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Park Rapids city prosecuting attorney seeing increase in cases

Prosecuting attorney Don Dearstyne has seen an increase in caseloads for Park Rapids in the last year and requested an increase in the budget for 2010.

The city of Park Rapids has a contract with county attorney Dearstyne for prosecuting criminal cases. He is requesting $3,166 per month in 2010, an increase of about $330 per month from 2009.

"Our caseload, from the city's standpoint, has increased," he said. "Forfeitures have also increased."

Dearstyne estimated that a little more than half of Hubbard County's gross misdemeanors and misdemeanors come from the city of Park Rapids in a year.

"Last year, we opened up 1,453 files for the city of Park Rapids," he said. "My caseload increased between 300 and 400 cases per year with the city's misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors.

"Your officers do a good job and they're active out there. Your city is the only city in the county that has 24-hour coverage."

To help with increasing caseloads, Dearstyne was recently given permission by the Hubbard County Board to hire a half time attorney.

"The commissioners have given me a half loaf, not a full loaf," he said. "I would have liked to have a full loaf. But we'll make do with what we have."

Other than the increased time to prosecute additional cases, the contract is the same, Dearstyne said.

Mayor Nancy Carroll wondered how the city would increase the budget at this point.

"In budgeting for legal services, we combine both the prosecuting side and the civil side," said city administrator Bill Smith. "If we were to increase the prosecuting side, we would just have to pay really close attention to what we're referring to Flaherty & Hood (the city's civil attorney)."

He said he thought the city would be able to absorb the prosecution increase but "sometimes you just can't predict what will happen," Smith said.

He reminded the council that there were other outstanding budget requests that also needed to be decided on soon. The Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission asked for an increase. Also, there might be changes to the township fire contracts for 2010.

"I'd like for the council, as quickly as it can, to make a decision on those," he said.

The council will need to send the approved 2010 budget to the state by Dec. 15.

Council member Dave W. Konshok said he would like the city to take a look at the civil contract and the possibility of having a local law firm representing the city rather than a firm from the Twin Cities.

Municipal law is specialized, Carroll said.

Konshok said he wondered if there was a local option that might be more cost effective and efficient.

"I miss the days of not only having our prosecuting attorney local, but also our civil attorney local," he said. "I appreciate the expertise. But I wonder sometimes if we're not paying for first class tickets when on an everyday basis we could have coach."

The council approved the prosecuting attorney's contract for 2010. The council expressed interest in looking at the civil contract in the future.

In other business, the city council:

-Heard from homeowner Gill Prendiz, who had concerns with his water bill during the past year. He lives on Pleasant Avenue south in the new development.

The council voted to waive a late charge and have staff work with a homeowner about a payment schedule for a high water bill.

-Approved a resolution to designate the Armory and Senior Citizens Center (former city fire hall) as local sites of significance for local history.

Developer Alan Zemek approached the city council with the resolution as another step in his quest to redevelop the Armory into a community center.

He also requested approval of an application for a Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund Grant for acquisition of historical property for the Armory and for a grant improving accessibility for the old city fire hall.

-Heard recommendations from the Main Avenue Task Force about special assessments.

A committee recommended Main Avenue merchants and homeowners pay 100 percent of the assessments on water mains, water service and sanitary sewer improvements to replace the city's aging infrastructure.

Homeowners and merchants will foot half the bill for sidewalks and 60 percent of the street costs, the committee recommended. The city would pay $944,000 for streetscapes.

The City Council will review the recommendations and make a decision at the next council meeting.