By Anne Holzman
With its fire services in flux and the municipality’s contracted police service from the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office up for review next year, the Falcon Heights City Council devoted much of its Nov. 4 workshop to discussing the community’s public safety needs.
The council even asked the staff to do preliminary research on establishing the city’s own police department.
Falcon Heights must decide by April whether it wants to renew its service contract with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office. The council’s police discussion was triggered by a recent statement from County Sheriff Bob Fletcher that he is not satisfied with the county’s current level of coverage in Falcon Heights and that he would insist on adding a full-time officer to the current 30 hours per week of coverage. Falcon Heights’ current contract expires at the end of next year, but the council must declare its intentions by April 1, 2021, or risk being locked into new terms starting in January 2022.
At the Nov. 4 meeting, council members Yakasah Wehyee and Mark Miazga proposed creating the city’s own police department. “I think in the long run, the benefits will outweigh the cost,” Wehyee said.
But Mayor Randy Gustafson, who works for the Ramsey County Sheriff, was skeptical whether residents would want to pay for that overhead. He pointed out that as one of four cities contracting services from Ramsey County, the city is able to split those costs.
Council member Kay Andrews said she has worked with many suburban cities over the years, including Mounds View, where police department employees told her having their own department was “nice . . . but it was really hard to manage coverage” with a small team.
Council members decided that preliminary research should be done to see how much it would cost Falcon Heights to start up and run its own police department. They directed staff to present findings at a council meeting early in 2021 while continuing to seek contract options from nearby jurisdictions.
Meanwhile, Falcon Heights’ fire services have been in flux since March 2019 when the city dismissed its fire chief. Then last summer, Lauderdale stopped routing fire calls to Falcon Heights and it now has a contract with St. Paul for fire services.
Currently, Falcon Heights has volunteer firefighters but has been paying Roseville for command services. The contract with Roseville was due to expire on Dec. 10.
But Falcon Heights City Administrator Sack Thongvanh told the council during the workshop meeting that he had secured a 60-day extension. That gives the municipality until early February to come up with a replacement because Roseville has said it is not interested in continuing to serve Falcon Heights as it is reorganizing its own operation.
Falcon Heights has sent requests to nearby cities seeking bids for the city’s fire services. Cities interested in bidding were asked to present their proposals to the Falcon Heights council in late November.
Anne Holzman is a freelance writer who covers Falcon Heights and Lauderdale news for the Bugle.