On Thursday, March 12, the Ellendale City Council held a public forum regarding the contract with the Steele County Sheriff's Department, which has been in place since the 1970s. The one-year contract is $41,500.

Mayor Mark Skroch questions the economics and the cost effectiveness of the contract. The mayor says the city of Ellendale is in debt and the money saved could go toward street and infrastructure repair and equipment purchases. He also mentioned that other communities in the area are on a drive-through and on-call basis with their sheriff departments. In addition, there could be future taxes with the building of the new county maintenance building, as well as school referendums.

Sheriff Lon Thiele broke down the cost of public protection in Ellendale. In 2014, it was $110 per day. With a 3 percent increase per year, in 2015 it will be $113 per day. Breaking down the cost per officer, it comes out to $77 per day. The contract is for 2.7 hours and on-call for 21.3. However, deputies are in town, on average, just over 3 hours per day. The sheriff's department logs show a record of when deputies are in town.

The citizen questions that were brought up:

  • How much of the percentage of property tax goes toward public safety?
  • Assuming that the contract ends, how much would the sheriff department's budget go up? Would Ellendale and county taxes go up, and by how much? Those taxes could add up to be more than the $40,000 in savings.
  • The council asked for the total budget of the sheriff's department. County Commissioner Jim Brady stated that it is $2.5 million and of that, $2 million goes for wages, the rest toward equipment and gas. That price does not include the Detention Center or Law Enforcement Center.
  • Superintendent Dennis Goodwin of NRHEG could think of a number of instances that could be critical to needing the extra protection. He said the school may have look into hiring a full-time deputy.
  • If the contract was cut for one year, how much would the next contract be? The sheriff answered that there would be some catch-up cost to cover.
  • Pete Paulson, manager of the Ellendale Muni, noticed there have been zero DUIs connected to the bar, in part because of the deputies' presence, and that cannot be said for other communities. Also, there was a situation that officers diffused until the patrons were able to get a ride out of town. If there had been a bar fight, it would have cost more than the $40,000.
  • If the contract were eliminated, in what instances would the officers show up? The sheriff said, "For misdemeanors, and we would not leave Ellendale hanging."
  • One council member mentioned that it costs 38 cents per household per day for the additional public safety.

The mayor urged residents talk to each other and council members about the issue. A council vote on the matter will be held in two to four weeks.