FOREST LAKE, Minn. (WCCO) — On Monday, a city council in the north metro is expected to take a controversial vote on whether or not to disband their police department. Forest Lake has been grappling with the divisive decision for months. If the measure passes, the city would contract with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for services.
For the first time on Friday, council members got a look at the contract spelling out the potential new partnership. Some say the paperwork doesn’t come close to helping them make a decision any time soon.
With the city’s namesake as one of Minnesota’s largest lakes, people living here are used to water but they’ve never seen waves coming from city hall quite like this.
As a city council member and wife of a St. Paul police officer, Mara Bain has been vocal pushing to keep the Forest Lake Police Department.
“The pace has been incredibly fast,” Bain said.
The contract released today only reaffirms her feelings, a 5-year deal with Washington County without cost estimates for the last two years.
“Perhaps the most surprising provision is that we only have three-year pricing,” she said.
Also included is a clause that would have the city on the hook for the full five should they terminate early.
Mayor Ben Winnick supports the idea to do things differently.
“We can’t guarantee what we’re going to be at five years from now due to labor costs and other changes,” Winnick said.
“It’s a standard contract. There’s nothing unusual about it,” he added.
He puts the cost savings at $385,000 a year should Forest Lake get rid of its department.
He says it would also mean three more officers on the streets and more resources to fight crime.
Under the proposal, 23 police officers would be laid off. It’s the largest Minnesota city to potentially go through with this kind of plan. They’d have to apply to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office with the rest of the applicant pool, essentially starting over.
“Our hope is our officers get hired by Washington County,” Winnick said.
A hot-button issue in a city that prefers to keep the waves in the water.
“Residents are really concerned about what’ll happen Monday night,” Bain said.
A bill has been introduced at the capitol that would require a referendum to dissolve a law enforcement agency.
That way, a city council couldn’t make the decision on its own. It would be up to voters to decide.
But, it would be too late for Forest Lake, as the bill has yet to be voted on.