MOORHEAD — The Moorhead City Council on Monday, Feb. 25, approved spending money for a third attorney in the city's new prosecution office that has taken over handling lower level offenses.
City Manager Chris Volkers in a document for the City Council said because Clay County commissioners voted against having the office in space leased by the city in the law enforcement center, there was a need to hire another lawyer.
If the office would have been near the Moorhead Police Department, Volkers wrote that there would have been efficiencies in "managing cases, with optimum communication between law enforcement and attorneys and put city prosecutors within close proximity to courtrooms for ease of appearing in court."
The offices, instead, were placed downtown in City Hall in the mayor's office.
She wrote if they would have been in the law enforcement center, near the county courthouse, a prosecutor would have saved time by not traveling back and forth between downtown and could have returned to the office to work on other cases while waiting for others to be heard or during breaks in the courtroom.
City Council members all agreed on adding the attorney, with Mayor Johnathan Judd adding that three quality attorneys have been hired. The city would have had only two working on the cases under the previous agreement with the Clay County Attorney's office, which had handled the misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases for 19 years for Moorhead and the other towns in the county.
All of the three new city attorneys previously worked in that Clay County Attorney's Office, including the city's new lead prosecutor Cheryl Duysen.
Council members mostly had questions about the budget figures as compared to what the Clay County Attorney's Office was planning to charge Moorhead and the other county towns for the lower level offense services.
The new budget, with the third attorney, will be an estimated $519,523, compared to the previous budget with two attorneys of $396,825.
The county was planning to charge the cities $431,000. The figures would have increased to $511,000 in 2020 and $617,000 in 2021.
Under the new city plan, the cost will climb to $603,107 in 2020 and $626,043 in 2021. Part of the reason for the 12 percent increase next year is that it's for 12 months instead of 11 months, as well as step increases and cost of living increases for employees under the city's contract.
As for the other Clay County towns joining with Moorhead, Volkers said the next biggest city, Dilworth, appears to be leaning toward joining in the effort. The other towns are Glyndon, Hawley and Barnesville.
If the cities continue their arrangement with Moorhead, the city's share, of course, would drop and it would pay about 80 percent of the $519,523 figure.
Volkers said they plan to charge the other towns what they planned for this year as their budgets are already set.
In another twist in the switchover, Volkers said the county has recently offered to provide the prosecution services to the smaller towns.
However, Judd said the city's newly hired prosecutors are already working on building better relationships with the other towns.
Volkers also added that although the increased cost to the city was more than $100,000, her staff was able to find savings in an insurance program that will save the city about $82,000 so it wouldn't really affect the city's budget much at all.
The Clay County attorney will continue to prosecute the higher level crimes throughout the county.