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Maple Grove Township withdraws from fire district

Since 2014, three municipalities have left the Brainerd Fire Department's service district and it looks like one more municipality will be added to the list. In a letter dated Dec. 3, Maple Grove Township informed the city of Brainerd it would be...

Since 2014, three municipalities have left the Brainerd Fire Department's service district and it looks like one more municipality will be added to the list. In a letter dated Dec. 3, Maple Grove Township informed the city of Brainerd it would be leaving the fire service district, effective Dec. 31, 2016. In 2014, the city of East Gull Lake and Fort Ripley Township both terminated their service agreements with the department. In June, Crow Wing Township informed the department the township would be contracting with Little Falls Fire Department for fire protection services starting in 2017. Bill Kronstedt, supervisor and chair of the Maple Grove Township board said the township would be contracting with Garrison Fire Department for fire services, which will save the township about $9,500-$10,000 per year. The township, with a population of 774 according to the 2010 census, lies between Garrison and Brainerd. The board's three supervisors unanimously approved the withdrawal at its Dec. 1 meeting, Kronstedt said. They acted on the issue after going out and talking to township residents about the issue and soliciting the opinions of the people they serve, he said. "Rather than just trying to make a decision on our own," Kronstedt said. "We wanted to get the opinions of people who are being affected as well." There's a number of factors driving the township's decision to leave the service district, Kronstedt said. But one key one is the lack of saving for capital items, which started about 20 years ago, he said. "Now the city's behind the eight-ball because the equipment needs to be replaced, and it's not just one or two pieces," Kronstedt said. "It's quite a few pieces." Kronstedt mentioned the state of the economy in general was another reason to go with a less expensive fire service option. There's also the issue of the relationship between the Brainerd City Council and the Fire Advisory Board, he said. At a Sept. 16 Fire Advisory Board meeting, the board took no action on the proposed restructuring of the department to a fully paid on-call department. Township supervisors who sit on the board said they would take the information on restructuring the department back to their respective boards at their next meetings in order to get input on the issue. Then, at a Sept. 21 Brainerd City Council meeting, the council unanimously approved the restructuring. Kronstedt said the timing of the city council's decision blindsided the townships. "We needed the time to react to it because of the great amount of differences in the actual contract costs," Kronstedt said. It was a no-brainer to go to the paid on-call department because of the cost savings, Kronstedt said, but the timing of the decision is at issue. "The fire council was formed to gain opinions and actually put some weights on the opinions of the people that they contract with," Kronstedt said. "And we believe the (city) council just kind of decided against going and listening to anybody and just doing what they had to do." The capital improvement plan presented at November's Fire Advisory Board meeting was the logical way to go, Kronstedt said. It was really the only available option, he said. "They more or less said, 'Your opinions don't matter,'" Kronstedt said. "And there was offense taken to that." Brainerd Fire Chief Tim Holmes said Tuesday he wasn't surprised to see the notice of withdrawal. Kronstedt had informed him a few weeks prior to the decision the township would start shopping around and comparing fire service prices. It was that notice that surprised Holmes, he said. "We ended up doing what the (Fire Advisory Board) had asked about, about trying to reduce our costs," Holmes said. "It was our hope with the restructuring our prices would be more competitive with the surrounding areas." Holmes said he can't change what happened in the past, with the lack of saving for capital equipment purchases. But he did say he's working hard to stabilize the fire service contracts for the future. "Starting to plan for capital and looking forward 5-10 years is my goal and what I've been focusing on," Holmes said. "And that's kind of something the advisory board asked for." Holmes said it's still early, but he'd like to sit down with the township and talk about the decision. He'd like to see the breakdown of the cost savings and make sure the township is comparing apples to apples. "I certainly don't want to just let it go without at least making an attempt to regain it," Holmes said. "It's not great but it is what it is and we'll have to make it work." The remaining members of the fire service district are: โ€ข Brainerd โ€ข Baxter โ€ข Long Lake Township โ€ข Nokay Lake Township โ€ข Oak Lawn Township โ€ข St. Mathias Township โ€ข Crow Wing Township โ€ข Unorganized Territory

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This story has been updated to add Unorganized Territory to the list of members of the fire service district. The Dispatch regrets the error. 

SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or spenser.bickett@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/spenserbickett .

 

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