By Jack Hammett
The City of Mounds View will hold a special election Tuesday, Nov. 7, on a tax levy that, if passed, will allow the addition of one Mounds View police officer to the Ramsey County’s Violent Crime Enforcement Team.
If passed, the levy will raise around $85,000 in the first year for the officer’s wages and benefits, according to the Mounds View Matters newsletter. The officer’s role in the Violent Crime Enforcement Team will include enforcement against top-level narcotics distributors.
Mounds View Police Chief Nate Harder said the vote is a necessary step toward fighting narcotics in Ramsey County.
“I feel that, right now, all we are is reactive,” he said. “[The U.S. opioid epidemic] has weighed on me to the point where I want someone from Mounds View just focusing on drugs. I very much want to be proactive.”
Harder said narcotic addiction drives users to desperation, which endangers city residents.
“Especially with opioids out there like heroin and methadol, addiction turns people into someone they’re not,” he said. “A lot of people on their first arrest are not going to jail, but they’re forced to get help. That’s part of this as well.”
Harder said he believes that referendums such as the upcoming special election are important because they provide direct feedback from residents.
“This puts the decision into taxpayers’ hands,” he said. “I’m going to get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ either way. That’s going to give me direction.”
City Councilman Gary Meehlhause said because Mounds View is a charter city, residents must vote before levy authority is given. In relation to this particular referendum, he said, the property tax increase will be relatively marginal.
“For a house whose market value is in a lower range of $63,071, the increase would be $5.03,” Meehlhause said. “A house with a value of about $565,000 would see about $48.”
City of Mounds View Finance Director Mark Beer said the tax capacity increase of $844,612 over 2017 will have little impact on the police referendum. Homes with a market value of $126,141 would see an additional tax of $10.01, homes valued at 189,211 would see $15.10 and so on, he said.
“Our city charter has limitations on how much we can levy,” Meehlhause said. “The addition of the officer’s salary and benefits puts us over that levy cap.”
Harder said drug-related crimes can affect property values in the city. Investing in the tax levy would increase the city’s livability, he said.
“I was an officer in Texas during the crack epidemic,” Harder said. “Whole neighborhoods started going into decay. When a neighborhood started getting cleaned up, when arrests were made, when police were having an impact, property crime started going down. People started reinvesting in these neighborhoods.
“What might be a problem house, or a drug house, where there is a lot of traffic and multiple overdoses, people don’t want to be in that neighborhood. It drives property values down and fuels thefts in that area.”
In early July, Commander of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office Ryan O’Neill told City Council that having an officer representing each community would allow for effective communication across the county. He said accidental overdoses and Narcan usage in the U.S. are rising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths nationwide last year.
Residents can vote yes or no on the special election at the Event Center located at the Mounds View Community Center on election day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.