For the first time in two years, the Brainerd Fire Advisory Board met Thursday to discuss increases in the 2005 fire contract.
Dan Vogt, Brainerd city administrator, opened the meeting by apologizing to board members from the three cities and eight townships served by the Brainerd Fire Department. He said the board should meet annually, according to the contract.
Then Vogt went into the numbers. He noted the proposed total fire contract for 2005 would increase by $178,122 over the 2004 contract. Major differences in the contracts include a $35,000 increase in the department's overall budget, an addition of $50,000 into a capital equipment fund, $149,441 to pay equipment certificates and a reduction of about $70,000 in depreciation.
"We know there are questions out there, we know there were concerns when we sent out the fire contracts," Vogt said. "When we were going through this, we knew it'd be a big bite. We didn't say, 'How can we put the screws to the agencies we serve?' We looked at how we could lower the burden."
Changes in the Brainerd Fire Department service fees paid between 2004-2005.
-- Brainerd -- $533,125 in 2004, $632,932 in 2005.
-- Baxter -- $167,787 in 2004, $200,162 in 2005.
-- Center Township -- $3,183 in 2004 to $4,153 in 2005.
-- Crow Wing Township -- $24,797 in 2004, $30,340 in 2005.
-- Daggett Brook Township -- $3,662 in 2004, $4,671 in 2005.
-- East Gull Lake -- $39,230 in 2004, $46,695 in 2005.
-- Fort Ripley Township -- $14,473 in 2004, $16,965 in 2005.
-- Long Lake Township -- $20,609 in 2004, $24,770 in 2005.
-- Maple Grove Township -- $13,280 in 2004, $15,392 in 2005.
-- Nokay lake Township -- $12,948 in 2004, $14,417 in 2005.
-- Oak Lawn Township -- $39,873 in 2004, $45,764 in 2005.
-- St. Mathias Township -- $8,424 in 2004, $9,645 in 2005.
-- Unorganized Territory -- $91,603 in 2004, $105,242 in 2005.
The increases come from recent equipment and facilities improvements. It cost $1.25 million for the current fire hall addition and the construction of the northeast substation, $175,000 for a tanker truck, $175,000 for miscellaneous equipment and an estimated $75,000 to refurbish two fire engines and a ladder truck. Fred Underhill, acting fire chief, noted the number of runs has increased, causing a payroll increase, which are two things that are impossible to predict.
"It takes a lot of money to run a fire department," Vogt said. He said he anticipates contract costs leveling off after 2005.
While none of the other board members were concerned about fire department performance, several were concerned about the lack of board meetings the past two years. Jim Erickson, East Gull Lake City Council member, said he was upset that information on the contract changes wasn't made available before the meeting.
"It smacks of taxation without representation," said Erickson.
Darrel Olson, Baxter City Council member, said in his four years on the council he'd never seen a contract with the city of Brainerd. He said he knew about it first after it had been in the Dispatch.
"To me, there's the perception that it almost seems like a railroad job," said Olson.
Vogt said board members could sit in on Brainerd's budget meetings to offer input, and he suggested the advisory board meet again in a month. The board set no date for that meeting Thursday.
Like Vogt, Underhill apologized to the board members and said he will make sure the meetings are held in the future, whether he is acting chief or not.
"We are going to make sure this gets carried through," Underhill said.
Underhill also said the fire department has had to take on extra duties since Sept. 11, such as a federally funded hazardous materials response vehicle. The training and costs to operate the vehicle have, so far, come out of the fire department budget, Underhill said.
"A lot of people don't see it as an issue, but we have to deal with it," he said.
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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