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Akeley may cut police services

Akeley may be eliminating its police department as a cost cutting measure.

At the conclusion of Wednesday's meeting, mayor Jennifer Mitchell announced the proposal, stating "the city is facing a major (funding) shortage unless we make changes."

In September, the council approved a 15 percent increase in the preliminary levy, indicating it would likely be pared before the final levy is approved.

The police department's annual budget totals approximately $75,000.

"Services are good, but costly," Mitchell said.

Funding sources for cities have dwindled in recent years. "Population dictates services," she said, noting those numbers are declining in the city. "It's our responsibility to keep people here, not tax them out."

The city is eying four options for the department: continuing as is, cutting time, disbanding the department or contracting with the county.

Mitchell said she'd contacted other cities on the issue, including Nevis that now funds a full-time sheriff's deputy. Remer, Longville and Hackensack have eliminated police positions, relying on the Cass County Sheriff's Department and State Patrol for assistance. Laporte has long relied on coverage by the county.

Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer, contacted after the meeting, said per statute, the sheriff's department must provide coverage if the department disbands.

But no personnel would be added in the sheriff's office, he said, noting the department covers roughly 1,000 square miles.

"We're stretched to the limit now," Homer said. "With another municipality, we'd be really stretched. We'd do it. We're obligated. But you may not see the same response time."

"It's not a fun decision, but one we have to make," Mitchell said, noting the city employs a chief and three or four part-time officers. "Other cities this size don't have that. We won't make our budget and we can't continue to tax."

Of Akeley's four departments - maintenance, police, parks and the liquor store - "police is what we need to look at," Mitchell said.

"How long has this been in discussion?" police chief Eric Klein asked.

"We've talked about this," Cliff Johnson told him. After the meeting, Johnson said the subject has been proposed on several occasions prior to this; Klein is aware the city is considering the measure, he said.

"How long are we talking?" Klein asked, ostensibly questioning when the position would be terminated. "This affects my wife and four kids. I've cut everything. If I could turn back the clock, I would," he said, referring to relocating to Akeley.

"All city workers are at-will employees," said Mitchell, who'd conferred with the city attorney on the matter.

"Everyone has done a very good job," Mitchell said. "But people are not moving into Akeley. It's a financial decision we have to make. It's good to have a safe feeling but I don't know if Akeley can continue to provide this. I can't see raising taxes over and over again."

The council agreed to address the issue at a work session to convene at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28.