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Red Lake Falls policing contract up in air

A contract for Red Lake County to provide law enforcement services for the city of Red Lake Falls is in the air as the two sides have reached a standstill in their negotiations.

Red Lake Falls, Minn.

A contract for Red Lake County to provide law enforcement services for the city of Red Lake Falls is in the air as the two sides have reached a standstill in their negotiations.

City officials, looking to to cut costs, are insisting on reducing the number of county sheriff's deputies dedicated to the city from two working a combined 90 hours a week to one working 45 hours a week.

Having one deputy dedicated to the city would cost $94,000, a savings of $62,000.

The county board responded by saying it won't enter any agreement with the city unless it includes at least two deputies. Sheriff Mitch Bernstein said the county would still have to help out in emergencies, and worries the city would just get a free ride.

Red Lake Falls has gotten its law enforcement services from the county for 40 years.

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Savings needed

City Administrator Kathy Schmitz said the City Council wants to cut $160,000 from its current budget. Asked if the budget problems are linked to felony theft charges against former City Administrator Allen DuCharme earlier this year, Schmitz said she couldn't comment.

"We just can't afford it," she said. "Our debt payments are very high."

Schmitz said the city's perspective is that residents are being taxed twice for law enforcement, on their city taxes and their county taxes.

"Is it right for us to pay almost double what county people pay for?" she said. "I realize that you get more of a dedicated service in town. But maybe we don't need that much coverage."

County Board Chairman Dave Sorenson sees it differently: "The board feels that the taxpayers who don't live in the city are going to be paying for the protection of the city and that's not fair to taxpayers outside of the city," he said.

Package deal

Red Lake County has about 4,900 residents, with about 1,400 of them living in Red Lake Falls, the county seat.

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The city's idea is to have the one deputy do night-time service. "Being we're the county seat, there are people in their offices and around the town during the day," Schmitz said.

In the county's perspective, a single deputy for Red Lake Falls will require the county to pick up the slack.

"Even with two full-time deputies dedicated, we can't cover Red Lake Falls 24/7," Sheriff Mitch Bernstein said. "County staff supplants them when they're not working. We have a statutory obligation to take care of certain things."

He said the current arrangement is good for Red Lake Falls because "it's like having your own police department without paying for their administration and prosecution."

The county is obligated to help Red Lake Falls with emergencies, threats to public safety and felony crimes, but is not required to do routine patrolling nor enforce city ordinances, he said.

Call Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1125; or send email to rbakken@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: POLICE
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