At a special meeting of the Stewartville City Council on June 22, Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson and Chief Deputy Terry Waletzki talked to the council about changing the city’s contract for law enforcement coverage.
The concern for the city, said City Administrator Bill Schimmel, is the cost for the increased law enforcement coverage. The city currently has two contracts with the county. The first is a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program that involves one deputy assigned to the city for day shifts and events. A second contracts provides at least one deputy – roughly an additional three deputies on rotating shifts – to work in the city of Stewartville 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The cost of those current contracts is $561,440. The new contract, which would add two new deputies who would cover the city each day during peak call hours, would cost the city $786,670, an increase of about $225,000.
“They’re basically saying because of our size and our calls, they see a need for increased coverage,” Schimmel said.
Schimmel said finding another $225,000 in the city’s budget will be a tough pill to swallow. Additionally, the city has not heard a lot of complaints from residents on response times from law enforcement.
“We recognize as the city grows, we need to expand in those areas,” Schimmel said. “The question is, as our needs are growing, how can we work it out in the budget.”
Waletzki said, “They haven’t changed the number of deputies in the contract in 25 years.”
Back then, the city had more than a thousand fewer residents, a much less robust business community, and less traffic coming through town.
“We’re constantly pulling cars from other contract areas for coverage (in Stewartville),” Waletzki said. “Every day, we’re sending two or three officers on calls that require more than one deputy to handle.”
When another deputy is called to Stewartville from another part of the county, that means racing to a call at high speeds and still getting there 20 minutes after the call comes in, Waletzki said, rather than in just a handful of minutes at most.
And, if the city needs more deputies, Waletzki said, the county sends them to Stewartville without any additional cost to the city. That would continue if the city does not approve the new coverage contract, but by contracting for more deputies, residents will see better response times, increased safety and better efficiency in law enforcement coverage.
Schimmel said the city has not considered switching to its own police force. The city council will hold another working session with the sheriff’s office to further discuss the proposed new contract, he said. Eventually, the city will need to come to some conclusion before September when the law enforcement contract becomes part of the city’s preliminary budget.
Waletzki noted that Kasson, which has a similar population, spends about $1.3 million or more on its police force. By comparison, even the expanded contract for Stewartville is a deal since it includes access to all the special services the county provides such as investigative officers and special training for less than $800,000.
“We have 79 licensed peace officers in the county,” Waletzki said. “All are at their disposal if something happens.”