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City lukewarm on pitch for combined law enforcement

MORRIS – Although there may be good reasons to look at combining the Morris Police Department and the Stevens County Sheriff's Office, right now is not the time, City Manager Blaine Hill told the Morris City Council on Tuesday.

During his city manager report, Hill told the council he was approached by County Commissioner Ron Staples to discuss integrating the two law enforcement entities.

“My recommendation is, if we want to sit down and talk with the county we certainly can, but I don't recommend that we do anything different than what we're doing right now,” said Hill.

Staples suggested having a conversation with the city of Morris about combining the two departments at the board of commissioners' meeting on July 2 in the wake of Morris Police Chief Jim Beauregard's announcement that he'll be retiring at the end of the month.

County Attorney Aaron Jordan (who also serves as city attorney) told the commissioners that all five city council members would have to vote to abolish the department or the issue would have to be put to a public vote in a general election.

“Doing it right now – unless you could get all five council members to do it – would be difficult,” said Jordan.

All five commissioners thought it would be a good idea to discuss consolidation, and agreed that commissioners Staples and Bob Kopitzke would approach the city.

At Tuesday's city council meeting, however, Hill and members of the city council were more reserved about the idea of consolidating.

Hill said he was concerned about the timing of the request and thought there wouldn't be enough time to fully research consolidation at this time.

“There would have to be significant efficiencies and savings before I'd even consider it,” said Council member Kevin Wohlers. “We have safety and security and I just don't want to see anything go the other direction.”

“I would like to research it, but I think we definitely need to maintain the protection and services we already have,” said Council member Jeff Miller.

This week, members of the Police Civil Service Commission met to discuss the process for hiring a new police chief. The city will accept applications through Aug. 9, then look at applications and conduct interviews.

The commission will provide a ranked list of candidates for chief to Hill and the city council to consider in late August or early September.

In addition to looking for a chief, the commission will also be interviewing for a new police officer following the resignation of Officer Robert Velde. Velde will be leaving the Morris Police Department for a job at the University of Minnesota, Morris.

City looks for solutions for sanitary sewer woes

On Tuesday, Morris resident Kathy Benson asked the Morris City Council to consider some long-term solutions after a major storm wreaked havoc in the area on June 21.

“Some of us experienced devastating losses, life-long losses, and I don't know if you appreciate the extent to which some people have been impacted by this storm,” said Benson.

In her comments, Benson suggested holding a meeting on the city's storm preparedness for residents and taking a look at the city's overall infrastructure to prevent problems in the future.

“What we're doing right now is gathering all the information about what happened during that storm,” said City Manager Blaine Hill.

While loss of power was an issue, Hill said the primary reason for sewer backup into basements was excess rainwater getting into the sanitary sewer system. Morris sewer lift stations have the capacity to hold a lot of sewage, but when they are inundated with rain they can't keep up effectively.

“If we didn't have any rain, there probably wouldn't have been an issue even with the power going out,” said Hill.

The city is looking at how to address the problem of rain water in the sanitary sewer system. The solution may include a program to go into every house in Morris next spring to make sure that sump pumps are hooked up correctly and a study of how many sump pumps there are in Morris, Hill said.

“Next spring, it's something we have to do,” concurred Council member Bill Storck. “Come April 1 [the sump pump] hose better be laying outside to help prevent all these damages to peoples' basements. … We have to put some teeth in it.”

Council member Jeff Miller said that the city has to walk a fine line on infrastructure improvements to match existing needs with what the city and residents can afford.

“We're just trying to do more projects to keep those problems under control,” added Council member Brian Solvie.

Other business

• The council accepted a bid of approximately $795,300 from Ebert Construction of Corcoran, Minn. for a new hangar at the Morris Municipal Airport. The estimate includes the cost of the hangar, plus in-floor heating and epoxy flooring and a vapor barrier. The local share of the project will be approximately $98,945 and will be recouped through rental fees in the building.

• The council approved a payment of approximately $138,900 to Brietbach Construction for work on Morris' west side. The total project is estimated at about $1.6 million.

• City Manager Blaine Hill told the council city staff met with officials from MnDOT to discuss highway access to farmland on the corner of Highway 28 and Highway 9. There are two development projects in the works for the property, if access for frontage roads is granted, Hill said.

Another discussion with MnDOT was an upcoming resurfacing project on Highway 9 through Morris. The Project is scheduled for 2015 and will include updates to the handicapped sidewalk crossings and a new stoplight system, Hill said.