Albert Lea Fire Deptartment to be reviewed

Published 9:53 am Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A consulting firm from Florida will begin to review the structure of the Albert Lea Fire Department during the next two weeks and the services it provides.

The Albert Lea City Council on Monday approved an agreement for the review with Almont Associates. The firm will be paid $29,880 for the work.

The consultant will look at whether there should be changes in staffing for the department, along with what should be done with the existing fire station and who should lead the department. Presently, the police chief is the interim fire chief.

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There are variables such as what is the community’s desired response time and how insurance ratings will play into the decision. A slow response time could increase rates for Albert Lea property owners.

“We want an objective opinion about where we go in the future, and we want someone with experience to do that,” Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams said.

The selection of the firm comes as city leaders are studying the efficiency of the department while steering the city through tight budget times. A consultant is being hired to get an outside viewpoint.

Sixth Ward Councilor Minnow Brooks said though he had earlier expressed concern for using a consultant firm, he has changed his mind in this case because the firefighters are on board.

“The department itself feels this is an important issue for them,” Brooks said.

Adams said costs for the review likely will be paid with fire interest earnings. The city has earnings from a pension plan it once maintained for firefighters and police officers. The plan is now merged with a state pension plan, but those earnings produce interest that the city spends on public safety.

In other action, the City Council:

• Approved a $100,000 loan from the city’s Economic Development Revolving Fund to go toward the expansion of SAR Manufacturing Inc., a metal fabrication business.

The company, at 401 Airport Road, was recently purchased by new owners, Sue and Kurt Knudtson, of Kasson.

The $100,000 will go to support gap financing from several other entities, including $150,000 from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, $100,000 from Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services and $50,000 from Greater Jobs Inc.

The owners have received commitments for $2.7 million from a source of their own.

Dan Dorman, executive director of the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, said the company plans to create at least eight additional jobs during the next couple years.

“I see this as a very good fit for us,” Kurt Knudtson said.

The Knudtsons said they plan to move to Albert Lea in the spring.

The city loan will be paid back at 4 percent interest over the next seven years.

Other companies to receive similar loans from the city include Lou Rich, Alliance Benefit Group, Interstate Packaging and Marketing Plus, among others. The funds originate in the Minnesota Investment Fund.

• Approved a 10 percent increase in the 2012 water rates for the city’s heaviest users.

The council had tabled a vote of the rates for the top users from its last meeting to give time to garner more feedback and to seek other options.

The 10 percent increase was down from an original proposed 25 percent increase.

First Ward Councilor John Schulte V thanked city staff for their work to reduce the rate.

“I did have some concerns on the previous presentation of this resolution, and my concerns have been addressed,” Schulte said.

• Approved the labor agreements for 2012 with the Minnesota Teamsters Public & Law Enforcement Employees Union, Local 320 unit, representing the city’s dispatchers, and the International Association of Firefighters, Local 1041 unit, representing a majority of the Albert Lea firefighters.

The city has agreed to one-year contracts with both unions that include a 1 percent cost of living wage increase. Health employee contributions will remain the same for 2012, with the city picking up 100 percent of the premium increases.

• Presented lifesaving awards to officers David Miller, Jacob Stockwell and Tim Harves and merit awards to officer Tim Harves and Lt. Darren Hansen. This was the fourth lifesaving award for Harves.

• Accepted the 2012 chemical, fuel and bituminous bids.