City mulls options for A.L. Fire Dept.

Published 9:12 am Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Column: Chad Adams, City View

The Analysis of Fire Delivery Services prepared by Almont Associates was recently presented to the public and City Council in early June. Since the report was distributed to the public, city officials have been receiving a fair amount of feedback and advice on the future direction of the department.

Chad Adams

I have also taken the opportunity to speak to a number of civic organizations and agencies about the report and have appreciated the comments from those groups.

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The report outlined 87 recommendations for implementation, along with some options for leadership and structure of the department. Staff is presently working through the recommendation list to implement or adjust some of the recommendations.

For example, we are currently receiving quotes to acquire a 100 percent capture vehicle exhaust system for the existing fire station. Our intent is to purchase a system that may be used in a new facility in the future.

The options for leadership of the department as identified in the report included a full-time fire chief, public safety director model or a part-time chief. The three staff options outlined in the report include: reinstating the full-time staffing from the past few years (the city has not refilled the fire chief vacancy and has filled two full-time vacancies with temporary positions); reducing the full-time model by three full-time firefighter positions; or reducing the model by one captain and six full-time firefighters. The option of restructuring to a complete volunteer fire department is not being considered at this time.

While the report recommended that decisions on the leadership and structure of the department be made in six months, our intent is to make a decision on the leadership soon, followed by a decision on the structure of the department in the next month or so as we complete the preliminary budget for 2013.

The city is presently reviewing alternatives to fund the options. For example, if the city chose to preserve the option of reinstating the full-time staffing model from the past few years including training and other needs, it could result in a 6 percent to 8 percent increase in property taxes, if only property taxes were relied upon.

We are working to find creative and sustainable ways to reduce that potential tax burden to a more manageable figure with this option and the other options. It must also be noted that these costs do not include the need for a new facility in the future.

There are a few questions that we will need more public input on in the next few months. One question is simply whether the public would be willing to support a more manageable 2 percent to 4 percent increase in property taxes to reinstate the full-time staffing model if other alternatives can be found beyond solely property taxes to fund this option?

Also, is the public willing to support a user fee concept to help fund some of the fire operations? An example of this would include charging property owners for a structure fire or charging for vehicle extrication or training services?

While these sources of revenue will not provide sufficient funding to cover the costs noted above, they will be helpful in sustaining the chosen department structure in the long-term.

We will also continue to work with area fire and emergency service organizations to strengthen our relationships. The city will need a new fire facility in coming years and there may be opportunities to build a new facility that serves all or most of the other jurisdictions’ present needs.

There may also be opportunities to strengthen our training programs and other service needs to benefit all jurisdictions and to reduce costs or eliminate duplication of costs.

Over the next several weeks, I encourage the public to talk to your council member, the mayor or myself before our final deliberations on the department’s long-term services and structure.


Chad Adams is the city manager of Albert Lea.