New Hope Reacts to Crystal’s Decision

November 26, 2011 at 3:30 pm 5 comments


Again, from the Sun Post;

Last week’s announcement that Crystal intends to withdraw from the West Metro Fire-Rescue District by Dec. 31, 2012, caught New Hope officials by surprise. “I’m a little disappointed that we weren’t given a heads up,” New Hope Mayor Kathi Hemken said. West Metro Fire Chief Scott Crandall said he had no prior knowledge of Crystal’s intent either until he received a telephone call the evening of Nov. 15, after the Crystal City Council voted 5-2 to withdraw from the contract.
The West Metro Fire-Rescue District, created through a merger of the New Hope and Crystal fire departments in 1998, serves the cities of Crystal and New Hope. The district has three stations: 4251 Xylon Ave. N., New Hope, and 4101 Douglas Drive and 5354 Douglas Drive in Crystal. The district employs a total of 58 paid on-call firefighters and has a six-member office staff based at the fire station in New Hope.
No matter what transpires in the coming months as a result of Crystal’s request Crandall, a 34-year firefighter who began his career in Crystal prior to the merger, wants the residents in Crystal and New Hope to rest assured “We have great people who are well-trained and highly committed. We will be there to provide service when we are called. The residents are safe and protected.”

Crandall said his role is to support the direction of the board of directors. Hemken acknowledges that there have been differences of opinion at board meetings about what the West Metro Fire-Rescue District should be. “I think it needs to be fire and rescue,” Hemken said. “And I think the fire department needs to reserve funds for emergencies. But it’s been hard for Crystal to take money from its reserves to give to the fire department.”

The current cost-sharing formula, based on each municipality’s average calls over five years, its population and taxable market value, stipulates that Crystal supplies 50.3279 percent of the total budget ($82,310 monthly), and New Hope pays 49.6721 percent ($81,238 monthly).

“This is a service that we think is extremely important,” Hemken said. “We’re willing to pay for it.” Hemken said New Hope’s council “has always been available to talk.” But, she added, “I do not and will not micro-manage the fire department. That job belongs to the board of directors.”

A seven-member board of directors oversees the district’s operation and meets quarterly. The board is comprised of the city manager and one council member from each city, plus a citizen representative from each city and one at-large non-resident member.

Hemken said she attends the quarterly fire board meetings “to see what’s going on.” “All the information goes back to the cities,” Hemken said. “We in New Hope go over that budget line by line.” Hemken said she believes that things New Hope deems important “are not important to the Crystal Council.” “Therein lies a very big difference in philosophy,” she said.

But Hemken said she is concerned that if a split does occur, it would be a very expensive proposition. “It’s really like a divorce,” Hemken said. “Property, equipment and personnel have to be divided. It’s very, very expensive.”

According to Crandall, the two cities spent $150,000 to merge the departments in 1998. “It will certainly cost much more than that to separate them,” he said. Although the bylaws stipulate that if one city wishes to withdraw from the joint power agreement, it must give the other council a 13-month warning, Hemken said, “You can’t dissolve an organization with a letter without a serious talk about how or why you’re doing this.” This isn’t a time for name-calling and anger, either, Hemken said.

“It’s really a time to take a deep breath and talk about what’s best for West Metro and for both cities,” she said. “I’m hopeful we can work it out.” New Hope City Manager Kirk McDonald is hopeful, too, that the situation can be resolved.
The two councils had previously scheduled a joint meeting 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30 at the West Metro fire station in New Hope, and that meeting still will take place.

“Our game plan should be to meet on the 30th and see if we can work through this,” McDonald said. “I hope we don’t have to go down that road [dissolution]. Shared services is a great concept, and I don’t think we should give up on it.” The West Metro Board also previously had scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7, to discuss a proposal for employee wage increases.

It will be the last meeting for West Metro Board President Brian Hubbard of New Hope, a citizen representative who has not sought reappointment to his term on the fire board. Hubbard’s term expires Dec. 31, 2011. Hubbard has served two, two-year terms on the board, and has been president of the board for three years.

“The New Hope Council has been pretty adamant that they feel they need citizen representation on the fire board,” Hubbard said. “They have been nothing but supportive and encouraging.” However, since Crystal has two council representatives on the fire board, Hubbard believes New Hope should have two as well, so there is “a level playing field.” Crystal Mayor ReNae Bowman has chosen to be Crystal’s citizen representative on the fire board.

“I’m not an elected official and I don’t control these [city] budgets,” Hubbard said. “At this juncture, I don’t know that a citizen representative is able to impart a lot of influence on this process. The councils need to interact with each other.” He said he believes the two city councils have to come together and determine a shared philosophy about what they’re looking for and what they’re willing to pay.

“The [merger] has worked well for 11 years, with some road bumps along the way,” Hubbard said. He acknowledges that Crystal is “frustrated with a whole number of things.” “We’ve tried to address most of those things, and folks have tried to come to consensus,” Hubbard said. “The board and the organization have tried to be responsive to their concerns, but it is obviously not to their liking.”

He points to the 2012 budget as an example. Crystal wanted cuts in the budget, New Hope approved the budget as recommended, and the councils had to negotiate a compromise. According to Hubbard, that’s the way the joint powers agreement between the two cities was designed to work.

Hubbard is a lifelong resident of the Crystal-New Hope area who graduated from Cooper High School and had a 17-year career with the YMCA before becoming a police officer in Edina five years ago. He concedes that his service on the West Metro Fire Board has taken “way more time than I imagined it would,” but he says he’s glad he had the opportunity to do it.

“I believe in the firm, the board and citizen representation, and I feel like we made really good progress,” Hubbard said. “I’m hopeful the councils can come together to air their differences. “This is an unfortunate turn of events, but I’m still going to remain hopeful that they can come to some agreement.”

We will report back with developments after the November 30th meeting which will be at 6:30 P.M.  in the Game Room at the Crystal Community Center located at 4800 Douglas Drive N in Crystal, MN.

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Entry filed under: Crystal, New Hope, Taxation.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?; Crystal Wants out of West Metro Fire RAS 11-14-2011 Working Session – STEAM Magnet School Discussion

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bill C  |  November 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Mayor Bowman is a citizen representative on the fire board? No conflict of interest there. How utterly unsurprising.

    Reply
  • 2. Red  |  November 29, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Let’s fill the Crystal Community Center game room with sensible people to confront the lunacy of Crystals apparatchiks!

    Reply
  • 3. stmills  |  December 1, 2011 at 2:18 am

    Mayor Bowman has been after WMFD for a number of years now. I interviewed for the Crystal position on the WMFD Board, the last time they filled it with a Citizen, and found her questions very odd and it seemed like she was only concerned about “the budget” and she had “concerns on the budget of WMFD” , now she has been on the board for 2 terms and is claiming that the WMFD which is run by the board she is on is not providing the City of crystal with enough data on the cost savings Crystal has had from the combined FD.

    Reply
  • 4. toninobologny  |  June 20, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Any updates?

    Reply
  • 5. toninobologny  |  June 20, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Reblogged this on The Original Tea Party of Minnesota and commented:
    I am totally curious where this sits today. Anyone?

    Reply

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