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Jackson City Council hosts public meeting on police consolidation

JACKSON -- More than one concerned citizen echoed the concern of Dave Hargan.

"This is all happening awful quickly," Hargan stated Tuesday evening during a public hearing to discuss disbanding the Jackson Police Department. "Is there any chance of postponing the vote?"

Approximately 30 citizens of Jackson and Jackson County attended the meeting, ready to hear more about the proposal to have the Jackson County Sheriff's Office contract law enforcement services for the city and share their concerns.

"Full disclosure of figures is not being made, and I find it concerning," stated Steve Hare. "And why wasn't the chief of police involved in any of the discussion? His perspective is unique to anyone else's."

Jackson City Administrator Patrick Christopherson said the city council was concerned that if officers and the chief had been aware the contract was being explored, it would not be "conducive to a productive work environment."

"That's crappy," Hare replied. "That is avoiding the issue. That's an admission of a cover-up."

Not utilizing the police department as a source of information during the proposed contract discussion, Hare said, was short-sighted.

The council, Christopherson countered, makes management decisions on a city level every day.

None of them, he added, were going into the decision lightly, and all are well aware that jobs are on the line.

But cuts to LGA have caused the city to take a close, hard look at where they spend their money and why.

Exploring the option of contracting for county law enforcement made good sense, he said.

"Our job is to look at things," commented council member Gary Willink. "It doesn't mean we're going to do it."

"Our purpose here is to hear from you people," added council member Dennis Hunwardsen.

When asked, the council members stated they have not yet made up their minds how they will vote.

Willink said he wouldn't mind waiting until the May 17 meeting to vote, instead of following the tentative plan to vote May 3.

Kathy Berwald-Tewes beseeched the council to think long and hard before they made a decision.

"My concern is for the future," she stated. "What happens if 10 years down the road a new sheriff is elected who doesn't care about the city of Jackson? Once it's gone, we can't go back and rebuild. Once it's gone, how do we rebuild if it doesn't work out?"

Resident Sue Shrader questioned what would happen to the value of her house if she put it on the market if there was no Jackson Police Department.

"Having no police is not an attraction to decent people," she stated. "It's an attraction to shady people... This is a really bad idea."

Jackson County Sheriff Roger Hawkinson, who had given a Power Point presentation before the meeting was opened to public comment, told the small crowd there would be disadvantages for the city if they went ahead with the contract, but there would be advantages as well.

Several towns in the area had done the same thing, he pointed out, using Pipestone and Luverne as examples.

According to Hawkinson's presentation, the preliminary talks between the city and the county consisted of discussion over budget, staffing, building needs, records merging and capital improvement budgeting.

Any monies generated by city fines would go back to the city, he said, and the city would also keep any State Police Aid they received, along with educational reimbursements from the POST Board.

As far as jobs are concerned, Hawkinson said he simply could not absorb all of the officers that are currently on the Jackson Police Department.

He would have to hire five additional deputies -- a sergeant and four patrol officers -- and a law enforcement assistant/records clerk.

"I can't take everybody at the police department," he stated. "Labor costs are too high. I can't fold them all in."

The sheriff's office building would need a walk-up window, storage for records and evidence, miscellaneous storage room and partitions for the added staff.

He estimated the remodeling costs at $15,000 to $25,000.

Merging the records would cost an additional $5,000, he said, and garage space would probably be needed in the future.

One possibility, he said, would be adding a building on the empty lot by the law enforcement building.

The bottom line, he stated, is about working together to enhance services provided to the citizens of Jackson while saving costs.

Although the city declined to discuss the finances of the preliminary contract budget Tuesday, they did hand out a document that states what the budget amounts would be if the contract moves ahead.

With a pro-rated August 1 start date for 2011, the city would pay $209,388 for contracting county law enforcement.

In 2012, the price would be $517,011 tentatively, and by 2013 the cost would rise to $535,670.

That cost includes figures for gas, office supplies, training, cell phone allowances, air cards, uniforms, vehicle repair, equipment, technical services and a monthly dispatching fee, along with a 5 percent administrative charge.

The contract would mean 24 hour service seven days a week for the city.