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Baxter City Council: Members to tackle increased fire service assessments

BAXTER--The city of Baxter is taking a look at how it will pay off fire service assessments in coming years. Typically, fire service assessments--or payments to the Brainerd Fire Department to provide emergency coverage to areas including Baxter-...

Members of the Baxter City Council prepare for a workshop Tuesday, March 5. The city is contending with a spike in fire service assessments by the Brainerd Fire Department for 2020. Representing an 11.7 percent increase, this means Baxter will have to pay roughly $36,000 more for emergency coverage in 2020. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch
Members of the Baxter City Council prepare for a workshop Tuesday, March 5. The city is contending with a spike in fire service assessments by the Brainerd Fire Department for 2020. Representing an 11.7 percent increase, this means Baxter will have to pay roughly $36,000 more for emergency coverage in 2020. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER-The city of Baxter is taking a look at how it will pay off fire service assessments in coming years.

Typically, fire service assessments-or payments to the Brainerd Fire Department to provide emergency coverage to areas including Baxter-is dealt with during the budget session from midsummer until the end of December. That's because there's usually little change in the rates and, thus, little reason to visit the matter in other council sessions.

"But this year there is a large spike," City Administrator Brad Chapulis said during a council workshop Tuesday, March 5. "A little bit over 11 percent. It has to deal with minor increases in operational expenditures, the debt service for a ladder truck being purchased this year and a higher percent increase in contributions from the capital reserve fund."

That translates to a $134,000 increase across the coverage area, or about $35,995 for Baxter alone, versus the 2019 assessment, Chapulus said, to fund fire calls and other emergency response services provided by the Brainerd Fire Department. Total assessments for Baxter clock in at $316,598 in 2019 and $353,858 in 2020.

Chapulis said the city should look to accommodate natural ebbs and flows in terms of fire calls, as well as assessment fluctuations levied by the Brainerd Fire Department, by structuring the capital fund to anticipate and address future expenditures.

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As such, indicating a debt service load dip in 2023, Chapulis said it would be prudent to set aside some funds for debt payments to help pay for fire services by the Brainerd Fire Department, which is expected to require a number of new equipment purchases in coming years.

In council comments, council member Todd Holman noted the city should look into other capital expenditures-specifically, substations or other building initiatives by the Brainerd Fire Department-which could be altered by the 2020 U.S. census. The results of that could alter the demographic landscape of the area and, thus, how the department plans to position itself to deal with emergencies.

Mayor Darrel Olson was unable to attend the meeting. All other council members were present.

Lights too bright?

During the council meeting Tuesday, March 5, concerns arose about new street lights- particularly, the intersection of Paper Birch Drive and Michelle Circle-that one resident said are far too bright.

Frank Danielson, a resident of Meredith Drive, said these new lights aren't suited for the Baxter community.

"The replacement LED street lights the city has been installing are too bright and over-washes the area far beyond the intersections," Danielson told the council. "I feel these lights are ill-suited to residential neighborhoods."

Danielson said he moved to Baxter from the Twin Cities metro area about 18 years ago and, in part, the ability to see the night sky clearly has always been a highlight. He expressed concerns that installing LED lights at every street light would threaten that experience.

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"I hope the city will consider installing lights with less lumens and warmer color," said Danielson, who also wondered if revamped streets-particularly Memorywood Drive-would see the new LED lights installed en masse.

"Our city engineer is here-he's heard that, we've heard that," Holman said. "We can look into that conversation as we go."

In other business, the council:

Adopted a resolution setting a 7 p.m. May 7 public hearing for the programs associated with the proposed establishment of the White Oak Estates Housing tax-increment financing district, as well as the adoption of the tax-increment financing plan.

According to city documents, the proposed $6.8 million project entails the construction of 40 low-income housing units on the east side of Grand Oaks Drive between Firewood Drive and Clearwater Road. The project will consist of three buildings-one apartment building with 20 one-bedroom apartments and two townhome buildings, consisting of 10 apartments with two and three bedrooms. The apartments will be designated for people with a mental illness. Central Minnesota Housing Partnership is slated to contract with Nystrom and Associates LLC in Baxter to provide on-site support services.

Accepted a $2,873 donation from Tracy and Dave Petry to purchase a K-9 vest for the Baxter Police Department.

Convened in a closed session to discuss the purchase of 18 properties along Highland Scenic Road and at the junction of Highland Scenic Road and Knollwood Drive.

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