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Farmington fire brings requests to council members

Farmington firefighters have a long list of things they would like for the department. They believe their needs have gone under-met for a number of years.

On Monday, officers of the Farmington Fire Department met with the Farmington City Council to talk over some of their requests.

The workshop ran more than two hours long. Firefighters asked council members to consider a commitment to a long-term contribution to the Farmington Fire Relief Association's retirement fund. They asked for an increase in the clothing allowance for firefighters.

Finally, they asked council members to consider a plan to buy11 new vehicles in the more immediate future.

Pension problems

The Farmington Fire Relief Association is charged with managing investments making pension payouts when firefighters retire.

Funding for the relief association comes from a city contribution, a state funding allocation of $89,000 on the average, and a 5 percent interest payment.

The city's contribution has fluctuated over the years, but was set at $137,000 last year. On Monday, firefighters asked council members to consider a long-term contribution of $150,000 per year to build up the retirement fund.

If that fund is not built up, fire relief association treasurer Mark Arens said, both the department and the city of Farmington could take a serious financial hit in a couple of years. The fire department has several members who are retiring over the next few years. The association could pay out as much as $797,000 as early as 2015.

"It all depends on when they retire," FFRA board of directors president Jeff Allbee said.

The pension account also increases every time the fire department brings on new members. There are currently 44 members, but the full roster is 50. The department is going through a hiring process now.

The request for a $150,000 annual contribution from the city is really a request for an additional $13,000 in this year's budget, council member Doug Bonar noted. To make that increase, he said, would be a practical move "to avoid what could be a potential disaster."

Allbee agreed with Bonar's assessment.

"We looked at the numbers and we got scared and we said, we've got to figure this out," Allbee said.

Council members agreed to the fire department's request for $150,000 to be set aside in this year's and subsequent year's budgets. However, mayor Todd Larson wants to revisit the arrangement in three years or so.

Fleet issues

Back in the 1990s, the Farmington Fire Department purchased several new vehicles. Now, they say, all of those vehicles have to be replaced.

Knowing that replacing almost a whole fleet of fire vehicles doesn't come cheap, Farmington firefighters brought a proposal for a capital improvement plan to council members for consideration.

Vehicle committee member Jim Schmitz went through the department's existing fleet of 12 vehicles, and pointed out the 11 that were either in need of being replaced, or were viewed as a needed addition to the fleet. The only vehicle not in need of replacement, he said, is Engine 22, which was purchased earlier this year.

The fire department's proposal asked council members to consider a $280,000 bond for 10 years and a plan to set aside another $240,000 starting in year 11. In setting aside the funds, Schmitz said, the city would position itself to purchase multiple new vehicles in stages, and to also have funds set aside when those vehicles need to be replaced.

The proposal called for replacing seven vehicles in 2015 -- including all three brush trucks, two chief's vehicles, a tender and a rescue engine -- and another two chief's vehicles in 2016.

All of the vehicles in question have outlived the recommended number of years they should be used. Brush trucks each have a life of approximately 10 years, but Farmington's three trucks were purchased in 1991, 1992 and 1997. Tenders have a 20-year life; the one the fire department would like to replace was purchased in 1990.

"We have put a program together that we feel solves the problem long term," Schmitz said.

Council members, though, are hesitant to bond for the new trucks.

The council has already earmarked money in the 2013 budget to replace one of the four chief's vehicles. That purchase is expected to come in September. Another $45,000 is earmarked in the proposed 2014 budget for a second chief's vehicle, and $60,000 is set for a brush truck. Those funds are coming out of the city's Local Government Aid allocation from the state of Minnesota.

City administrator David McKnight will take the fire department's requests and, with the exception of the ladder truck, try to plan the purchases into the budgets of subsequent years. Funding for the ladder truck, which has been a request for more than a decade, will be discussed as a separate item, at a future workshop.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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