Lake Elmo holds quality of life discussion

The Lake Elmo City Council devoted last week’s council workshop meeting to a discussion on the quality of life in the city in 2014.

Weighing in were council members, city staff and representatives from several organizations, including the Washington County sheriff’s office, members of the Youth Services Bureau, FamilyMeans, the Lake Elmo Public Library and more.

Public safety, the efforts of local service organizations, independent housing options for people with disabilities and the results of a recent community engagement survey were all topics of conversation in the council chambers at the June 10 meeting. 

Crime prevention

Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton addressed the county’s policing program, including an overview of the department and some accomplishments from 2013, as well as new initiatives in 2014.

“We enjoy a really unique partnership with [the Washington County Sheriff’s Department],” city administrator Dean Zuleger said prior to Hutton’s presentation. “Having understood law enforcement for about 20 years, most sheriffs approach it based on road miles and jails, and you have a sheriff that really does community policing, which is kind of unheard of at the county level, at least from my perspective.”

Hutton said, overall, crime levels dropped countywide in 2013, including violent crimes, as well as the number of initial complaints filed and citations issued. The situation in Lake Elmo was similar, he said.

However, recent crime trends show an uptick in identity theft-related crimes, such as fraud, forgery, and financial scams and mail theft, which Hutton said are committed largely with the use of computers and other modern technology.

“Pretty much every case that we investigate at some level involves technology, whether it’s through your smartphone or your computer, or whatever other means, we are looking at technology and dealing with technology from either a patrol and/or an investigative perspective,” Hutton said.

The sheriff added that narcotics investigations are also on the rise, particularly with prescription medications, synthetic drugs and heroin.

There is also a new Drug Enforcement Agency Tactical Division Squad, which Hutton said identifies individuals who illegally sell prescription drugs and doctors who over-prescribe certain medications.

Some other initiatives undertaken by the Washington County Sheriff’s Department in 2013 included: the creation of a Specialized Investigation Unit, participation in the Metro Regional Informational Collaboration, implementation of a department Facebook page and a complete policy review to ensure department policies are up-to-date and within state statute.

This year, Hutton said the Washington County Sheriff’s Office will replace its aging records management system, enhance its emergency call center by implementing a Next Generation 911 system and expand its use of social media through Facebook and Twitter.  

Service organizations’ efforts

Youth Services Bureau executive director Mary Panten-Krell touched on the work the YSB does to change youths’ destructive behavior in the community.

The Bureau aims to make communities safer, with the mission of helping kids and their families learn the skills they need to be more successful at home, at school and in their neighborhoods.

Krell said research shows that for every dollar invested in early intervention services like those offered by YSB, communities save an average of $8 in future social costs associated with adult crime and social service needs.

She said six out of 10 kids who participate in the YSB chemical help program increase their resilience to drugs; seven out of 10 who receive counseling resolve their issues, and nine out of 10 who participate in the diversion program for the first time don’t break the law again.

The city financially supported the Youth Service Bureau for the first time last year. Mayor Mike Pearson thanked Krell, adding that city officials were happy with the work the nonprofit organization does in the community.

Representatives from Stillwater-based FamilyMeans were also present at the workshop to provide an update on expansion plans for a new youth center to be built at the Cimarron Manufactured Home Park this fall.

Since 2008, the nonprofit organization has provided free after-school and summer programs in the Cimarron community for kids ages 6 to 18. FamilyMeans programs at Cimarron are year-round, providing young people with homework help and a variety of arts, sports and learning activities, as well as field trips and community service projects.

FamilyMeans director of communications and development Jennifer Snyder explained that the program has outgrown the small space it occupies at Cimarron. She said ground would be broken on the new 4,000 square-foot youth center in September, allowing more kids in the community the chance to participate in free programming.  Construction of the youth center is expected to wrap up next spring.

“We appreciate having you here and the work that you do,” Pearson said.

Library’s reach expanding

Lake Elmo Public Library director Linda Orsted spoke about the library’s role in contributing to the quality of life in the community.

Orsted said staff and volunteers are continuing efforts to meet the city’s goal of providing “excellent library services to meet the demands of our community.” The city-owned library is an important gathering place that brings people together to share opinions and ideas, which also offers a wide variety of resources and programs for all ages, she noted. 

The library, Orsted said, is growing and adapting to the needs of the community. Between May 2013 and May 2014, the municipal library has expanded its collection from 8,636 items to nearly 12,800. During that same period, it has seen its circulation grow from 818 to over 1,100 and has doubled the number of library cardholders to nearly 1,600. 

Some goals for the library include: building improvements to accommodate a growing collection of materials and programs, increasing the hours of operation, partnering with the Washington County Library system as an independent affiliate library and responding “to the evolving world of information delivery to provide our community with the best access to resources.”

Orsted said she would like to see the addition of Sunday hours at the library and more evening hours in the near future. 

Independent housing options

A group of individuals pushing for independent housing options for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities  (IDD) made their case for a future development in Lake Elmo.  Council member Anne Smith said it’s a proposal that dates back seven years.

Independent Housing Options consultant for Washington County Teresa vanderBent said there is a need for affordable housing for people with IDD, who want to stay in their communities and near family members, but seek a more independent lifestyle. She said the state of Minnesota has concluded that it makes sense to look at other housing options for people with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities, and mental illness.

“They’re saying: ‘You know what, why are we continuing to put people in adult foster care? Why aren’t we instead having them live near their families, their communities and have the support services around them to allow them to be as independent as possible?’’’

Smith said there is some opportunity for independent housing in Lake Elmo, and invited the group to come back to the council chambers to have a discussion on the concept in further detail in the future.

Community survey

City administrator Dean Zuleger concluded with a brief overview of the results of the community engagement survey. Overall, he said respondents rated Lake Elmo as a good place to live and raise a family.

However, a number of older residents said they were unlikely to stay in Lake Elmo for the next five years, presumably due to a lack of senior housing and care options.

When asked what type of development would be desirable in the city, younger respondents (age 26 to 35) said they would like to see more amenities, businesses and services in Lake Elmo, Zuleger reported.

Meanwhile, baby-boomer respondents (age 51 to 65) said they would like to see the city stay the same. And residents age 26 to 35 and over 65 reported experiencing less of a sense of community than those between 36 and 50.

To view the survey’s results visit the city of Lake Elmo’s webpage.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at or 651-748-7824.


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