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Akeley cuts police, clerk's hours

After more than an hour discussing Akeley budget cuts, with the community adding input, the council approved reducing police chief Eric Klein's hours from 40 to 20, eliminating all part-time police officer positions and cutting assistant clerk Wendy Klein's hours from 32 to 20.

The proposal was somewhat conciliatory; completely eliminating the police department had been among the options proposed earlier. The decision reduces the already pared levy by approximately $40,000.

And more cuts may be in the works. The council scheduled a work session at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24 to meet with department heads on reducing costs.

This week's reductions take effect Jan. 1. The Kleins will lose health insurance benefits if they continue to work for the city.

Contacted Wednesday, Eric Klein said the timeline came as somewhat of a surprise to him; he was expecting a six-month leeway per an earlier conversation with former mayor Scott Vettleson. "Now I'm looking at seven weeks."

He said he will be looking for another part-time job, "but thoughts of relocating are on our minds."

At Tuesday's meeting, he indicated he would "have to look for something different."

The decision affects part-time officers Travis Carlson, David Grantham and Todd Holk.

Carlson said after the meeting that he's been looking for another job, "but law enforcement jobs are hard to come by." Five departments in the state are currently posting openings, he said.

The proposal met opposition from several in the audience.

"A police department is vital to the community," Don Kerwin said. "Akeley will become a ghost town. Without police, we will become a target for criminals."

But mayor Jennifer Mitchell, who'd made the motion, pointed out the city is in need of "serious necessities" - water, sewer and roads. "We are trying to meet in the middle of the road," she said of the 20-hour per week proposal. "If it doesn't work, we'll go back to discussion," she said.

The city will request coverage from the Hubbard County sheriff's department. Crime rates in Longville, Hackensack and Laporte haven't gone up, Mitchell said of communities without police departments.

Council member Cliff Johnson said the city is attempting to move into positive financial territory. "Two years ago, we didn't have the money to make payroll."

Kerwin urged the council to look at alternatives and asked if city employees were willing to "take cuts."

"The budget won't work if it stays the same," Mitchell said.

Jon Johnson suggested Klein turn over the squad truck to the maintenance department, although there's some question as to whether the vehicle could be used for snow plowing.

Johnson had been the single opposing vote in the motion to make reductions to the police department.

Meanwhile, Eric Klein said he's strengthened by "family support and a strong relationship with Christ. It puts things in perspective. I'll take it a day at a time."

But he expressed concern for Akeley's future without law enforcement.

"I think of Akeley as a diamond in the rough," he said.

In other action the council:

-Appointed Terry Chalich to the vacant council position, which drew some objections from Tammy Miller, who'd also applied.

She indicated Mitchell had interviewed Chalich but had not spoken to her.

-Heard from Sam Krotzer regarding repairing the vandalism to the Paul Bunyan statue that occurred in October. He cautioned waiting until spring could cause more damage.

But Mitchell said paint was chipping, which was not related to the vandalism. A contract drafted with the Krotzers prior to the statue's recent repair included a guarantee against chipping.

"If it hadn't been beat up by vandalism, it would have lasted 10 years," Krotzer said.

If the city waits until spring, it will run another $3,000 on top of the $6,400 cost of painting and $1,500 canvas wrap, Krotzer cautioned.

At the recommendation of deputy clerk Denise Rittgers, the council tabled action pending a report from the insurance adjustor.

-Reported liquor store income of $5,147 in October, $14,879 year to date.