Proposed Rochester pilot program would add homelessness outreach next year

Sep. 10—ROCHESTER — Homelessness specialists could replace police next year for

outreach to prevent encampments

and other activity that has been leading to a growing number of conflicts in Rochester.

A $200,000 pilot program is being proposed that would use a portion of one-time state funds provided to Rochester to address public safety needs.

"We believe putting a different person in that position to do the initial engagement could be helpful," Rochester Police Capt. Jeff Stilwell said of the program the Rochester City Council will review during its continued budget discussions Monday.

Under current practices, parks staff helps police identify camps, but officers typically have the role of informing people they need to move.

The proposed community outreach specialists program calls for using the expertise of contracted homelessness specialists to help resolve potential conflicts. The program hopes to improve community relations, reduce the criminalization of homelessness and lessen the burden on police resources.

"Our overarching goal is to create a more compassionate and effective response system that provides crucial support to individuals experiencing homelessness, while fostering a safer and more resilient community," states a report sent to the council ahead of Monday's budget discussion.

Stilwell told the council Wednesday that police have been

experiencing increased hostility

when seeking to inform people camping on city land they need to relocate. He said the goal of the program is to find new approaches.

Using the one-time funding is a way to test the alternate approach without adding expenses to the city's tax levy.

The state funding is part of $210 million in public-safety aid approved by the Minnesota Legislature earlier this year. Rochester is expected to receive approximately $5.3 million.

In addition to the $200,000 requested for the community outreach specialist program, council members will be presented a $250,000 request for added cameras and related infrastructure for areas with high crash and crime rates and a $300,000 request for added police training.

Another $290,000 is being sought to cover costs for replacing vehicles that aren't already funded in the proposed 2024 city budget.

In addition to the police requests, the Rochester Fire Department is seeking $1 million to replace a fire truck without using property tax funds and $40,000 for diversity, equity and inclusion training.

Other proposed uses of the one-time state funds call for spending $200,000 on a public safety evaluation and $300,000 on city attorney and emergency management programs.

The proposed spending being reviewed Monday would leave nearly $2.8 million in state public-safety funds remaining for Rochester programs.

The City Council will review the proposals as it continues discussing the proposed $575.4 million budget for 2023. The proposed spending calls for a potential 9.44% tax levy increase.

The council is expected to be asked to set the preliminary levy during its Sept. 18 council meeting, which will cap the possible citywide property tax collection at $101.5 million for 2024. Once the preliminary levy is set, the amount can be reduced, but cannot be increased.

The council's budget discussion is part of its Monday study session, which starts at 3:30 p.m. in council chambers of the city-county Government Center.

Meetings scheduled to be held during the week of Sept. 11 include:

—City Council study session, 3:30 p.m. Monday in council chambers of the city-county Government Center, 151 Fourth St. SE. The meeting will livestream at

and be available on Spectrum cable channel 180 or 188 and Metronet channel 80.

—Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, 6:30 p.m. Monday in room 104 of City Hall.

—Charter Commission, 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in room 104 of City Hall.

—Planning and Zoning Commission, 6 p.m. Wednesday, council chambers of the city-county Government Center.

—Police Civil Service Commission, 3 p.m. Thursday in room 164 for the Police Department North Station, 4001 W. River Parkway.

—New commissioner introduction to County Attorney's Office, 4 p.m. Tuesday at the city-county Government Center.

—Human Rights Commission, 6 p.m. Thursday in conference room 2 of the Government Center.

—School Board study session, 5 p.m. Tuesday in the boardroom of the Edison Building, 615 Seventh St. SW.