The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 5, 2012

Mankato council may add police officer

2013 budget also includes 50 more public safety volunteers

By Dan Linehan
The Free Press

MANKATO — It’s something of an eternal struggle: The police chief wants more police, the City Council doesn’t want to raise taxes much.

After saying that a hoped-for new officer would go into patrol, not into investigations, Public Safety Director Todd Miller fielded a question. Councilman Mark Frost assumed, hoped maybe, that this meant the 3.5 full-time positions in investigations was sufficient.

“And three-and-a-half is adequate, that’s what you’re saying?” Councilman Mark Frost asked.

“That’s not what I’m saying,” Miller replied. He’d eventually like five or six investigators.

At this point, keeping track of which positions go where got sort of difficult.

City Manager Pat Hentges said there were six positions in investigations, though Miller later said 2.5 of them were either in schools or part of the drug task force.

There was also some disagreement about whether there were currently 50 or 51 positions in public safety.

“How much is enough?” Frost asked.

He didn’t get a solid figure, but no matter how many police officers are now in the city’s employ, there may be one more next year. It would cost $80,000.

But because the maximum levy was set in September, wouldn’t the city would have to make a cut to include space for the new officer? Precisely, sort of.

The budget currently includes a $250,000 line item that’s not defined. Though it hasn’t been voted upon, it’s appearing more and more likely that the quarter-million will disappear. That would give more than enough room to hire the police officer.

In summary, the council appears ready to hire a police officer — and by that it is meant no one objected — which would bring the number of public safety employees to 52, an all-time high.

The public safety department is also hoping to bring the total number of volunteers from 100 to about 150 next year.

Volunteers are cheaper.

The 44-person volunteer fire department costs the city about $300,000 a year. That would support only about four full-time firefighters.

Councilwoman Karen Foreman also noted the public safety fuel and repairs budget is rising by about 40 percent. Staff said they were taking a look at reducing that increase.

The two-hour work session was as much an informal briefing on the city budget as it was hard-nosed analysis of dollars and cents.

The council learned the drop boxes for utility bills at area grocery stores will soon disappear. Roughly 3,000 people use the drop boxes. The box at the Intergovernmental Center will remain.

City Council President Mike Laven also said he’d heard constituents complaining about being towed from the new taxi cab zone on Second Street. Hentges said staff would look into signs or cones to mark the zone on busy nights.

The council will have three more budget hearings this fall; the next is about public works and community development, on Nov. 19.