Wellness program may help Alexandria police officers cope with trauma

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At Monday’s Alexandria City Council meeting, Alexandria Police Chief Scott Kent made the request to hire a mental health professional.

“There are experiences in public safety that have a negative impact on the overall wellness of those serving,” Kent said in a memo to the council. “Many of these experiences cannot be avoided because of the line of work and being the first arriving on scene for tragic events. If we cannot avoid these experiences, I feel it is our responsibility to provide a mechanism to help our staff process these experiences.”

Scott Kent

Scott Kent

In the past two months, the police department has responded to two suicides, Kent said. He said three main areas should be a priority in 2022 – peer support, critical incident debriefing and therapeutic support services.

“We have an amazing staff (that’s) capable of problem solving and finding solutions in almost every aspect of our community. However, after researching these three priorities, they realized they might be in over their heads and need help.”

The council agreed to call for requests for qualifications and proposals for the wellness program. The proposals will be considered at the council’s Jan 10 meeting.

The city approved tentative agreements with the two unions representing Alexandria police officers and sergeants.

The agreements are for two-year terms beginning on Jan. 1, 2022 and continuing through Dec. 31, 2023.

The top salary for police officers in 2022 amounts to $78,533 or $37.76 per hour. The top pay for 2023 will be $80,889 or $38.89 per hour.

Hourly rates for police officers in 2022 will start at $28.41 in the first year, go to $31.15 in the second year and increase to $32.79 in the third year.

The hourly rates for 2023 are $29.26 in the first year, $32.08 in the second year and $33.77 in the third year.

For sergeants, the top annual salary for 2022 is $89,936 or $43.24 per hour and the minimum salary is $82,736 or $39.78 per hour. In 2023, the top salary will rise to $92,634 or $44.54 per hour and the minimum salary will be $85,218 or $40.97 per hour.

The salaries were determined through a performance-based pay system, which has replaced the step or longevity system used in the past.

The city received two “excellent” proposals for developing a workforce housing project in Alexandria., according to City Planner Mike Weber.

At its Monday meeting, the council accepted the proposal from D.W. Jones, Inc. The other proposal came from Unique Opportunities.

Both companies called for tax increment financing, or TIF, to help cover the cost of the project. D.W. Jones wants to use $13,710 in TIF for each of 62 units that would be built while Unique Properties proposed $14,542 in TIF for each of 24 units.

A team of city leaders made the recommendation based on the number of units proposed and several other factors:

  • The fact that the majority of the units, 49 of the 62, proposed by D.W. Jones will be market rate, versus the fact that none of the Unique units will be. All of Unique’s units would be subject to income restrictions. The team noted that the state’s housing grant program awards points based on market characteristics, and income restrictions will not score as well under that evaluation criteria.

  • The number/variety of floorplans proposed by D.W. Jones is nine versus three by Unique.

  • The D.W. Jones’ proposal includes an elevator serving the three-story building. The Unique proposal, also three stories, does not provide an elevator.

  • The D.W. Jones’ proposal includes 18 underground garage stalls and 16 detached garage stalls, 34 garage stalls in total, for a ratio of one garage stall for every 1.8 units. The Unique proposal includes eight garage stalls, for a ratio of one garage stall for every three units. The overall parking requirement of two stalls per unit would be met by both proposals.

  • D.W. Jones has extensive experience in working with Minnesota Housing Finance Agency in workforce housing projects, having successfully completed six such projects. Unique did not detail its experience with such projects.

The project D.W. Jones is proposing is Twenty08 Apartments and has an estimated development cost of $9.2 million. The site is 2008 Runestone Ave., north of County Road 82 and west of Birch Avenue, adjacent to the existing Central Lakes Apartments.

D.W. Jones hopes to start construction next September and complete the project by June, 2023.

Last October, the council agreed to participate in a nationwide opioid settlement, which had not yet been finalized.

On Monday night, it learned that the city will receive a small slice of the settlement, not directly, but through Douglas County and Horizon Public Health.

“We are happy to report that the state, League of Minnesota Cities, Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, Association of Minnesota Counties, and other relevant groups recently reached an agreement on the distribution of the settlement money,” City Attorney Tom Jacobson told the council in a memo.

Tom Jacobson

Tom Jacobson

All 87 counties will receive direct payments from the settlement along with cities over 30,000 in population, he added. While Alexandria will not receive a direct payment, counties are required to work with cities and ensure their needs are met.

“We are confident that we will be able to work with both Douglas County and Horizon Public Health as needed,” Jacobson said.

Under the settlement, the three largest pharmaceutical distributors, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, and one manufacturer, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, agreed to pay $26 billion. A total of $22.7 billion is earmarked for use by participating states and subdivisions to address the impacts of the opioid crisis.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid-involved overdoses in 2019. The misuse and addiction to opioids, including prescription pain relievers, heroin and fentanyl, created a serious national crisis that affected public health as well as social and economic welfare.

The council approved a compensation plan, structure and classification for city employees, as well as a compensation and performance system administrative policy.

The resolution applies a 3% increase in employees general wage for next year.

The pay structure calls for a minimum annual salary of $38,942 and increases through a grade and point system to $154,644.

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