At the invitation of the Peterson, Minn., council, Fillmore County Sheriff John DeGeorge attended the September 13 meeting. He discussed services provided for contracted and non-contracted cities and county jail progress.
The council also discussed a policing contract with DeGeorge in June 2021. Within Fillmore County, only Rushford Village, Whalan and Peterson have no city police force or independent policing contract. Fillmore County is the city’s public safety provider should a need arise. At the time, policing contracts were $24,000 and included two hours of policing per day. The council also discussed the issue in 2015, ultimately deciding the cost was too high.
DeGeorge says the department will increase its contract pricing in 2024 for the first time in nine years. He projected the new cost at $44,000 and will encourage cities to contract for just one hour per day if they can’t financially handle more. Two years ago, he’d noted no way to offer less but changing times, particularly looming retirements and fewer applicants, appear to be forcing his hand.
According to DeGeorge, there are 20 on staff now, with 12-13 deputies on patrol. “It’s tough right now, but it’s going to get a lot worse,” he added. Currently, 60% of the department will be eligible for retirement within the next five years and low enrollment in schooling is drying up the options for replacement.
The department determined the new price by breaking down the cost of having a deputy on the street for one hour, which came to $61 per hour. According to DeGeorge, most departments see the cost range from $100-110 per hour.
“Would we still get a response if there’s a reason?” asked Councilor Gail Boyum.
DeGeorge noted that he couldn’t hypothetically answer without a contract, but the response depends on availability and situation. “Just call. We’ll do the best we can with the resources we have at the moment.”
Contract cities get assigned hours. In other cities and townships, police presence depends on the availability of deputies. DeGeorge did note the department will respond to emergencies regardless of a contract. The contracts have typically been for full-time coverage, night and day, or two hours per day. These cities can get assistance on non-compliance with city ordinances by having the department contact or ticket individuals. Enforcement is an area where Peterson has struggled.
As for the jail, the plan approved by the county for the jail includes a 29-bed addition to the current jail and remodeling of the existing jail and sheriff’s department office. He had been a proponent of constructing a new $7.5 million jail. He stated that the Minnesota Department of Corrections has been telling the department to update for 20 years. Things came to a head when the state put further pressure on the department.
The building of the addition is slated to take place first and will be an 18-month project. After completion, the jail and dispatch will move into the new addition as the old jail section and department offices are remodeled and brought up to code. According to DeGeorge, the plan’s design allows the county to add capacity to the design if future needs dictate it.
In other business, the council approved a bid to improve certain city buildings, including the garage behind the post office and the garage at the wastewater treatment plant. Adding heating in the former will provide better storage for city equipment. At the plant, the garage will get a concrete floor, a 17’ x 17’ concrete apron, and a separate pad will be poured for the fuel barrel. The concrete will alleviate rodents, protect valuable equipment, and provide a wash area. The estimated cost is $8,660. Public Works expects the work will begin in the first part of October.
Notice has been sent to property owners in the city regarding water connection inspection. The state requires the inspection, which must be completed by October 2024. Homeowners can conduct the survey themselves and notify the city about their system. Public Works Director Tim Hallum and City Clerk Chris Grindland can survey with permission to enter the home. The city will contact those who have yet to respond.
As a reminder, the council briefly discussed the ongoing voting poll. The city is asking residents whether they prefer to continue with mail-in balloting for elections or if they want to switch back to in-person voting. The current tally is 24 responses for mail-in balloting and 15 for in-person voting. The deadline for residents to respond to the poll is November 1.
Discussion of the 2024 budget will happen at the next meeting. The council will be looking at a projected 4% increase.
The grand opening of Peterson’s new Barefoot Trail is on September 23 at 4:30 p.m. The trail is around the city softball fields, just beyond the campground park. Fillmore County Public Health representatives, who helped secure grant sourcing, will attend. The grand opening is part of a larger fall event promoting the Root River State Trail and autumn.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is at city hall on Wednesday, October 11, at 6 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend.