The Nowthen city council voted unanimously today to contract with the Anoka County Sheriff’s office for police services. The matter had been intensely discussed in recent months as council members seemed to waver between supporting the contract and preferring to do without all but emergency response in order to save money.
“It’s a good solution,” said council member Jeff Pilon. “And I think it was done in a way that (members of the public) who said they were opposed to the contract, at the end of the meeting, they were happy we did what we did.”
Nowthen, a city of 4,400 about a half hour northwest of Minneapolis, was the only city in Anoka County that didn’t have a police department or a contract for coverage with the sheriff. A few weeks ago, the city voted not to raise its levy to pay for additional patrols.
Sheriff James Stuart responded with a letter to the mayor and council spelling out the types of incidents his department might no longer investigate. As Stuart told MPR News reporter Curtis Gilbert, it was a matter of fairness. “Where that becomes a concern for us is when all of these surrounding communities are paying for law enforcement coverage and yet we continue to provide that service for them for free.”
Whether and how to pay for police services is a debate taking place in many Minnesota communities. Given shrinking budgets, even policing is now on the table.
Nowthen picked up the matter again today, when it voted on and accepted the sheriff’s proposed contract. Since the city had agreed not to raise its levy for policing, it had to find the money elsewhere. “We went through the budget,” Pilon said. “We’ve been through it with fine-toothed comb.” He said Nowthen will pay the sheriff–$106,000 for the contract’s first year and $214,000 for the second–by tapping an unspent fund and restructuring bond payments on the city’s maintenance building.
Overall, the decision-making process was a struggle. In part, said Pilon, that’s because the city is so new. Incorporated in 2008, Nowthen used to be called Burns Township. As a township, voting was more direct. But as a city, the council has to represent residents. “It was a challenge,” he said. “How do you use other people’s money?”
It was also difficult to know what residents wanted. “One of our challenges is we have three school districts, three post offices and three newspapers,” said Pilon. “Central identity is difficult. Part of going forward now is communicating this, how we did it and why.”
“The people who are most opposed are typically the most vocal,” he added. “What I kept hearing is, ‘We want what we have now but we can’t afford to have taxes go up.’ I think most people will be pleased.”