Debate floods city hall over contract
Vote on police services contract with Orono Police Department likely coming Aug. 28
After an over three hour Aug. 16 Mound City Council meeting that featured some heavy debate, few answers were reached about the future of the Mound Police Department.
The regular city council meeting, which was scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 16 because of statewide primary voting, only had the public forum for the proposed contract for police services with the City of Orono in the business items of the agenda.
City Manager Kandis Hanson said the upcoming Aug. 28 council meeting is planned to have the “contract for discussion and action” in the agenda. However, there were still some lingering questions from the Mound City Council at the end of the Aug. 16 meeting.
Council Members Heidi Gesch and David Osmek asked for more information from the Orono Police Department about when officers will be on patrol, and what response times Mound citizens can expect if they accepted the contract for services. Osmek also asked for a better clause in the contract to measure response times and options for Mound if the department does not meet those standards.
The council members said the hoped to have these questions answered at the next city council meeting.
“I have another healthy level of skepticism again, but it is our job to look at every option,” said Osmek, adding that he needed more information before he could make a vote.
“I’m not saying I’m for it or against it, as people thought that I was either for it or against it when I walked in the room,” he said. “I’m not for it or against it, I wanted to hear what you had to say, plus I need more information than what’s in here.”
Gesch said that she has had many of her questions answered during her part in negotiation sessions, but she said she also wants a comparison between the police departments.
“A comparison of ‘this has been Orono’s response time, a history of their response time, and this is the history of Mound’s response time,’” she said about items she would need to see before she agreed to the contract. “I have a lot of faith in what I have heard just in looking at this contract in the last week.”
Gesch added that she felt the talks with Orono have gone better than ones they carried out with Minnetrista.
“I was having a tough time with that one,” she said of the negotiations with Minnetrista. “I like what’s happened.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Interim Police Chief Dean Mooney presented some of the information that will take effect if the contract for services is accepted. The contract that is currently proposed with the Orono Police Department will cost Mound $1.545 million for the first year, and will increase by 2.5 percent in years two through five. The final five years of the 10-year contract will increase between one and five percent annually, and this number will be determined by Consumer Price Index (CPI).
A one-time transfer cost will be charged to Mound as well, and this is estimated to be around $80,000. The transfers will include a records conversion, personnel cost adjustments, uniform changes, a standardizing of firearms, training and expansion of the Orono locker room.
The cost of $1.625 million after transfer costs is less than the potential cost of the contract with Minnetrista, which was estimated at a May council meeting to be as high as $2.06 million after transfer costs and pay to employees.
The Mound Police Department will also transfer their marked and unmarked police cars, emergency response equipment, computers and workstation equipment to the Orono Police Department.
According to the Mound City Council packet, the contract will save the city over $200,000 annually before transfer costs. The estimated budget of the Mound Police Department for 2013 has been around $1.9 million.
Before the city council spoke about the future of the police services contract, the public comments portion of the meeting featured more than 20 people who spoke about the issue for over two hours.
Many of the residents who spoke at the meeting, including retired Mound police Lieutenant John McKinley, said that they would like to see a referendum in the November general election.
“It is part of your job to take on difficult challenges, including this one,” he said. “It is much too important of a decision not to put it to a vote for the citizens of Mound.”
Some of the speakers were officers from the Mound Police Department who were in favor of the contract for services. One of those speakers included Detective Jami Wittke.
“We, the officers, have been in limbo about our jobs for a really long time,” she said. “I also see the writing on the wall. I think Mound P.D. is going to go away. Ultimately, I don’t want that to happen, but I think that’s what’s going to happen.”
Debate became heated after a Mound resident suggested that they should reduce spending from other departments instead of signing a contract with Orono for police services. Mayor Mark Hanus stopped Resident Nick Stoiaken after beginning to list off the salaries of other city employees.
“Those salaries are totally irrelevant,” he said. “That’s not why we’re here, that’s not why were doing this, that’s another debate. And we can have that debate someday, but it has nothing to do why we’re doing this.”
Hanus later apologized, and said that he was just trying to do his job to keep the meeting on track.
If a police contract were accepted at one of the next few City Council Meetings, the Orono Police Department is estimated to start providing the services to Mound on Jan. 1, 2013.