East Bethel said there wasn't enough time to fully study the idea. Ham Lake and Oak Grove are still weighing their options.
The idea of a shared sheriff-patrol district for three north metro cities seems to be off the table. For this year, at least.
Oak Grove, East Bethel and Ham Lake, which contract individually with the Anoka County Sheriff for law enforcement patrols, were talking about an alternate system in which they would share a set number of deputies who would be responsible for patrolling the whole 119-square-mile "district."
On Wednesday, the East Bethel City Council voted to approve a new contract with the Sheriff's Office, which represents a 10 percent decrease in cost and patrol hours. The city remains interested in the district concept, but the council majority felt it didn't have enough information or understanding of the arrangement to commit to it by the Sheriff's Office's Sept. 1 deadline.
Also Wednesday, the Ham Lake City Council took public comments on a range of law enforcement options -- including creating a municipal police department -- but took no action, said Mayor Mike Van Kirk. The council has called a public hearing to discuss public safety for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Ham Lake Senior Center. There will be no vote at that meeting.
In Oak Grove, Mayor Mark Korin said his city is continually discussing several options.
All three mayors said their cities remain open to the idea of a patrol district in the future.
"There's a lot to hammer out, and the feeling on the council is we don't have enough time to be happy with the discussions to make this work in just a few weeks," said East Bethel Mayor Richard Lawrence, adding that over the next year, he'd like to see a tri-city law enforcement committee finalize the details.
One benefit to East Bethel's new contract for 36 hours of daily patrol time, which will cost the city about $951,000 for 2012, is that allows the city to split the shift of one deputy; the old system required cities to purchase deputies' time only in eight-hour increments.
For his part, Ham Lake's Van Kirk thought all three cities had pretty much agreed to proceed with the district concept. But short of that, he said he just wants an arrangement that works for his city.
"I'd thought we had a deal," he said. "If we can work with the sheriff and think outside the box and come up with an alternative that is feasible ... and feel like the city is having more input, I'm for that. I'm for anything that improves government services and can do it more efficiently."
Though he's not inclined to take the step of making government bigger, he wants to keep the discussion going about public safety alternatives.
"We don't want to push something even if there's a savings, to create another government department at the city level," he said. "There's that boundary point, how much do we spend to save how much? We've said all along, we won't do it to save $50,000 a year."
Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart noted he had said all along that he believes the cities get better patrol service when they go with a customized contract, but that his staff had put a lot of time and care into exploring the district concept.
"It's been very trying, not only for me and the staff, but we've put a lot of resources and time into exploring options that benefit the cities," he said. "I guess I thought that it was going to be received better than it has been. Basically it was created in an effort to meet their needs, at their request."
He also said there was a rationale behind the deadline given to the cities. Though they can amend the preliminary levies that must be approved by mid-September, the sheriff has to hire and possibly train deputies, which takes time and resources that he'd rather not expend if cities change their minds.
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409