The Braham City Council has received many concerns from residents in regard to the 2022 budget and how it will affect the police department.
At a special Braham City Council meeting on Thursday, Sept. 23, City Administrator Angela Grafstrom reviewed what she had suggested for the 2022 preliminary budget to council.
“I think council should approve the preliminary budget as written and we will work on adjusting expenses afterward to reduce the police budget,” Grafstrom said. “In speaking with Mayor (Tish) Carlson, we will have a meeting with (Police Chief Eric) Baumgart and Councilor (Ryan) Davis to work on how we can adjust the police budget and bring it back in line so it is not nearly half of our general fund budget.”
The 2022 preliminary budget was approved at the Sept. 7 council meeting; no motions or adjustments took place at this special meeting. However, council did accept the resignation of Officer Jesse Zajac at the special meeting on Sept. 23.
After Grafstrom reviewed the budget, questions arose from the audience about how the budget changes will affect the Braham Police Department.
One person was concerned about a police officer having to work overtime if the city chooses not to replace Zajac’s position.
“No, they wouldn’t be working overtime. My suggestion was we have three officers scheduled during the day in the city of Braham, Tuesday through Thursday. My suggestion was maybe we try it, moving one of those officers to the night shift, so we still have full 24/7 coverage and we still have all of our officers. We have already built into the budget another officer for next year; it is just a discussion,” Grafstrom said.
Police Chief Eric Baumgart discussed what would take place with one less police officer.
“We’re talking about not replacing a patrol officer, and then you’re asking us to do that work under the day shift. The option I see is you’re not going to have the patrol car that you’re accustomed to seeing on the day shift,” Baumgart said.
Multiple people commented in agreement to have an officer on patrol 24/7.
Terry Turnquist, an Isanti County commissioner and local business owner in Braham, commented on how the 2022 budget includes six officers and, based on the city’s needs, council should adjust those expenses.
“You’re not cutting the sixth officer, your recommendation is if somebody leaves, look at maybe not back filling and putting that savings in the streets, is that what I heard,” Turnquist said. “My thinking is, if you needed more money in the streets, which it sounds like maybe we do, probably should have budgeted more money in the streets and maybe looking at a 3% tax increase. Those are the decisions you have to make.”
Council Member Vicky Ethen mentioned what may happen in regard to increasing taxes.
“I got to say your comment about, you know, whatever percent, you’re right we could raise it, but then we’re going to get everybody complaining about their taxes,” Ethen said.
“You’re right; you have to weigh that in, because everything you raise, taxes go up,” Turnquist said.
Mayor Tish Carlson expressed how council appreciates hearing from city residents after they spoke.
“Hearing from you guys, that helps us to know that you guys are OK as well if a levy does have to go up if we need to change something else,” Carlson said.
With the approved 2022 preliminary levy, it includes increasing taxes 2%. Based on a $200,000 home, that would be an increase of $40 for the year.
Braham resident and 911 operator Ross Benzen expressed how important he feels public safety is as a citizen. Benzen read a letter he wrote that focused on how impressed he is with the current police department and the police chief,
“This is a guy that is one of the most levelheaded, smart, humble people I know. He has reworked his department to one that is at the top of their game,” Benzen said. “Just a few months back, there was an officer-involved shooting that was just outside our city. One of our Braham police officers assisted and was right there when shots rang out. I made one phone call that lasted 10 seconds, and our chief (Eric) Baumgart was there. No hesitation. Let me also add that he was the first chief law enforcement officer there from the whole county and was the last to leave.”
Discussions to replace a sixth officer will take place at the next council meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5.