Two big questions were answered in the city of Clarkfield during City Council proceedings Tuesday night. First, the council voted unanimously to enter into final contract negotiations with the Yellow Medicine County Sheriff to provide full law enforcement for the city and will be disbanding their one-car police force. Prior to that discussion, however, interim Clarkfield Care Center Administrator Mike Miller announced that Charles Ness, from Cottonwood, will be hired by the management company Ecumen as the facility’s new Administrator.
In the span of two hours city officials checked two major issues off the docket and put the law enforcement discussion to rest for at least the foreseeable future.
As for the vote to proceed in securing the county Sheriff to provide law enforcement services, eight mostly long-time residents, and three law enforcement officers with different stakes in the city’s police discussion attended Tuesday’s meeting. Clarkfield City Administrator Scott Weske made a presentation comparing and contrasting the city’s options for police services. After which, YMC Sheriff Bill Flaten spoke at length on the confidence he has in his department’s ability to serve Clarkfield and fielded questions from those citizens in attendance.
When all was said and done, all those who voiced their opinion agreed that the county has the ability to provide comperable, and in some instances better, service at a much lower cost than if the city continued to manage their own police force. Councilman Dave Biermaier made the motion to “Allow the City Administrator to enter into final contract discussions with the county to provide full law enforcement for the city”. Councilman Neil Linscheid seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.
Weske’s presentation made the difference between the two options the city realistically considered, stark (a third option would have had the city disbanding their police force and depending on the county for emergency coverage only, but that was gravely warned against and roundly dismissed). For roughly $93,600 the city can contract with the county to provide a dedicated officer and squad car at an average of 40 hours a week to the city of Clarkfield. That cost includes, officer salary, training, fuel, mileage, uniform and equipment. The city will still have to cover attorney fees and office utilities, which is expected to increase the total expense to $113,038. The downside to this, for the city, is obviously the loss of operational control—but Flaten’s personable approach to both the council and residents seemed to assuage that fear.
This move, it should be noted, became markedly easier for the city with the resignation of former Clarkfield Police Chief Ian Hodge, who’s been hired to the same position in Benson. Hodge’s support in the community, probably held off this decision for an incalculable amount of time.
Page 2 of 2 - As for the cost of continuing with a Police Chief, the city has $148,563 budgeted ($35,525 more than the expected cost of county coverage) for the Police Department in 2013. That cost includes a Chief’s salary, part-time salary, taxes, health insurance, fuel, supplies, mileage, communications, professional services and uniform allowance. With Hodge’s departure, add to that the extra costs incurred in searching-out, hiring and training a new chief. Also in the minds of the council is the fact that the city’s old squad car is in need of replacement—which could cost as much as $50,000.
“If we’re going to do it, this is the time,” said Clarkfield Mayor Gene Kockelman. “And I won’t mind not having to replace that squad. I’ve heard from several people now that it’s done for.”
This drew knowing laughs from interim Clarkfield Police Chief Brennan McAlpin and Clarkfield resident Chris Lee, a Police Chief at the Upper Sioux Community who commented on the city’s need for law enforcement. The council thanked McAlpin for his service, while Flaten described him as a more-than-capable Chief.
“It seems like we’ve been talking about this for over 30 years,” said Clarkfield resident Curtis Severson. “We’ve had good cops and not-so-good cops. We’ve been lucky lately, but the good ones always move on. I think there’s a little more continuity with the Sheriffs and that’s important.”
Prior to the monthly Care Center Administrator’s report, interim Administrator Mike Miller announced that Ecumen had chosen their final candidate, Charles Ness, to administer nursing facilities they manage in Clarkfield and Balaton. Miller said Ecumen will make their contract offer Wednesday and Ness is expected to start next week.
Ness, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, says he’s a native of Clarkfield, having grown up on a farm three miles north of town and graduating from Clarkfield High School. He’s worked in the health care industry for the past 23 years. “Most recently I began working on starting my own business, but that was proving a little more difficult, and I saw this opportunity open up. I think it’s going to be a great fit. Ecumen seems like a good company. I’m excited to start getting involved in the community. And it sounds like everyone’s happy they hired someone locally,” said Ness.