City council actions

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March 14, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
Fire chief says department can’t maintain standards under current budget

Minneapolis Fire Chief Alex Jackson told a city panel Feb. 22 if the Fire Department does not get more funding, he doubts he will be able to staff enough firefighters to meet city standards.

The Fire Department is in the process of eliminating 32 firefighter positions through attrition in 2011. That plan was approved in the 2011 city budget. Jackson said that by the end of the year he wouldn’t be able to maintain the city’s “standard of service,” which calls for a minimum staffing of 96 firefighters per day.

That standard of service was approved by the City Council in 2005.

Jackson, speaking at a joint meeting of the city’s Ways and Means and Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health committees, did not say how much funding was needed for minimum staffing levels. He outlined declining revenue to the department over the past several years due to cuts in state aid.

Council Member Betsy Hodges (Ward 13), the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, asked Jackson to come back with a dollar amount for how much it would cost to keep staffing levels at 96. The city may have to make additional budget cuts this year depending on how much the Minnesota Legislature cuts state aid.

Jackson said after the meeting that without more money, he would have to either reduce staffing on each rig or else he would have to do a “brown out,” which means taking rigs out of service for one day on a rotating basis.

He said most city fire engines are staffed with three firefighters. A study released last year by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology showed that four-person crews are able to complete essential firefighting tasks on structure fires 25 percent faster than with three-person crews.

Several concerned Minneapolis firefighters attended the meeting.

“We understand times are tough,” said Mark Lakosky, president of the Fire Fighters Association of Minneapolis Local 82. “But they’re (going to be) making decisions that will affect the safety of citizens.”

Laksosky said that when rigs are shut down, firefighters must come from longer distances to respond.

Lakosky pointed to a “Results Minneapolis” document that shows the Fire Department hasn’t reached the city goal of responding to 90 percent of emergencies within five minutes over the past seven years. It has averaged 86 percent.

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City agrees to sell Hennepin Stages for $725,000

The City Council voted to authorize the sale of the former Hennepin Stages theater at 824 Hennepin Ave. S. to the Brave New Workshop for $725,000.

The city will finance the deal, giving Brave New Workshop a 15-year, $640,000 loan.

According to a Community Planning and Economic Development report, the city has been spending $100,000 a year on upkeep at the theater since Stagetime Productions/Hey City Stages left in 2004.

The city bought the building in 1995 for $500,000 and then spent $890,000 on renovations and improvements. The city finished paying off the debt for the purchase in February 2010.

The property was appraised recently at $600,000 to $700,000 and in need of a $200,000 replacement heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

Brave New Workshop will get a $50,000 escrow account from the city for deferred maintenance.

The city received two other proposals for the property, one from the Hennepin Theater Trust for $250,000 and another from a man who wanted the city to donate the building for educational purposes.

The city estimates the theater will pay $25,000 a year in property taxes. The theater has not generated property taxes since 2004.

Brave New Workshop plans to hold 220 performances in the theater each year.