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Council greenlights police department contract talks with Breitung

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 9/1/21

TOWER— The city council here authorized council members Joe Morin and Dave Setterberg to negotiate with Breitung Township on the terms of a possible service contract with the township’s …

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Council greenlights police department contract talks with Breitung

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TOWER— The city council here authorized council members Joe Morin and Dave Setterberg to negotiate with Breitung Township on the terms of a possible service contract with the township’s newly-reconstituted police department. The council took that action at their regular meeting held Aug. 23.
The city has been relying on the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement response since the township disbanded its police department back in March. The city has paid for occasional local patrol services from the sheriff’s office, as well.
Councilors acknowledged that the community is largely divided on the need for locally-based policing, but Morin argued that the city would be sharing services with a significantly smaller department than the township maintained in the past, which should limit the city’s expenses.
While subject to change, the township has, to date, hired only a chief. If shared by the two communities, Morin estimated the city’s annual expense at around $65,000-$78,000, or about $50,000 less than what the city had been spending for full-time local policing under the previous contract. The city and the township would continue to rely on the sheriff’s office during periods when the police chief isn’t on duty.
While the council hasn’t faced a major backlash over the loss of local policing, several members said they see value in further cooperation with the township. “I like the idea of it being Tower-Soudan,” said council member Kevin Norby. Morin agreed. “I also think that potentially partnering with Breitung on policing, tends to lead to more cooperation in other ways,” he said. “That helps to build that sense of community.”
While councilors were willing to start negotiations, they acknowledged that there would be any number of issues, including whether the city would have to continue to purchase its own vehicle for local patrolling, or whether the city and township could split the cost of a single vehicle. “We’ll need to flesh those out,” said Morin.
Any contract that’s ultimately negotiated by Morin and Setterberg will have to come back to the full council for approval, so the issue will almost certainly be back on the city agenda, perhaps later this month.
In other business, the council:
• Agreed to continue using GoToMeeting to continue streaming and recording meetings for now. It’s unclear how long the city might maintain the records, given that they are very large files.
• Discussed the ongoing drought and its impact on the community’s water supply. The council considered possible updates to the city’s water usage ordinance that would give the city more authority to order reductions in usage in the absence of an emergency declaration from the governor. Mayor Orlyn Kringstad said there does not appear to be a need for a lawn watering ban at present, in part because residents have voluntarily reduced water usage by about 25 percent in response to the drought. “The reduction in water usage has helped,” said Kringstad, “and we should let people know they should continue to restrict their water use.”
• Asked the city’s public works department to provide a recommendation for an upcoming meeting on what to do about the city’s grader, which is in very poor condition. Council member Sheldon Majerle said the grader is only used about twice a year and suggested the city could look at contracting for such services in the future.
• Heard an update from Morin on the medical equipment loan closet. He said he had found at least a temporary home for the remaining equipment and offered to coordinate access to the closet, at least for now. “I want to make sure it’s saved,” said Morin.
• Approved the low bid of $5,400 from Jola and Sopp Excavating for a needed sewer pipe and manhole repair. The only other bid came from C&W Dirtworks, at a cost of $7,000.
• Made no immediate decision on whether to utilize or sell the former police vehicle, which Breitung Township recently returned to the city.
• Heard from Kringstad on the need to pre-plan for emergencies, such as the possible need to evacuate all or portions of the community due to forest fire. He noted that the city is currently housing some evacuees from the Greenwood fire and that the city should have a plan in place in case a wildfire were to break out nearby. “Depending on how dry the rest of the summer and fall is, we could be in danger here,” he said.

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