A cadet program designed to help build a more diverse police force by helping pay for law enforcement schooling is among new initiatives in the City of Eden Prairie’s proposed budget for 2024.
Also included is funding for a study to help determine whether the Eden Prairie Fire Department should modify or abandon its duty-crew model, in which paid volunteers work assigned shifts rather than remain on-call all the time. For many fire departments, the duty-crew model is a step before resorting to all part-time or full-time firefighters.
These and other projects are part of a $60.3 million total city budget and $47.1 million property-tax levy given preliminary approval Tuesday, Sept. 5, by the Eden Prairie City Council.
The proposed overall city budget is up 5.1%, and the general fund is up 5.7%. But, City Manager Rick Getschow said about three-fourths of the additional $3 million in the new budget is for city employees’ wages and benefits. “We also have a lot of inflationary pressures throughout,” Getschow said.
Based on current property-value information, the city is projecting that if the proposed numbers are adopted, a $536,400 home in Eden Prairie – the median home value in EP – would see its city property tax rise $61 to $1,589. That’s a 4% increase.
The preliminary budget and levy numbers adopted Tuesday establish a ceiling for the 2024 plans. A public hearing and final approval of the budget and tax levy will be scheduled before the end of 2023.
Coalition of suburbs working on recruitment
The plans OK’d this week would have Eden Prairie joining a west-metro police cadet program that also includes police departments in Edina, Minnetonka, Plymouth, and St. Louis Park.
Eden Prairie Police Chief Matthew Sackett described it as an effort to attract “a more non-traditional or diverse candidate, a chance to come work for us as a part-time community-service officer, and then we also help pay for all or most of a two-year degree getting toward their completion of skills and becoming a police officer with us, at least going through our process.”
In Minnesota, anyone taking the state’s Peace Officer Licensing Examination must first earn a post-secondary degree from a regionally accredited college or university, and successfully complete a state-approved Professional Peace Officer Education program.
Sackett said earning a two-year degree can cost a student in the neighborhood of $7,000 to $10,000 a year, which is a barrier for some police candidates and one the cadet program seeks to overcome.
Eden Prairie has long had a community-service officer (CSO) program in its police department, and dollars for part-time CSOs have been in the city’s annual budget for years. But, Sackett said the challenge is “trying to find that extra $7,000 to $10,000 per candidate to help pay for that schooling.”
The city hopes that adding funds for education will generate more police officer candidates. Sackett said that for its most recent police officer job opening, the city had 13 candidates, whereas before COVID-19, the department would receive more than 200 candidates.
The goal would be to have four or five cadets per year, he said.
Strengthening recruiting and hiring practices to attract a more diverse city workforce is one of the recommendations of a Race Equity Report adopted by the city in 2021.
More information on the cadet program is on the city’s website.
Duty-crew model under scrutiny
As for the study of fire department staffing, Fire Chief Scott Gerber said recently that a consultant would be hired later this year and spend 3-6 months in 2024 analyzing the city’s duty-crew model of firefighting.
The “Standard of Cover Study” would evaluate the current system, fire station locations, changing city demographics, all-hazard response needs, and changing city operations/services, according to a city memo. One-time public safety funding coming to Eden Prairie would be used to pay for the study.
Duty-crew firefighters have other full- or part-time jobs, and their availability has changed in recent years, according to city staff.
“Duty crew firefighters continue to provide excellent service to our city,” states a staff memo to the city council. “However, there continues to be a gap in hours that our duty crew firefighters are able to cover in order to maintain high quality services.”
Gerber said employing “all-career” firefighters is the likely alternative. Cities such as Richfield, Edina, St. Louis Park, Minneapolis, and St. Paul use this model, he added.
Eden Prairie has used the duty-crew model since 2012. The department has a duty-crew staff of 98 firefighters. Duty-crew firefighters are paid $18 per hour. The city is budgeting $1,156,301 for duty-crew wages in 2024.
The city council’s annual goal-setting meetings and the every-other-year resident survey help establish the city’s budget. To that end, based on strong resident support for the city’s parks and recreation system, the new budget also includes money for trail extensions and trail maintenance.
Other 2024 projects and initiatives include funding for primary and general elections, the city’s sustainability efforts, scheduled purchases of fire vehicles, and planning for city hall remodeling to create new and bigger quarters for the Police Department.
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