Moose Lake chooses sheriff's office, disbands police

 

February 16, 2024

Brady Slater

Sheriff Kelly Lake addresses mayor Ted Shaw and councilors after the city council voted Wednesday to enter a law enforcement contract with the Carlton County Sheriff's Office, effectively disbanding the city's police department.

Following a packed public hearing last month on policing in Moose Lake, the end of the city's police department unfolded in comparatively quiet council chambers on Wednesday.

The council and mayor voted 3-2 to contract with Carlton County Sheriff's Office to provide law enforcement services to the city, effectively disbanding the city's police department. Its lone remaining member, interim chief Chad Pattison, pleaded for an opportunity to rebuild the department, which saw two officers resign last month. But in the end, he was being thanked for his dedication and urged to apply at the Sheriff's Office.

"I totally understand," Pattison said, adding that he'll help through the transition for as long as he can.

"I'm extremely disappointed," community member Lori Westmorelund said. "We're losing something special. I have all the love in the world for the sheriff's department ... but we're giving away something and calling it fiscal."

Westmoreland lives outside the city in Moose Lake Township, but is a member of the Moose Lake Area Chamber of Commerce executive board and coordinates the popular summer Agate Days festival.

She was one of only a handful of members of the public to attend the council meeting, at which councilors Doug Juntunen, Walter Lower and Greg Sarvela voted to contract for county law enforcement. Each councilor gave detailed rationales based on a budget imbalance that would leave a city-run police department taking up 87 percent of a $1.03 million tax levy.

"We do not have the tax base to keep doing what we're doing," said Juntunen, a one-time sheriff's deputy, who called it a very difficult decision.

"It's no longer affordable for taxpayers," Lower said. "Reluctantly, I would support going with Carlton County."

City leaders noted having to pull a squad car out of the budget, and paying duty disability insurance claims to former officers amounting to $120,000 annually.

Those claims will remain, but in going with the sheriff's office, the city will save $248,000 for what amounts to better coverage. While the depleted police are on target to miss 173 shifts and are already relying on sheriff's office coverage, the sheriff's office will staff the city with four deputies and a part-time clerical worker, covering most but not all shifts due to paid time off and other leave benefits.

It'll take a while for the sheriff's office to ramp up with new hires, Sheriff Kelly Lake said. The city and sheriff's office will enter into formal negotiations based on proposals shared to this point. She pledged Moose Lake would get the county's best effort, and acknowledged there would be transition ahead.

"I know this is a very difficult and heart-wrenching decision that has been made," Lake said. "I just want to assure the council and citizens of Moose Lake that, as your sheriff, I promise that we will do everything we can to provide the best service we can to the citizens of Moose Lake."

Brady Slater

The Moose Lake police department's lone remaining member, interim chief Chad Pattison, stands with Carlton County Sheriff's Office Lt. Doug Rotta and Chief Deputy Dan Danielson.

Councilor Kris Huso and mayor Ted Shaw opposed the move, citing overwhelming support for local police at the public meeting.

"I believe the city has very much spoke that they want their own police department," Huso said.

Shaw said there was no rush to decide, noting the police budget for this year was already approved in December and that next year's budget was shaping up with a possibility for added state support.

"If we rush in too quick," Shaw said, "you can't turn it around."

Sarvela noted that within six months to a year after the sheriff's office takeover, people will feel the same way about deputies as they did police.

"They will be part of the community," Sarvela said.

Read about the January public hearing here: https://www.pineknotnews.com/story/2024/01/26/news/no-movement-in-moose-lake-on-police-future/10581.html

 
 

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