Jan. 8, 2007

Dassel begins negotiations for law enforcement contract

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Meeker County deputies have been patrolling Dassel, even though details of the law enforcement contract have not been worked out yet.

Since the Dassel Police Department was disbanded Dec. 18, deputies have been patrolling the streets and alleys of the city to 50 to 60 hours a week, Meeker County Sheriff’s Captain Brad Lindgren told the city council Tuesday. The sheriff’s office is aiming for 80 hours a week, but it needs to hire two more officers, he added.

Former part-time Dassel Police Officer Jeff Ho was hired Tuesday by the sheriff’s office, according to County Auditor Barbara Loch. Ho might not necessarily be assigned to Dassel, though.

Lindgren said the sheriff’s office expects no problem finding officers willing to protect Dassel. It is “near and dear” to their hearts, he said. A couple of deputies already in the department live in the area.

The sheriff’s office swung into action as soon as the police department was disbanded, he said. Deputies secured the police guns and weapons the same night, Lindgren added.

They immediately inventoried the police station’s contents, and secured the squad cars. Lindgren personally has visited 10 to 15 businesses and the school since then, he said.

Council members expressed appreciation for the extra patrol they have seen in alleys and side streets. Council Member Pat Haapala said, in the past, she rarely saw patrols on the dead end street where she lives.

Another service that might be different in the two-year contract being considered is the collection of administrative fines. In answer to a question from Council Member Bob Lalone, Lindgren said the sheriff’s office might have to wait until it gets an opinion from the county attorney whether it will give administrative tickets, and whether the city, instead of the state, will collect fines.

Lindgren said the county attorney who made the initial opinion about giving administrative tickets is now a judge in Willmar.

According to the rough draft of the contract reviewed by council members Tuesday, the city will pay the county $33.25 per hour for law enforcement during 2007, and will not exceed $36 per hour for 2008.

“The municipality shall not be liable for the direct payment of any salaries, wages, or other compensation to any such personnel performing services,” the rough draft of the contract states.

If the deputies need to leave Dassel to assist officers in another location, as the police did with its mutual aid policy, then the city doesn’t have to pay the county for that time. Also, the time is made up later so it doesn’t affect Dassel’s total coverage, Lindgren said.

Council Member Bob Wilde pointed out the county’s policy is more advantageous to the city than the police mutual aid policy, because police officers get paid full-time regardless.

Deputies also will be enforcing Dassel’s ban on parking on streets between 2 and 6 a.m., so streets can be snow plowed, Lindgren said.

The county contract will be reviewed in six months. Mayor Ava Flachmeyer asked how the city can get out of the two-year contract if the majority of residents prefer having their own police department. McGrath said the city will have to show “cause” and give the county at least six months’ notice.

It also is possible the county will “buy” Dassel’s squad cars and other police equipment, and the funds will be used to pay for part of the contract, Lindgren said.

McGrath emphasized, though, that the contract details are not final yet.

Odds and ends

In other business, the council:

• asked the personnel committee to review whether Municipal Liquor Store Manager Marvin Vetsch should get a raise. Vetsch has reached his third anniversary with the city.

Vetsch also reported the liquor store had $1 million in sales, and 4 percent growth, in 2006.

• gave the museum director, Julie Lindquist, permission to advertise for a new assistant director. Dennis Compton, the current assistant director at the museum in the Universal Lab building, is leaving.

• renewed Safety First training for 2007 for the public works employees.

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