Jimmy Gordon is wasting little time in “turning over every rock” in an attempt to find ways to fulfill his campaign promise of reducing residents’ property taxes. And the new mayor is starting with the largest boulder of them all — the Isanti Police Department.
According to Gordon, the police budget “has gone through the roof,” increasing by 67% over the last five years, which equals about a $1 million increase over that time.
“Any time you have a budget item that is a 67% increase when everything else has gone up not nearly that fast, it’s like ‘what’s the reason for that?’” Gordon said.
Gordon said another reason for looking closer at the IPD’s budget is it currently has two open positions. “If we are going to make changes to staffing, it is easier to make it before we hire people than after and we have to lay people off.”
According to Isanti Police Chief Travis Muyres, however, those two positions aren’t completely “open.” He said he has made a conditional offer to one applicant, pending a background check, and another applicant isn’t that far behind in the process either. He said he has gone through the hiring process three times already, with nobody being hired.
“We recruited two people to apply that have experience,” Muyres said. “And if we go back and say ‘just kidding, it’s not going to work.’ We’re not hiring someone just to fill a spot. We need a certain person we can trust to protect the community. We used to get 60 applicants, now we’re down to four.”
Additionally, Muyres states his officers are on the verge of experiencing burnout due to working so many hours, which often includes overtime.
“Last year, we had 10,350 calls for service,” he said. “Five years ago, it was somewhere around 8,000.
“We have a resignation today, and part of that is from the mandatory overtime because we are short,” Muyres added. “I’m afraid we will see more of that if we stay understaffed.”
Muyres said ideally, they would have two officers on duty from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. Currently, because of the staffing shortage, they sometimes have only one officer on duty from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m., “and that doesn’t take into consideration the training, vacation, or sick hours.
“Right now, we have one officer covering the city of Isanti, and if one of the residents has a high-priority call or someone’s trying to break in and harm them, our officer would probably wait for a (Isanti County) deputy to show up,” Muyres said, adding it would probably take several minutes longer for a deputy to respond compared to a second Isanti officer. “I can’t mandate that officer (enter without backup) because we were trained not to go in by ourselves.”
Councilmember Dan Collison brought up that the increased budget wasn’t solely due to potentially excessive staffing. “Five years ago, you could get an outfitted squad car for fifty grand. Now, they’re talking seventy to seventy-five grand,” Collison said. “There’s inflation on all the tools they need to do their job.”
Councilmember Luke Merrill mentioned that perhaps cuts could be made in the type of equipment being purchased. “I don’t know if you are spending money on the Rolls-Royce of everything versus when you could get a Toyota that’s going to work just as good,” he suggested.
Muyres said their discretionary spending was about 12% of their budget. “If you want to cut $100, $200 out of that, that wouldn’t be much,” he said. “Wages is the huge number. I think that a lot of the money is coming from that, the wage changes over the years.”
“Everything you do today costs you more money,” said Councilmember Steve Lundeen. “Everything you do today costs you ten times, twenty-five times more than five years ago. It’s cost of living. We’re not going to change that. There’s nothing you or I can do about it.
“Being on this council as long as I have, I would never sanction cutting of staff unless it was absolutely necessary,” Lundeen concluded.
“I’m not saying not to ever hire those people,” Gordon said. “I’m just saying I’d like to wait a few weeks so we can have some time to look at it and see. Maybe it’s not cutting actual staff positions. Maybe it’s instead of a 12-hour shift it is a 10-hour shift where one starts at four, one starts at six so one ends at two and one ends at four. It’s cutting a couple hours here and cutting a couple hours there.”
Muyres repeated that one of the candidates has his psychological evaluation scheduled in the next week, so postponing the process at this point would almost guarantee that applicant wouldn’t get hired.
“If you do that (push back the hiring process), then you lose those applicants, and he (Muyres) is back to where he’s been a fourth time,” said Collison. “It takes time, which is money — staffing time to line these interviews up. This is his fourth round.”
“I’m okay if we want to hire them so we don’t lose them, but I would still like to have a look at our staffing plan,” Gordon said. “And if we hire them, I want to make sure we have hours for them. If we don’t have enough hours for them, what happens then?”
Gordon asked Muyres how far behind the first applicant was the second applicant. Muyres said about a week. He added the first applicant’s hiring would be brought before the council at the Jan. 17 meeting, but the second hiring wouldn’t be until one of the February meetings. Upon hearing that, Gordon made a motion to go forward with the first hiring, but then for Muyres and City Administrator Josi Wood to come up with a staffing and scheduling presentation for the council at their Feb. 7 meeting. That motion was approved 4-0.
“As long as I know we are still moving forward,” Lundeen said.