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Morrison aims to have officer in schools after holiday break

November 17, 2018

MORRISON – A referendum to increase the police levy was an important piece of the police department’s immediate staffing objectives, but despite its failure last week, the plan remains intact.

The department wants to add two officers, but one would be devoted primarily to the Morrison school district. The city had said that the school resource officer plan would move ahead regardless of what happened with the referendum on Nov. 6.

The referendum failed, with 53.81 percent of the voters blocking it.

The department has six full-time officers, but wants to bump up the force to eight, including the shared SRO. Voters were told that the eighth officer would not be possible without the increase in the police levy, and officials stand by that assessment.

The cost of an additional officer has been estimated to come in between $66,000 and $77,000, including benefits.

Negotiations on the school officer have stalled a bit, but the city is confident an agreement will soon be finalized.

“We’re still working on the details, but we’re aiming to have the officer in the school district in January, after the winter break,” Chief Brian Melton said.

The biggest sticking point is the cost breakdown for the officer. The City Council has approved an agreement that calls for the school district to pick up 70 percent and the city 30 percent. The ratio is made more complicated by costs that go beyond salary, and the school district is still in discussions.

“There are associated costs such as equipment and training, and that’s the part we’re working hard on now,” Melton said.

An addendum would have to be approved each year for policing extracurricular activities. The city’s plan for the first agreement would be for the officer’s salary to include 14 events. No overtime would be built in for any additional activities.

The police department isn’t ready to give up on adding an eighth officer, this one solely for its use. That means taking another crack at getting the police levy increase, and those efforts are underway. The deadline for getting the question on the April 2 ballot is Jan. 14.

The council discussed that possibility at its Nov. 13 meeting, but no vote was taken. The city doesn’t foresee any changes in its budget that would allow the position to be funded in any other manner.

“We’re going to help pay for the school resource officer, and the general fund budget is so tight that it’s hard to see any other path than the tax increase to adding an officer,” City Administrator Barry Dykhuizen said.

Mayor Everett Pannier is looking at getting the referendum on the agenda for action at the Dec. 10 council meeting.

The chief was disappointed by the referendum results, but the voting margin has him feeling optimistic for another try.

“I think residents understand the need for another officer, but raising taxes is always a tough sell,” Melton said. “Morrison residents have been asked to do a lot lately, but we’ll keep trying to educate and hope that they see this is well worth it.”

The department lost its seventh officer nearly 9 years ago, while service calls continue to go up.

The police department has an annual budget of about $500,000, but the city’s police levy is at the top of the state’s cap of .075 percent. At that rate, the city’s levy brings in only about $45,000 a year.

It was challenging to get voters to understand that while the referendum increase language must read that that the ceiling is raised to .60 percent, the city wouldn’t need anything close to that to fund the officer.

“I think the verbiage certainly made it more difficult to get this referendum passed,” Dykhuizen said. “It says the increase is up to that amount, but the council later decides exactly how much is needed.”

Melton estimates that the new hire could be made with a levy increase of 0.225 percent. Using that number, the owner of a $100,000 home would have seen an increase of between $60 and $75 to their annual tax bill.

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