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New Richmond City Council closer to approving student resource officer for schools

At the New Richmond City Council meeting Wednesday May, 30, council members listened as New Richmond Police Lt. Veronica Koehler described the duties of a student resource officer (SRO) including filling in on regular police department duties when not required at school.

"The purpose of an officer on campus would be to provide a proactive approach to policing. The officer would develop and conduct educational programs pertaining to personal safety and safety within the building, drugs, underage drinking, driving safety, and bike safety, as well as provide safety and security in the buildings for students and staff. Having a law enforcement presence and capabilities within the buildings could act as a deterrent to prevent crimes. The officer could also help with investigations of criminal or ordinance violations on campus including battery, disorderly conduct, truancy, thefts, alcohol and tobacco violations. The officer could investigate underlying reasons for issues happening in the school like fights and truancy. The officer would not handle disciplinary issues that are normally handled by school staff," explained Koehler.

City Administrator Mike Darrow said the school district has already approved an SRO position and earmarked $50,000 to cover 50 percent of the expense for the position. The goal is for the city to split the cost 50/50 with the school district. The intention is to start training the new officer in July in time to start on campus at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year in the fall. The city would be obligated to pay the second half of the officer's salary beginning in January 2019.

City Management Analyst Noah Wiedenfeld said the city continues to apply for federal grants to help pay for the city's portion.

Koehler added there is some urgency on the department's part since there are still potential candidates available from the pool assembled for the department's most recent hire. She also noted that a 16-week training period is required.

Council members directed staff to develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the school district pertaining to the SRO identifying a funding source(s) for the 2018-2019 school year to be presented at the June 11 council meeting.

Veterans Center

Council members once again delayed any action on VFW Post 10818's proposal to build a Veterans Center in Freedom Park.

In brief, the original proposal called for the Post to obtain title to roughly 5 acres of land located in Freedom Park on which to build a new veterans center which would also house resources for seniors and youth. Once the Post has title to the property, they can apply for military resources such as construction trades and engineering to help build the center thereby lowering the cost for the project. The Post proposes to raise in the neighborhood of $200,000 for the project and would ask the city to match those funds once the Post has raised its share. Once the project is completed and functioning, at some future date, the facility would be sold back to the city for a minimal fee.

The initial hangup centers on the Post's requirement to "own" the property prior to their being able to move any further forward with plans, fundraising or the commitment of considerable military resources to the project.

The Park Board has approved the proposed location of the center within Freedom Park.

The City Council however, appears reluctant to award the land to the Post for reasons that have yet to be clearly specified.

Alderman Mike Montello alluded to the potential that a more highly "prioritized" project could come along at some unspecified date in the future.

"I have no idea of anybody having another project to put in that particular area, but what if, in the time that it would take to answer some of these questions, I'll even put it out a year or two years, that something else landed on the radar that somebody deemed to be a higher priority. I have no idea what that is. I'm just saying, we wouldn't today enter into an agreement to say, we're not going to do anything to that land for ten years so hopefully things can get together. I think you make a hard commitment to do something when you have these major questions answered. By all means, I'd say, 'Folks, you have the right to proceed with your study or determining what t's have to be crossed and i's have to be dotted for this to proceed,'" said Montello.

"They (the Post) can't raise funds unless they have a piece of land. Like Mike said, it's just the land, we're not committing any money to them at all," added Alderman Jim Zajkowski.

City Attorney Nick Vivian summarized the stalemate.

"You are going to have to make a decision about process. What you are hearing from the VFW is, we need the land so that we can go out and move our process forward. And I think some of what we are hearing from the council is, we need the process and the plan before we can give you the land. That process piece is not going to be answered by what you see in the document and it's kind of philosophical and foundational to what you are going to be doing on this project. As Mike said, you have to think through it and either you're going to get on board with transferring the land subject to a number of conditions or we're going to require a concrete plan before we're in agreement with transferring the land. That's question number one that has to be answered. If you don't answer that questions, none of the other questions matter. The operations are really secondary," said Vivian.

Council members moved to review the matter further and revisit their questions at the June work session with the intention of taking concrete action at their July 9, Council meeting.

Other business

• Council members approved a contract worth $3,750 with Cedar Corporation for design services related to the remodel of the Civic Center.

• Council members approved increasing the hours of the department's independent building inspector, Josh Malstrom, to 3.5 days per week through the end of September at a cost not to exceed $8,949, while the department looks to hire a full-time replacement for Sarah Skinner.

• Council members also approved the hiring of a new full-time position within Community Development to help with planning and zoning to start in August or September.

• Council members directed Park Board staff to meet with the All-Inclusive Park group, Will's Park, to encourage them to consider relocating their planned park from Freedom Park to Marita Park and to develop an MOU for consideration at the council's July 9 general meeting.

• The Council approved ordinance amendment #50-9 making it illegal to possess vaping equipment on school property.