Plan calls for changes, more active fire advisory board
BAXTER — An effort to reinvigorate the Brainerd Fire Advisory Board, increase input from townships and other cities, and make sure budget changes aren’t a surprise in the future is going into a new fire contract.
Monday, Baxter approved the proposed contract.
“I think the upshot of the thing (is the fire advisory board) is going to be a whole lot more active and hopefully they’ll be somewhat influential in decisions that are made in terms of cost and operations,” said Baxter Administrator Gordon Heitke.
Heitke served on the committee to review the fire service contract.
The Brainerd Fire Department provides fire protection to 11 area cities and townships. The city of East Gull Lake and Fort Ripley Township previously announced plans to terminate their contracts for fire protection with Brainerd in 2015. Both have had fire contracts with Brainerd since 1993. The contract requires a one-year notice of termination. East Gull Lake reported it might stay with Brainerd but wanted to look at its options.
For the area townships and cities, it’s about costs.
Heitke said the previous rate increase by Brainerd came as a surprise to service areas and for townships it came too late to work into established budgets.
“If there is going to be a budget amendment this board is going to see that coming,” Heitke said, adding the advisory board offers a chance for those with service contracts to be proactive and not reactive to changes. Staff will be there as a resource but board members will be elected officials. The contract also calls for an annual audit for the previous year’s expenditures.
Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said a lot of people had never seen the previous contract, which was 20 years old. As a first step, Olson said the goal was to bring the contract up to date.
“One thing we have to get a handle on there are people who have threatened to leave the district,” Olson said.
Olson said more will be known about those intentions in the next few months. He said one of the southern townships has been involved in talks with the Little Falls Fire Department. As the pie gets smaller, the remaining cities or townships would then be expected to be responsible for larger pie pieces.
“It’s within everybody’s interests to try to keep this group together,” Heitke said.
Olson said these changes will give people in the fire district more say and an opportunity to hear the facts up front.
“I think it’s headed in the right direction,” Olson said. “I think we have a good fire department.”
“I think it’s coming down to dollars,” Olson said, noting one service area may not see enough of an insurance benefit for its distance from the fire station to make a difference. “I think our department can still get there faster but that’s a decision they all have to make.”
There was a desire for more involvement. The role of the fire advisory board was expanded with one from each jurisdiction contracting for services. Also Heitke said the board plans to be more proactive and be run by members of fire service area and meet quarterly. The board will make recommendations to the Brainerd City Council.
The board is expected to have a voice in equipment needs in the future.
At an Oct. 24, 2013, fire advisory board meeting, a small committee was created to review the fire protection contract and recommend changes. Heitke represented Baxter, Theresa Goble represented Brainerd, Tim Houle represented Unorganized Territory and Bill Kronstedt representing townships. Legal counsels with the League of Minnesota Cities and Minnesota Association of Townships jointly developed a fire protection contract as a model for cities and townships. The committee reported it based its recommendations for a new contract on the model.
On Jan. 23, representatives of the fire service areas at a fire advisory board meeting agreed to the proposed new contract language. The same funding formula is used. The formula adds fire department operations with personnel, supplies and services, plus depreciation of buildings, plus contributions to the relief association equals the total fire protection budget.