Dec. 28 because he knew City Hall could not handle the police calls because it is not open on evenings, weekends or holidays. He also changed his vote because the sheriff’s office decreased the costs of its proposal. Olmon also said the sheriff lowering the contract amount was one of the reasons she changed her vote. Another contributing factor to her changing her vote is the revenue for the two-year contract is not coming from a property tax increase.

Leistico thinks taxes will have to go up sooner rather than later to cover the costs of future contracts past 2013, but he said the council will continue to look at ways to cut the budget to reduce the tax increase.

The mayor said taxes will likely have to increase in the future to pay for the future contracts once the revenue from this bond refinancing goes away.

“I think down the road if the economy doesn’t pick up it is inevitable there will have to be additional revenue,” Schulz said. “We may have to increase the levy unless money comes in from other places.”