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March 23, 2018

2/16/2018 1:05:00 PM
New fire chief to lead department, council moving toward financing options on fire hall

The Center City Council met shorthanded last week, with Mayor Houger and Council member Vetter excused.  The council did not shy away from acting on pending important issues, however.

Council appointed a new Chief for the Fire Department, Travis Greene.  

Council had named a subcommittee a couple meetings back-- to do interviews and make a recommendation for a successor to retiring Chief Bob Bray and Greene was presented as the finalist.

The council chambers was occupied by a number of firefighters also in attendance to observe as  council authorized staff actions meant to finalize financing options for borrowing  $550,000, for fire hall improvements and addition.  Council wants to see interest rates, length of term for the project debt and any payment options based on this estimated need.

Center City offices used to co-exist at the fire hall, but offices and public works moved to the former county transit garage, next to Bayview Apartments.  The county’s Heartland Express program, co-provided with Isanti County-- had vacated the building and relocated to a more central site.  Center City is making payments for 10 years to the county for acquiring the ‘new’ city hall.

Council member Mark Wolcott, acting as mayor last week, said he could support this fire hall expense,  relying on the plan for charitable gambling receipts being a substantial part of the pay-off. Adding he is “...hoping this new fire hall project will last 40 years like the last one did,” he said.

Council member Donna Higgins made the motion to go after financing options but also said she hasn’t gotten over her “sticker shock” on the price of this project, acknowledging there isn’t what most would consider a large fire service district to spread this cost over.  

The fire hall addition and improvements were estimated at $550,000 based on preliminary quotes for pieces of the project developed from contacts made by city staff and firefighters (minus sheetrock quote).  The addition-remodel and improvements project also called for new overhead doors;  which already moved forward as they were in bad shape.  The firefighters assured council last week that the department will seek outside grant funding for a workout room in the project.  Council voted to develop an official policy on fitness equipment generally,  and guidelines for restricted access to the room for insurance purposes.  The policy will be done in time to be adopted at the March city council meeting.

In a related matter-- Center City firefighters have 17 mobile and personal communications radios that were part of an enhanced emergency communications network set-up several years ago with Chisago County and statewide.
These radios are being replaced and new County Board-adopted fees and surcharges were voted on by the county commissioners Jan. 17. (Story in Press Jan 25.)

Sheriff Rick Duncan took questions about this issue when the sheriff’s annual 2017 crime activity report concluded.

According to Sheriff Duncan the votes by the County Board January 17 setting the fees and subscriber costs were not final.
Duncan said he has met with chiefs of many involved fire and police departments and the motions the County Board enacted are now being looked at by a committee of organization representatives.  Sheriff Duncan said he “doubts” that what the County Board did will ever be actually enacted.  He commiserated with city council expressing worries about the city’s cost related to the fees, saying it  means a “$200,000 hit” to his department as well.

Council was told by one firefighter in the audience there’s talk now that the county will cover costs for an equal base number of radios for every public safety organization, with any additional devices then becoming individual department responsibility.  
Sheriff Duncan also advised council members that incoming replacement radios conform with the 2021 deadline statewide communications enhancements in the works.

In other matters: council allowed the building permit for the first new home at Annabelle Island to be issued.  There was a special process requested for this homesite due to incomplete infrastructure in the new plat, agreements with utility providers being incomplete, etc.   The new homeowners personally asked council to be allowed to start construction now so by summer they could move in-- with the agreement that sewer, water and streets will be done by the time a certificate of occupancy would be issued.  The development is on the east side of town, abutting South Center Lake, south of Hwy 8 at the former Fruendschuh farm parcel.

~ A request made by staff to get a $1 per hour wage hike, retroactive to January 1, was approved 3-0.

~ Ryan Pease was appointed to a city planning commission vacancy-- there’s one seat still vacant.

~ The rink at I.G. Long Park, north of the Government Center,  will close at 10 p.m.  Apparently city park rules called for closing “at dusk” which doesn’t allow much time for skating. Rink lights will go off at 10 p.m.

~ An ordinance allowing for property owners “temporary storage containers” use was approved.

~ A “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon” program recruitment effort is taking shape in the Chisago Lakes region, and council was given a program summary by Corey Boogaard, area  organizer.  

Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is a consolidated conglomeration of existing and future events, fundraisers, outreach programs, and general military veteran-related support through the local community.  

There are steps in the process to qualify as part of the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon campaign, which will be explained at a public meeting at the Chisago Lakes Area Library Feb 21, 6:30 p.m.  Center City did not appoint a specific representative but council was interested in learning more.  Lindstrom City Council is represented by Kevin Stenson and AnnMarie Brink who volunteered after Boogaard’s presentation at their January city council session.  Mike Buchite and John Tangen will be the Taylors Falls liaisons. 

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