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Dispelling talk, Willmar, Minn., makes it clear: Police Department is not going away

WILLMAR -- Members of the Willmar City Council made it clear Monday that they do not plan to disband the Willmar Police Department.

They really never did, but it came up during a budget brainstorming discussion, and word spread from there.

Then Councilman Doug Reese started getting phone calls and letters.

At the City Council meeting Monday, Reese raised the issue, though it wasn't on the agenda.

According to a recent survey, "police protection is a valued service of our city," he said.

"I'm not sure where people got their information," he said, but he had been receiving letters urging him not to disband the Police Department.

"Now I'm getting calls from citizens," he said. Reese made it clear that some of the calls and letters questioned his intelligence, among other things.

"I can assure the public," he said, that he would not support such a move. Reese is chairman of the council's Public Works/Safety Committee.

Councilman Denis Anderson, who is chairman of the Finance Committee, said he knew where the idea had started.

During a budget review, "we had a discussion about whether it would make sense to contract with the county," Anderson said.

The committee discussed the idea briefly and took no other action, he said.

"It certainly wouldn't make sense to do anything different than what we're doing now," Anderson said.

Mayor Frank Yanish said he had read about the idea in a letter to the editor.

"The mayor certainly doesn't have any intention of doing something like that," Yanish said.

"Government is about ideas," said Councilman Ron Christianson. "This idea is probably a bad idea for now."

Police Chief Dave Wyffels said he had heard about the committee discussion, and his officers had.

The assurances from the council members and mayor should help ease concerns, Wyffels said.

"I will take it back to the troops," he said after the meeting.

"The topic has come up before," he said, and he knows other communities have been looking at different options because of budget constraints.

The council also discussed doing work on the historic hangar building at the former Willmar Municipal Airport site.

The city has been negotiating with the Federal Aviation Administration to gain control of the old hangar and airport property.

The FAA has ordered the city to prevent any further deterioration of the building by caulking and sealing it and painting the exterior with waterproof paint.

Christianson objected to the $28,350 cost, saying that the building may be demolished within a year and other improvements seem to be a waste of money.

City Administrator Charlene Stevens said the FAA has made it clear that this is required to continue toward a resolution of the long discussion about the airport land.

Eventually the land will be released in three phases, according to a developing agreement with the FAA, said Bruce Peterson, the city's planning and development director.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340