The Newport, Minnesota City Council is trying to disband the Newport Police Department in an attempt to save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Some residents aren’t pleased and have voiced their displeasure about the move.
Fred Leimbek, a 55-year resident and a retired Newport police officer, said, “If we give up our police department, what next? It’s part of our identity. When the council took a preliminary vote, one of them hollered out an unhappy ‘Nay!’?”
People on both sides of the argument expect a lively discussion on October 15 when the city council convenes a public hearing on whether to sign up for police services with the Washington County Sheriff.
According to city administrator Deb Hill, if the change is approved, it will save the city close to a million dollars in the first five years.
“Opponents are spreading a wide variety of misinformation,” she said. “Some say there’ll be no policing in town here, the officers will be behind a desk in Stillwater. Actually, we will keep our officers, who will become employees of the county, all of them housed right here.”
Hill added that the September 30 retirement of the Newport police chief created ideal timing for the change. Hill said a lot of the savings come from the ability to get along without a police chief and a chief’s vehicle without having to dismiss an incumbent or depriving someone of a living.
Karla Bigham, the county commissioner for the area, told the Star Tribune that the city approached the county and not the other way around.
“I’m obviously supportive of the decision of the local community,” she said. “But I would say that it’s in the best interests of Newport to have the discussion with Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park about collaboration of services and definitely to listen to the public on their wants as far as services in their community.”
If the city contracted with the county, it would only need two squad cars instead of the six it currently has, which would save the city a lot of money. The city also won’t need backup vehicles because the Sheriff’s Department has a fleet.
If the change is approved, Newport could save close to $200,000 a year. The money could be applied to other needs that the city has.