By Kristen Miller
COKATO, DASSEL, MN When choosing a community to raise a family, there are several factors that come into play.
Factors such as a low crime rate and a strong sense of community help make Cokato and Dassel the best places to raise kids in Minnesota.
For the cities to have received such a designation by Bloomberg Businessweek, the factors must be multidimensional, said Cokato City Administrator Don Levens. “You’ve got to have them all.”
With active civic organizations, a variety of amenities and parks, safe neighborhoods, and a strong faith community, Levens was not surprised by the recent honor bestowed on the two local cities.
Calls for service during 2010 in the city of Cokato, are slightly down from 2009 numbers, but significantly down from 2008’s, Levens said.
In the quarterly report from Wright County Sheriff’s Office, there were a total of 158 calls for service in 2010, compared to 207 in 2008.
Such calls included suspicious incidences, a total of 14 calls in 2010, down from 30 in 2008. Juvenile complaints also saw a decrease in calls, with 12 in 2010, down from 41 in 2008.
“That’s good news,” Levens said.
Also in 2010, there were only six reports of criminal damage to property, down from 39 reported in 2008. There were also no burglaries reported in 2009 and 2010, compared to 16 that were reported in 2008.
“The Wright County Sheriff’s Office does an awesome job for us,” Levens commented, adding that the favorable crime statistics support the quality of life in town.
According to Wright County Sheriff Joe Hagerty, there are several reasons crime is down in the Cokato area.
First and foremost is the cooperation from the city and its citizens. When there is suspicious activity occurring, residents in the city are quick to notify the department.
Cokato has always been very family-oriented, Hagerty said, noting there is a lot of support in the church community and school district.
“Cokato is one of the safest places to live in Wright County because of its sense of community,” Hagerty said.
Crime is also down overall in the county because of the economy, according to Hagerty.
Since there has been less new construction, the department has seen less thefts from construction sites such as the theft of copper wiring.
People also have less discretionary income and are driving less and spending less time at the bars, which has reduced the number of DWI arrests, Hagerty explained.
Safety within the schools is also a top priority for both Wright and Meeker counties.
Dassel-Cokato Schools participates in a Wright County initiative called Safe Schools which involves various departments from both counties along with school officials along with a representative from the Dassel-Cokato ministerium.
Safe Schools works to identify problems with juveniles and keeps the lines of communication open between the various departments, according to Drew Scherber, DC Schools resource officer.
“We work really hard to know our kids well,” said DC Superintendent Jeff Powers.
“Having a school resource officer in the district definitely contributes to us being a safe place for kids,” Powers said.
Maintaining services and amenities
Both Cokato and Dassel have worked to keep each of the city’s budgets fairly modest by covering basic services, including law enforcement, public works, and parks.
All of this “supports the quality of life in town,” Levens said.
In Dassel, the levy has remained unchanged for the past three years, according to City Administrator Myles McGrath.
The goal is to maintain services, but also keep a balance between the economic pressures cities are under, McGrath said.
Based on the current issues facing the state, Levens said cities like Cokato and Dassel have to do their share.
“We have always been very sensitive to the economic conditions we’re under,” Levens said. “We take a very conservative approach and [are] cost-effective in delivering our services,” Levens said, adding that he doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon.
Though the City of Dassel has done things to scale back during these economic times, public safety has remained untouched, McGrath said.
Every community, if it wants to be appealing, but also provide and maintain the types of amenities, McGrath said.
Between bike paths, ball parks, ice rinks, and a community swimming pool, Cokato and Dassel provide a variety of recreational opportunities for young families and active children.
“Both cities do a good job at making sure those opportunities are available,” McGrath said.
Regarding Cokato and Dassel being named the best places in Minnesota to raise kids, Levens said he is not surprised.
“A strong piece of this is the faith community,” he said.
The churches in the area are active with their youth in various programs that go on throughout the year.