NEWPORT, Minn. (KMSP) - The mayor of Newport, Minn. wants to dissolve the city's police department and instead contract with the Washington County sheriff's office. Some say public safety would be in jeopardy, but the mayor contends it would be the same amount of coverage, quite possibly with the very same officers on-duty.
Newport is a small city with about 3,700 people, but it has its very own police department to protect and serve. City Council member Tom Ingemann says that's how it's been, and that's how it should stay.
“You're taking my public safety and putting a dollar figure on it. My public safety is worth a whole lot more a couple of bucks, I'm sorry,” he said.
Mayor Tim Garaghty, on the other hand, says it's time to talk dollars and sense. Get rid of the police department and let the Washington County sheriff's office head up public safety in Newport, and save $200,000 a year.
“I think the county can provide as good or better service than what we've had. They have the infrastructure. They have the depth, that if an officer would go down they can fill in,” Garaghty said.
The mayor wants to give the money the city saves back to the people by lowering property taxes about $100 to $400 per household.
“Right now, Newport has the second-highest per capita cost-per-citizen in Washington County, and we would hope to come down from that considerably by merging with the county,” Garaghty said.
He added the five Newport officers would keep their jobs, they’d just work for the sheriff instead of a police chief. In the end, the mayor says public safety is not at risk with the proposed change. Ingemann says it most certainly is, and he's not alone, as an online petition to save the department is underway.
“It's a very politically sensitive item and I’m not going to deny that, but in order to do our jobs in due diligence, I think we have to look at it,” Garaghty said.
Petition: Save Newport MN Police
“Why should I lower my standard of safety for ten dollars a household, that what it will equal out to?” Ingemann questioned.
The mayor says he expects public input at the October 15 City Council meeting with a final vote Nov. 5. There was or is an internal investigation going on that involves all five officers. No one will say what it's about, only that it's in arbitration. The chief retired recently, and with that in mind, the mayor says it's a good time to make what he sees as a necessary change.