Can’t We All Just Get Along?; Crystal Wants out of West Metro Fire

November 26, 2011 at 3:13 pm Leave a comment

From the Sun Post;

A budget battle over ongoing differences with the West Metro Fire-Rescue District came to a head on Nov. 15 when the Crystal City Council voted 5-2 to dissolve its participation in the fire department. In 1997, Crystal and New Hope entered into an agreement to combine their volunteer fire departments into the West Metro Fire Rescue-District as a way to further financial, administrative and public safety interests of the two cities. The Crystal City Council has until January 2013 to decide whether it will go ahead with the splitting of the departments, a decision that came after headaches caused by the 2012 fire budget negotiations.

“We have worked in many ways to get through the issues philosophically with both councils and I just don’t see any more work trying to change the philosophy of one city over the other is really going to happen,” Mayor ReNae Bowman said. “I think what we’re really left with is we have to dissolve the agreement between the West Metro joint power agreement because it’s my belief and the belief of other council members that we have had budgets in that area that aren’t sustainable over time.”

Bowman said that the goal on Crystal’s end is to be able to control spending and provide services without double-digit budget increases. “The budget is spending money,” she said. “What we know is that it’s one-time money. It’s not sustainable across the board.” The council provided the West Metro Board and New Hope City Council notice of the intent to bow out Nov. 15, but even though the letter has been sent, Bowman said “it doesn’t mean we slammed the door shut.”

“It puts into perspective the level of frustrations and some of our deep concerns about the budget questions that haven’t been answered,” she said. “We should not have to work as hard as we have worked to chase down financial information in a world where we demand transparency from government and from businesses. That’s been really disappointing to me and it’s just time to move on.”

Transparency?  Anyone ever tried to read Crystal’s budget or comprehensive annual financial report?

Not everyone on the Crystal council agreed with the move. Councilmember Julie Deshler said she has personally been struggling with the budget topics that she hasn’t felt at liberty to discuss among the people she represents in Ward 4.
“In a way, I feel like I’m being asked to vote on something I don’t feel I have all the facts,” she expressed to the council. “It’s similar to a marriage or any type of relationship. There are good times and a little bumpy time. Clearly there are some areas that need to be cleaned up in that department like expenditures, but I don’t feel yet that we’ve tried everything. I’m so scared that we’re making a decision without being armed with the facts. I think it’s premature.”

Councilmember David Anderson was a member of the West Metro board of directors for six years and said he would prefer to sit down with the New Hope City Council first to talk about the differences. “We had a joint meeting in the past, and I think it’s time for another one without the threat of what we’re doing tonight,” he said. “I agree with Dave Anderson,” added Deshler. “I think that I would like to see us sit down at a table and hammer it out and see us come to an agreement before we pull the trigger on something so serious.”

For Deshler, opting to dissolve a partnership with New Hope would cause bitterness and distress, something that Bowman believes is already present. “Those feelings are already there. That attitude is already there,” she said. “It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.” “It’s not going to get better now, I don’t think,” Deshler interjected.

“Well, we don’t know that,” Bowman responded. “This might actually open up some wells of communication. I believe this council is fully open-minded to really looking at this stuff through the next year. I don’t view this as walking away. I view this as we can’t support this as the way the budget is going.”

Supporting the council’s decision to send a notice to West Metro and New Hope was Councilmember Mark Hoffmann, who for the last year served on the West Metro Board. “I really support this,” he said. “I’ve only been on the board for a year, and it’s been a frustrating year, quite honestly.” Hoffmann later made the decision to resign from the fire board and Councilmember Joe Selton was unofficially elected as his replacement, Bowman said. “He is great dealing with negotiations,” Bowman said. “He has a lot of experience.”

In the letter sent to both West Metro and the New Hope City Council, Bowman said that the Crystal council’s goal is to “spend the next four years decreasing our reliance on the remaining $1.5 million LGA (local government aid). Because of this, Crystal has very limited ability to significantly increase the amount of funds for any city function, including fire services.” “The total budget was about $1 million for each city,” Bowman said. “We offered $85,000 in cuts, and they came back with $35,000 in cuts.”

If the council is serious about removing LGA from their budget how does opting out of a shared service and having their own fire department, with their own equipment, their own fire trucks, their own fire chief, and of course we will need a deputy get Crystal anywhere closer to financial independence?

However, Bowman said that if it comes to it, the dissolving of the fire departments isn’t about saving big money. “It’s making sure three or four years down the road we can afford the fire department without bankrupting citizens,” she said.
Right now, the city of Crystal already has the equipment to outfit two firehouses. Under the cooperative agreement, Crystal saved money because it did not need to hire a fire chief, Bowman said.

Like we said, does that make any sense? Crystal is trying to get off LGA yet this isn’t about saving money!

As far as the council is concerned, dissolving the fire department isn’t a done deal. But Bowman said they will need to see good faith from the city of New Hope. “We need to see a willingness for them to understand that we need to keep that budget,” she said. “We need to justify every nickel and dime spent.”

Not a done deal? So then this is either a power play or a pissing contest.  Justify every nickel and dime? This coming from a city that pays their top three employees $335,000! How about justifying that??


Entry filed under: Crystal, New Hope, Taxation.

Is it for the Adults or the Students? New Hope Reacts to Crystal’s Decision

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