by Mike Knaak
The St. Joseph City Council approved supervision positions in two departments to increase accountability, transparency and leadership.
During a work session July 27, Police Chief Dwight Pfannenstein told council members he wants to add a second sergeant to his department and Public Works Director Terry Thene proposed a supervisor. The council approved the two positions at its Aug. 3 meeting.
In addition to better supervision of officers, Pfannenstein cited a continued increase in calls as a reason for restructuring his department. Calls for service jumped from about 2,500 in 2015 to about 4,000 projected by the end of this year. In the new structure, the two sergeants would report to the chief and each would be responsible for a team of officers. Right now the only sergeant regularly supervises one officer and fills an afternoon/evening patrol shift.
On July 6th, the council approved the promotion of Officer Matt Johnson to sergeant. On Aug. 3, the council approved Pfannenstein’s request to also promote Officer Dan Magaard. Magaard’s promotion will cost $2,600 for the rest of this year and $6,050 in 2021.
Mayor Rick Schultz and City Administrator Kris Ambuehl said they’ve received calls from the public asking if what happened in Minneapolis with the killing of George Floyd could happen in St. Joseph. Ambuehl said that a lack of a supervisor on that scene contributed to the death.
The additional sergeant would also supervise reserve officers, a program the chief said has “fallen by the wayside.” Pfannenstein’s goal is to recruit nine reserves who accompany officers on patrol and provide help with traffic and crowd control at special events.
The city recently received a federal COPS grant to hire an additional officer. With the new hire funded by the COPS grant, the department will have 10 full-time and one part-time officers.
Thene proposed a similar plan for Public Works. He said he’s nearing retirement and now would be a good time to appoint a supervisor to help handle projects and staff.
Ambuehl said it’s a good idea to start training a person who might replace Thene and to have a succession plan for the department. At the Aug. 3 meeting, the council approved hiring a Public Works superintendent. The budget impact is $1,400 this year and $6,700 next year.
Public Works will be getting an additional snowplow. The council approved buying a used plow truck for $40,748 dollars. The city has contracted for snow removal in the most recently annexed portion of St. Joseph at an average cost of $35,000 a year. Buying the truck will save the city more than $120,000 over five years.
Finance Director Lori Bartlett has begun drafting the 2021 city budget. Her draft included the two proposed supervisor positions. The draft shows a 3.5 percent increase in general fund expenses bringing expenses to about $5 million. But the impact on individual property taxes won’t be known until assessed market values and the city’s taxable property base is calculated. City leaders are planning to adopt the preliminary budget in September.
The council turned down a request to move the planned parklet farther to the east on Minnesota Street. The council decided the location will remain in front of Minnesota Market. A parklet is an extension of the sidewalk into parking spaces that provides amenities such as seating.
The city is also moving ahead with plans to improve and repair the streetscape on the south side of Minnesota Street from Chapel Lane to First Avenue SE. Once bids are received and approved, some work could begin this summer with the goal of having the project completed before next year’s July Fourth celebration.