Crow Wing County supports more robust fire advisory board
Crow Wing County Commissioners Tuesday all agreed to proposed changes in an updated fire protection contract calling for a more active fire advisory board.
The advisory board makes recommendations to the Brainerd City Council on the fire department’s operating budget, meet quarterly and would see an annual audit.
Administrator Tim Houle said changes remove the fire chief from being a voting member. Only elected members, representing the fire contract coverage areas, would serve on the advisory board. Houle said there isn’t any intention to say the fire chief’s input isn’t relevant.
The Brainerd Fire Department has contracts for fire protection with area cities and townships. There was widespread dismay after the contracts costs sharply increased. In December, Fort Ripley Township gave Brainerd a year’s notice it was terminating its contract citing rising fees and little input in those costs.
Houle served on a committee looking at language changes.
The proposed contract language, the first update in 20 years, is going out to those in the service area for input.
Houle said a revamped advisory board doesn’t mean the group will get everything its way but members will have a more active say in the process.
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said in the past the input was limited to walking in a meeting and being given a bill.
Houle said the city is as receptive as it has ever been to a partnership.
“It’s just as important to (Brainerd) the partnership stays intact,” Houle said.
Commissioner Paul Thiede suggested having a time when one of the service areas could change its mind after giving a notice of termination, perhaps six months. Houle said Brainerd didn’t want someone to give notice and then change their mind on the 364th day. He said the city needs some kind of notice as do the others in the service area as they plan budgets.
Houle said once modifications are made, a final agreement will be sent out.
Commissioner Paul Koering said he continued to favor a fire district, saying a board could be appointed and it could be renamed Crow Wing County Fire and Rescue.
“It just makes more sense to me and everybody is an equal partner in what this fire district is going to do,” Koering said.
Houle noted the hesitation for the fire district came in creating a new stand-alone taxing district with local units of government giving away authority. Instead, Houle said, people wanted to try to fix the current option first as a fire service district seemed more than they wanted to bite off and chew at this point.
Koering said the stand-alone taxing authority kind of scared him, noting people could be appointed to it and not be elected officials responsible to the voters.
Koering also mentioned the desirability of a fire substation in Baxter.
“If you build one, who is going to pay for it?” Thiede asked. Koering said just talking about it didn’t cost anything.
Board consensus was to modify the termination language, giving more time for a change of heart.