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Newport looking to ‘outsource’ police work

The city of Newport is looking for ways to cut costs ahead of its 2015 budget planning and has begun talking with local law enforcement agencies about the possibility of sharing police services.

City Administrator Deb Hill said Thursday that she recently pitched the idea to both the cities of Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park, as well as Washington County.

After the Newport Police Department requested a sixth full-time officer earlier this year, Hill said budgeting for the additional expenses would significantly raise local taxes.

“This new officer would be about $90,000 extra a year, which would have been an over 5 percent levy increase; a hefty increase,” she said. “So I have been going around inquiring whether or not a portion of the police work could be outsourced at a lower cost.”

When the city approved the 2014 budget last December, roughly 42 percent of the $2.4 million general fund budget was allocated to the city’s Public Safety Department. And preliminary numbers for 2015 show a $15,400 increase, which is comprised of hikes in workers compensation, health insurance and PERA (Public Employees Retirement Association) fees.

“It would be a considerable savings,” Newport Mayor Tim Geraghty said of sharing services. “I’m not sure if we’ll get it done this year or not. But it depends on how fast we can get the numbers and have a discussion. It’s possible we could get it done next year.”

Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey said he did speak with Hill this week, but said more firm figures were needed.

“Are we going to take over (the Newport Police Department) at this point? No,” Bailey said. “We said we would look at the preliminary numbers together and see if it worked for us and if it worked for them. My only concern is that I wouldn’t want to diminish our services. With that being said, we would want to take (this conversation) slowly.”

Newport’s immediate neighbor to the south, St. Paul Park, is also a possible contender, City Administrator Kevin Walsh confirmed. He said St. Paul Park has been approached by Newport in previous years, adding that the topic of sharing police services is not new.

“If Newport so chooses to go this route, I would definitely want St. Paul Park to be in consideration for providing these services,” St. Paul Park Mayor Keith Franke said. “I don’t know all the logistics or how you would dissolve a police department but they’ll have to get the whole council on board first. But I think we would be more than happy to provide those services.”

Hill’s inquiry comes just over two weeks after all five of the Newport Police Department’s patrol officers were named in an internal investigation. Few details about the investigation have been released.

The investigation has been turned over to the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office, which is conducting the investigation at no cost to the city of Newport, Hill said.

She added that the discussion regarding cost-sharing opportunities with local law enforcement agencies is not a result of the police department’s ongoing investigation.

Two council members against potential shared services option

However, Newport City Council member Steve Gallagher said he disagrees.

“It seems like certain members of the administration want to get rid of the police department,” Gallagher said. “The timing of the investigation, along with the upcoming budget season, makes this too much of a coincidence.”

Hill said the city from time to time looks at cost-saving opportunities such as this, adding that “shared services was looked at by the previous administrator.”

Vocal about his support for the addition of a sixth full-time police officers, councilman Tom Ingemann, who is also one of Newport's assistant fire chiefs, said he is against the proposition.

“I’m totally opposed to it,” he said. “The citizens of Newport would not get the same service they are presently getting right now. We have the highest clearance rate in south Washington County, we have more calls per 1,000 people, and the people need a police department.”

Hill said speaking with area communities was “preliminary work” and that more information and discussion is needed among the council before moving forward.