The city of Moorhead and Clay County could use a good marriage counselor. The two local governments have been bickering for months over the issue of prosecutors. The relationship has become increasingly toxic — and taxpayers are the poorer for it.
The feud became public in December when the city of Moorhead began scrambling to figure out how to prosecute traffic violations and low-level criminal offenses after an arrangement that worked well for two decades unraveled.
The county and city of Moorhead couldn’t agree upon the cost of the county continuing the prosecution services for the city. The Clay County attorney then announced that his office would no longer prosecute misdemeanor city cases as of Feb. 1.
Not only that, with the agreement dissolved, the county was no longer willing to provide space for city prosecutors in the new Law Enforcement Center, conveniently located near the Clay County Courthouse. Moorhead Mayor Johnathan Judd graciously gave up his downtown City Hall office to make room for new city lawyers.
After having to hire its own prosecutors, which came from the county, Moorhead now says it has to hire a third city attorney because of all the commuting they will have to do each day from Moorhead City Hall to the Clay County Courthouse. Now the city is looking to take over prosecution services of other Clay County cities.
Here’s the math of what this feud is costing taxpayers. Clay County was planning to charge the cities $431,000 for prosecution services, increasing to $511,00 in 2020 and $617,000 in 2021.
With the third attorney, the city budget will be an estimated $519,523, up from the $396,825 that had been budgeted for two lawyers — an increase of $122,698. The cost is expected to climb to $603,107 next year and to $626,043 in 2021.
Moorhead’s city manager claims the city’s increased costs will be partly offset by savings of $82,000 on insurance her staff was able to identify. But it’s abundantly clear that city taxpayers in Moorhead and other towns in Clay County are not faring well under the new arrangement.
We urge the elected leaders for Moorhead and Clay County to appoint a committee that can work to restore a mutually satisfactory agreement between the county and the cities to provide prosecution services. Now, with city officials’ eyes open as to the costs of the alternatives, it should be easier to agree upon the program’s true cost and what constitutes fair payment.
Since the split, nobody is winning — and taxpayers are losing — under this new arrangement. There are plenty of examples in the metro area, including the joint dispatch center, that show the benefits of cooperation and collaboration.
Let’s hope it’s a trial separation and not a divorce.