The city of Nowthen, north of the Twin Cities, caused a stir last year when it declared it would not pay the Anoka County sheriff extra money for patrols, even though the sheriff had demanded it. The city doesn’t have its own police department and had been relying on the sheriff for coverage, a service many communities pay for beyond county taxes.
A clash resulted, between a city looking to keep taxes down and a sheriff looking to shore up his budget. At one point, Sheriff James Stuart presented a list of all the types of incidents he would no longer investigate if the city didn’t pay up, including burglaries, noise complaints and traffic violations.
As we show in “The Price of Safety,” cities around the state have been struggling to figure out the best way to provide policing in the face of tight budgets. Some have folded their longstanding police departments and contracted with the local sheriff. Others have thrown in with nearby cities and formed joint departments. Still others have opted to forego all but emergency sheriff response.
Finally, at the end of 2011, Nowthen agreed to pay the sheriff just over $200,000 per year for eight hours of coverage per day. Rather than raise taxes, the city took the money out of an existing fund and restructured bond payments on a maintenance building.
I checked in recently with Corrie LaDoucer, Nowthen’s clerk and treasurer, to see how the arrangement is going. “From my standpoint, it appears to be working out well,” she said. “The (sheriff’s department has) been responsive to the calls we’ve made from the office.” Those calls might involve a problem house that needs checking on, she said, or a request for extra patrols in an area where newly-graded roads are being ravaged by kids on four-wheelers. “The relationship is good.”
In fact, LaDoucer said, the city has been emboldened. “We can feel pretty easy about calling them whenever we need them to come out. Did we do a lot of that before? Probably not. Sometimes we were reluctant to call. We didn’t want to push the issue.”
Now, she said, “We feel we are up on their priority list.”