On the heels of a formal letter from the City of Rushford terminating a policing agreement with the cities of Rushford Village and Peterson effective December 31, the Peterson council has discussed multiple options for next year. At the Wednesday, March 8 council meeting, Fillmore County Sheriff Tom Kaase, Rushford City Administrator Tony ChIadek, and Rushford Police Chief Adam Eide were on hand to answer questions.
“We’re trying to get some answers. How do we move forward?” asked Mayor Tim Hallum.
“We had a meeting to start some discussions on the policing services. The sheriff’s office is also in the process of talks with the cities of Ostrander and Fountain. One of the things I suggested is that they form a committee, probably of two council people. The reason for that is so we can have a little more in-depth; with specifics,” said Sheriff Kaase. “Right now, there are a number of issues I’m dealing with in multiple contracts. It gives us a chance to have some open discussion which would be transparent later on. For myself, I’m talking about multiple cities and I want to make sure the right information is out there and the message is clear and we don’t have bits and pieces from this city and this city, which could mess up the process for everybody.”
“The priority of our department is public safety and how can we best provide that in an equitable manner,” added Kaase. “Just making sure it’s a fair and equitable for you folks if you choose to go down that road.” The sheriff’s department is in the process of rewriting several contracts, to clarify language and will get a contract to the city committee to review.
Mayor Hallum looked to further clarify what services are provided to Peterson through the sheriff’s department. “There are more things that enter into that. Our office is doing more community outreach. The things I’m getting our deputies involved in – little projects within the cities, groups, and organizations – give us a better, closer working relationship with citizens and townspeople throughout the county.”
“With contracts, there’s so many dynamics. The different size and makeup of the cities; Peterson is smaller. How do we address that with all fairness? With a committee, these are some of the things we can talk about.” The city size also creates another dynamic for Peterson and the City of Rushford, as noted by Kaase, is that it’s surrounded by the City of Rushford Village, which creates a municipal land and population area that is significantly larger.
Councilor Loren Rue questioned what services to Peterson could look like without a contract with the county department. “Basically, very minimal services, if we go that route,” responded Kaase. “What does that mean? There’s different interpretations, but no response unless there’s a serious felony crime.” Typically, contracts with cities of Peterson’s size equate to a couple hours per day, randomly selected. “Criminals know if there’s no police presence, it’s a prime target,” Kaase added. “The thing about contracts with small towns, they’re finding; we contract for two hours per day, but they get more than that. It’s easy to show that no one in contracts is getting shorted; they’re getting more.”
Utilizing Rushford’s Police Department through a contracted contemporary agreement is also an option for the city. Currently, the department provides no patrolling or community outreach to Peterson and is essentially response-only, when notified by the sheriff’s department.
“The long and short of the letter is we’re just starting conversations. We’re another option. That’s how we see ourselves. It’s an opportunity, because for right now, you’re covered,” said Administrator Chladek.
Regardless of who the City of Peterson contracts with, it will spell increased cost for the city. Mayor Hallum indicated that Peterson currently has a $500 budget for police services, a portion of which is for its Gammel Dag celebration each summer. There have been six calls for police services in three years to the community. “We need to bring this back to the residents. Six times is not a lot, but they showed up. It’s tough to know which way to go,” said Mayor Hallum.
“There’s no sense in sugar coating it. It’s going to cost more money,” said Kaase. “It’s a service people will come to realize they need. There are a lot of services we pay for that we don’t always use, but when you do, you’re thankful you have it.”
Neither the sheriff’s department nor Rushford Police Department are looking at securing response-only contracts with Peterson. “It’s not equitable to the citys we provide service to now,” said Kaase. “Never say never, but I don’t foresee something like that happening. If it ever happened, the rate would be high.”
City Clerk Chris Grindland questioned Kaase on behalf of the citizens of Peterson. “You will still respond to a citizen complaint in a town that does not have a contract?”
Kaase again noted that typically, departments respond for felony crimes, but noted it’s very likely there would be a response. However, he cautioned that it may not be to the satisfaction of the parties involved. “The sheriff is charged with these duties; to be equitable to all cities in the county. We have to look at how to address this,” added Kaase. “We all want to work through this for a win-win for everyone.”
The city committee will coordinate a meeting within the month with Sheriff Kaase, Chief Eide, and possibly a committee of two from the Rushford Village Council to nail down some specifics of potential contracts. “We need to keep moving forward and not let in linger,” noted Mayor Hallum.
In other news, the City of Peterson was made aware of a potential lease on the Rushford-Peterson Middle School building. The site will be vacated by the district as of August 1, as the district transitions to a new preK-grade 12 facility in Rushford. The district isn’t saying much on the lease, but Superintendent Chuck Ehler did speak to a few specific points at the council meeting.
The potential lease will be for a two-year term, renewable after reassessment, to “another educational agency.” Utilization of portions of the building by Friends of Peterson, a local fundraising organization, will be written into the lease. Ehler stated he expects a response by early May, but June at the latest.
The city has the option to file a quit claim deed and purchase land parcels 1 and 2 from the district on August 1. If the city does so, it will be responsible for maintenance and liability of the parcels, while the district will be responsible for the building and the land immediately around it. Memorabilia from when the school served solely the Peterson School District, prior to consolidation with Rushford in 1991, will be retained and donated to the Friends of Peterson organization.
Use of the gymnasium is available by rental from the school district. The district currently has the building open for walking from 7-9 a.m. on weekdays. Through Community Education, the Friends of Peterson has it open from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday. The cost is $1 per individual or $3 per family.
Mayor Hallum asked whether the district had other ideas for the building if the lease does not move forward. Ehler indicated there are no other ideas presently.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Wednesday, April 12, at 6 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.