Stewartville approves compromise for patrols from sheriff's office
New agreement will add one new deputy to patrol the city each of the next two years.
STEWARTVILLE — There were still a few questions to be answered – including what will happen in another two years – but the Stewartville City Council approved a new law enforcement contract with the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday night.
The new two-year law enforcement deal, which passed 4-1 with Mayor Jimmie-John King voting no, will have the county providing five patrol deputies working 40 hours a week for 2022, and six deputies – moving toward a level where there's enough to staff two patrol officers every hour of every day – in 2023.
The deal also provides a "power shift" Community Oriented Policing deputy who will focus more on issues such as code enforcement and law enforcement education and community outreach programs.
The cost of the deal, which is really separate contracts for the two types of service, will be $687,530 for 2022 and $824,149 for 2023, increases of about 20 percent each year. The sheriff's office, citing a growing population and call volume, and a need for two officers to respond to more calls because of changing procedures, had initially proposed going to the six patrol deputies right away, but the city balked at what would have been an immediate 40 percent cost increase for law enforcement. Instead, the increase was spread out over the contract's two years.
Council member Craig Anderson thanked the sheriff's office for completing a "brutal" negotiation to find a compromise for the city that would achieve the sheriff's office goals for patrol coverage while softening the financial blow for the city.
"I recognize need for increased enforcement," Anderson said. "I wasn't sure we could do a 40 percent increase at once."
Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson, said the city has grown since the last change in its patrol coverage in the 1990s, and the increase in the contract approved Tuesday night is the first step in getting the city to the level of law enforcement coverage it needs. Addressing the council, he said while the 2024-2025 contract will likely need to add two more patrol officers, and that level of coverage should get Stewartville to the patrol requirements the city needs for several years to come.
King said he's not sure what's wrong with the current level of coverage for 2021.
"I don't hear a lot of complaints from citizens about our coverage," King said. "I understand there's always increases, but when it all started out at 40 percent that was a lot off the bat."
King said he wanted the city to look at other options such as Stewartville starting its own police department.
"Once you start reaching that million-plus point, you've got to realize the citizens already pay county taxes," King said. "There does come a point in time where we can afford our own. If we get our own started someday down the road, we increase every year, we have more control ourselves. It's not dictated to us."
Chief Deputy Terry Waletzki said the city is now underserved based on how the sheriff's office needs to cover calls, and due to factors such as the city's growth and its position along two major highways, Interstate 90 and U.S. Highway 63.
Because of this, deputies patrolling in other areas of the county must often respond to Stewartville at high speeds in order to provide support when calls come in. By increasing the patrol coverage in the city, that would reduce the need to pull deputies from other areas and put deputies and the public at risk as deputies race from Rochester, the Eyota area or Byron.
And while the contract calls for five then six patrol deputies, Waletzki said, the city also gets access to special units and investigators beyond those patrol deputies.
Torgerson added that Stewartville is only paying the salaries for the patrol coverage in the contract. The county still picks up the tab for items such as training, police vehicles and benefits for the deputies the county employs on the city's behalf.
Other city council members had questions about whether those deputies tasked to the city would be guaranteed to remain in Stewartville.
Council member Brent Beyer said that since the deputies are being paid by the city, there should never be a time when one or both deputies leave the city unattended.
Torgerson, however, noted that the city's fire department regularly leaves the city limits for mutual aid calls, and, if something dire was to occur outside the city limits, the sheriff's office would move deputies around as needed.
"These are not extra. They’re additions. They will be in Stewartville and assigned to patrol here," Torgerson said. "But the county has a right to assign them where necessary."