Unorganized Territory First Assessment District will continue to rely on Brainerd for fire protection in 2015.
Crow Wing County, which serves as the town board for Unorganized Territory, agreed to enter the contract for service with Brainerd.
“We had previously contemplated other service options through the city of Nisswa, but those did not turn out to be feasible alternatives given the distances and effects on homeowners’ insurance rates for the more heavily-populated southern portions of the (district),” Administrator Tim Houle reported.
Houle said the county has been working with others served by the Brainerd Fire Department to have a more active Fire Service Advisory Board with more influence in terms of changes in service and costs.
Nine communities are serviced by the Brainerd Fire Department — Brainerd, Baxter, and the townships of Crow Wing, Long Lake, Maple Grove, Nokay Lake, Oak Lawn, St. Mathias and Unorganized Territory.
Currently the city of East Gull Lake is contemplating a change and is not included as a district in dividing the budget. At the end of 2013, East Gull Lake gave notice it would be looking elsewhere for fire protection services because of service costs.
Fort Ripley Township terminated its contract for the same reason of rising costs and no input, turning to Little Falls.
Daggett Brook and Center townships terminated contracts earlier.
Houle said there is concern about the number of people leaving the district. An upheaval occurred initially after Brainerd increased service district costs following a decision to keep two firefighters on staff who were no longer being covered by a grant.
Commissioner Paul Koering again asked about alternatives like a fire service district. Houle said fire service districts tend to determine costs and then send out bills so there wasn’t a great appetite for that option. Houle said the best alternative is for the Fire Services Advisory Board to be more involved. If that doesn’t work, he said, the county will look for alternatives.
Koering said someone should be concerned because as more districts leave, the cost will go up for those who remain. Koering said he’d rather have input than be handed a bill.
“That has been our biggest issue,” said Chairwoman Rosemary Franzen, adding the advisory board may be the option for change.
“It’s not in any of our interests to see more people leaving” the group, Houle said.
The 2014 fire department budget is $1,188,772 with Unorganized Territory paying $166,799 for its 2015 assessment, or a 5.06 percent increase from $158,764 in 2014. The value of buildings in Unorganized Territory is $328,576,200.
The overall budget for the fire service districts in 2015 represents a 2.97 percent reduction from a revised 2014 assessment.