Council rejects proposal for backup generator at City Hall in case of power outage
The Brainerd City Council voted 4-3 against a motion to purchase a back up generator to continue running the phones and transit system in case of a power outage.
BRAINERD — When power goes down at Brainerd City Hall, there is no backup generator to run phones or the city’s transit system, which relies on dispatch calls via landline phones.
The absence of a generator will not change any time soon, as council members rejected a proposal to purchase one.
A vote to spend $79,865 on a generator for city hall failed 3-4 Monday, April 17.
“It’s just a waste of money. ... I just don’t think taxpayers will ever reap $80,000 in benefits out of this generator,” said council member Gabe Johnson, who chairs the council’s Personnel and Finance Committee.
The generator is one item in the city’s capital equipment budget for 2023. And though bids came in under the $100,000 estimate, Johnson said he still sees it as a waste of money.
When asked about the necessity of the generator, IT GIS Director Shawn Strong said there have been a few power outages in recent years that have lasted hours at City Hall. The biggest problem, he said, is the transit department, which cannot take calls for pickups when the phones are down.
“That’s probably the biggest inconvenience, but also staff leaving in the middle of the day because they don’t know when the power’s going to come back on,” Strong said. “It’s happened a handful of times in the last few years.”
Council member Jeff Czeczok asked if there was a cheaper alternative that could be purchased to just run the transit department or other critical needs as opposed to the entirety of City Hall. Strong said that was possible, but it would likely require tens of thousands of dollars to re-do the building’s wiring, as everything is on a single panel right now. If that were to be done, Strong said, a smaller generator could be purchased to only run the phones during a power outage, but that would mean there wouldn’t be any heating, cooling or light.
When asked for his opinion, Todd Wicklund, secretary/finance director for Brainerd Public Utilities, said $80,000 might seem like a lot for a generator, but in reality there are some that cost upwards of $300,000.
“I think the biggest aim is the reliability of our system. It has to do with if we do have a tornado, if we have something come through and take all of our power in Brainerd,” Wicklund said. “BPU and city work with, where would our command center be? Where would we be able to set up where we could do different things? … Some of the records and some of the things we need to do are here at City Hall. I think that’s the primary reason, is just to have this available when we may have an outage.”
Council member Tiffany Stenglein said she was shocked to find out City Hall didn’t have a backup generator after taking phone calls during a power outage because residents couldn’t get through to City Hall.
“This is where people are going to call when they’ve got a non-emergency question or like, ‘What happened?’” Stenglein said. “We really need to be able to respond to people in the event of a crisis of some sort.”
Mayor Dave Badeaux — who does vote in council matters except in the case of a tie — said if the only purpose for the generator is to run phones for the transit department, then he thinks the city needs to get a different system that is more cost-effective than purchasing a generator.
Council member Kara Terry countered that it wouldn’t be just for transit but for staff members to be able to do their jobs via phones and computers.
“I think it would be better to have the power for the staff to be able to work rather than not work and sit here waiting for the power to come back on,” Terry said. “So I would see some savings that way.”
Council President Kelly Bevans said he wouldn’t argue about the need for a generator but could only support it if it was the only thing the city had to spend that $80,000 on, which he said is not the case. As a matter of prioritization, Bevans said he would trust Johnson’s opinion as the personnel and finance chair that this is an expense that can wait for the time being.
Bevans, Czeczok and Mike O’Day joined Johnson in their opposition to the generator, outvoting Terry, Stenglein and Kevin Stunek 4-3.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .