The Foley City Council is retreating from its bold and controversial plan to hire a private security firm to patrol streets around the clock.
Under a proposed agreement mediated with the help of the state attorney general's office, sheriff's deputies from Benton County would continue to patrol in the town an extra 17 hours a day next year, but they would do it for about $18,000 less than the original asking price.
Foley officials, citing budget problems including cuts in state aid, had decided in October to hire private security patrols after they couldn't reach an agreement with the Benton County Sheriff's Office to reduce extra deputy patrol hours. Sheriff Brad Bennett had said the city's proposed cutbacks meant there wouldn't be enough coverage for the town of 2,600 about a dozen miles northeast of St. Cloud.
The Foley City Council then voted to contract with a private firm to hit the streets starting in December, though details such as whether the patrolling guards would carry guns and have the power to write parking tickets were still being decided. The Sheriff's Office would have remained responsible for responding to emergency calls even without a city contract.
The move proved controversial and raised questions about safety and fairness in paying for protection. Attorney General Lori Swanson wrote a letter to the parties citing her concerns about private patrols and urging negotiation.
The $263,000 negotiated agreement, which the City Council approved on a split vote Tuesday night, still needs to be finalized by Benton County commissioners.
"Everybody had to give up a little bit to reach this point," Bennett said. "The main winner is the city of Foley residents, really."
Foley Mayor Gary Gruba voted against changing plans back to paying for extra sheriff's coverage. The private firm would have cost $210,000 a year. "That's what I felt was the right thing to do," he said. "It was sent back to the county commissioners and the sheriff for their approval, and we'll see where it goes."
Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102