By Craig Moorhead
With a pair of votes, Houston County commissioners cleared the way for its Sheriff’s Office to provide policing for the City of Spring Grove last week.
The July 12 meeting also included some personnel decisions, approved some American Rescue Plan spending, and updated the 2022 budget with a series of amendments.
Commissioners first approved a letter of intent from the Spring Grove City Council that formally stated the city desires to contract with Houston County “for policing services.”
With the upcoming retirement of Spring Grove police chief Paul Folz, city leaders spent months trying to locate a replacement – to no avail. Their next step was to meet with Sheriff Mark Inglett, which resulted in a draft proposal from the county to provide approximately 70 hours of policing per week.
Inglett provided the document to city administrator Julie Amundson on April 6. If a final contract is approved by both parties, the county would hire two deputies dedicated to the job of policing in Spring Grove, utilizing the current offices of the Spring Grove Police Department.
On July 12, Inglett told county commissioners “We’ve got a good draft going... I’ve been informed that they (Spring Grove) have suspended their search.” Under the draft, the county would provide hiring, training, supervision, technology, emergency equipment, and administration.
Inglett said he would need to discuss the pair of Spring Grove squad cars with the city council. “They have one that we would probably not be interested in, but we would at least consider purchasing their newest one. But again, that would be up to the (county) board...” he added. “We would work with the city council to see what hours they would prefer to have covered.”
Commissioners then approved a search for two full-time deputies to provide law enforcement services for Spring Grove, “conditioned upon the execution of a contract between Houston County and the City of Spring Grove.”
That vote occurred after personnel/facilities director Tess Arrick-Kruger told the board if contract negotiations with Spring Grove fall through, the county would be free to cancel the search process.
“As the employer, you can cancel your searches up to the point where you’ve actually made an offer and the individual has accepted,” she noted.
Amundson said, “Right now, the chief is the only one we have covering the city ... He will actually start using PTO in the middle of September, to be done the sixteenth of December. So we’re going to go from September until December with no coverage... We’ll just have to rely on the Sheriff’s Department for emergency services.”
Amundson also stated when it comes to enforcing city ordinances, her replacement is “very aware” of those, and “she would probably ask the deputy who is on duty to write the citation, or we’d go through our attorney to do it.” The new Spring Grove city administrator is expected to start work on Aug. 1.
Earlier, Inglett commented on the same topic. “In my mind, anyway, we would enforce the criminal ordinances, and the city would enforce the city civil ordinances...” he said. “It’s my understanding that a city, through either resolution or an ordinance, can delegate that authority.”
In other personnel news, commissioners approved a search for a maintenance foreman for the Highway Department, and a part time/casual (up to 14 hours per week) tech clerk 1 for the Sheriff’s Office. The board also confirmed the resignation of Human Services eligibility worker Jean Baty Young with thanks for her service to Houston County.
Two items were approved that will be paid for with American Rescue Plan Act dollars. The first is two pairs of chain link gates with posts and hardware for the La Crescent drop site, which will total $10,800, while the second is a new antenna and antenna module to provide cellular coverage in the Houston County Justice Center. That project will total approximately $15,000.
Commissioners also approved a series of 2022 budget amendments. Those were aimed at providing a more accurate accounting of various revenues and expenditures, including 2022 labor contract settlements.
The board also met with their attorney in closed session, “providing direction regarding moving forward” with the arbitration decision in a recent MAPE (Minnesota Association of Professional Employees) grievance.