A special election will determine which direction the City of Gaylord takes with its police department. That was the option chosen by the City Council after a public hearing was held Wednesday to discuss law enforcement in Gaylord.
In an attempt to save money, the City of Gaylord is cooperating, on a trial period, with the Sibley County Sheriff’s Department. The County is providing “on call” coverage for approximately 12 hours per day. This allows the City to operate with one less full-time police officer position than it has in the past. It is estimated that this practice could save the City approximately $60,000 annually.
The possibility of a smaller police force prompted a petition which was presented to City Hall last month. The petition read: In July, 2010, the Gaylord City Council will be discussing the future of the cities police force. One of the options being discussed is the elimination of the City police force and contracting with the Sibley County Sheriff. If you are in favor of keeping the current City of Gaylord law enforcement as is, please join us in support by signing this petition which will be forwarded to the City Council for their consideration.
The petition was deemed “sufficient”, according to requirements spelled out in the City Charter. Also, the petition required the City Council to submit to the wishes of the petitioners or call for a special election.
Council members voted 4-1 in favor of holding an election. Council member Carl Wetzel called it an “emotional issue” and said he would like to see everyone have a chance to make an informed decision.
Brenda Pautsch was the lone council member opposed to an election. “I just don’t know if we need to spend money to find out something I think we already know,” Pautsch said.
The City was informed by the County that it is too late to vote on this issue during the November 9th general election. The earliest a special election could be held would be December 13th, according to City Attorney Donald Lannoye.
Gaylord held a special election in March asking voters if the City should be authorized to issue general obligation bonds to defray costs of a new swimming pool. Voters approved the bonding by a 2-1 margin. According to City staff, it cost approximately $1,000 to conduct that special election.
Public safety and money were among the concerns expressed at last week’s public hearing which was attended by approximately 30 people. A majority of those in attendance appeared opposed to the City cooperating with the County for law enforcement services.
Former Gaylord Mayor John Schwartz said the County is an excellent alternative but he believes the City can afford and needs its own police department.
Gaylord resident Jim Landaas believes more information needs to be presented to the public. He wondered about response time for each law enforcement entity and questioned costs. Landaas also noted that the signatures for the petition were attained quickly and said that “speaks volumes about what the public is thinking.”
Approximately two weeks into its cooperation with the County, City Administrator Kevin McCann said there has been no issues reported to the City. The City opted to have the County respond to emergency calls only. The County has been called to handle Gaylord “emergencies” 11 times through the first two weeks of the trial period, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
When the County is called out, the City is charged $45 per hour. There is no charge when the County responds to a “medical” or when the Gaylord Ambulance Service is on scene.
Former City Council member Dale Breuer said the argument for or against a full police department will go on forever. He told council members to “put it to a vote, then put it to bed.”
Council member Chad Muchow reminded those at the public hearing that the cooperation with the County now is on a trial basis. He said the City is trying to be diligent in looking at ways to cut costs.
Pautsch added that she has talked to area law enforcement officials who believe Gaylord is big enough and has enough activity to support a full time police department.
Mayor Doug Quast thanked the citizens for attending the public hearing and said there were some “very good points brought up.”
According to McCann, the City Council will need to set a date for the special election at its next meeting. The ballot question will also need to be determined, he explained.