CITY HALL UPDATE // City Council saves four firefighter jobs

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September 12, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
Minneapolis city officials found a way to save the jobs of four firefighters by making cuts to other departments, but the city is still scheduled to lay off six firefighters Sept. 14.

Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward), who chairs the city’s budget committee, proposed eliminating 11 vacant city positions — a measure that will save the city enough money to keep four firefighters on duty at least through 2012. The council passed her proposal unanimously.

Job eliminations to save the firefighters include a deputy police chief, a police captain, a public works engineer, a database engineer, and two city planners, among others.

“Today we reached a common-sense compromise that saves even more firefighter jobs simply by making permanent cuts now that I will propose for 2012,” Mayor R.T. Rybak said in a statement after the council decision.

The cuts did not include a new bicycle and pedestrian coordinator position that had become a point of contention among city critics. At the same time the city was advertising for the newly created position, 10 firefighters were on layoff notice.

Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition President Ethan Fawley said the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator position would be important because it would provide a point-person for bicycle and pedestrian issues. The employee would help ensure that road and path planning was done safely and improve education for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.

 “Quite frankly, I am disappointed its firefighters versus the bike and pedestrian coordinator, because I don’t understand why that has to be intricately linked,” Fawley said.

From 1993 to 2009, bicyclists have been involved in 5,010 Minneapolis traffic accidents, resulting in 16 deaths. Also during that time, 77 pedestrians have been killed in traffic accidents. Bicyclists and pedestrians make up 40 percent of all traffic-related deaths in Minneapolis since 1993.

City Council President Barb Johnson proposed eliminating that position in order to save even more money for the Fire Department. Johnson’s motion failed 11-2, with only Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) voting with her.

Craft brewers get boost with pint ordinance

Mayor R.T. Rybak on Aug. 24 signed the municipal ordinance equivalent of what is known as the Surly Bill, a law that will allow Minneapolis craft breweries to sell pints of beer on-site.

The State Legislature passed the Surly Bill earlier in the year; Minneapolis has followed suit in order to help the burgeoning microbrewery community in the city.

Breweries producing less than 250,000 barrels of beer annually will be allowed to obtain a liquor license and sell pints. Previously, their beer could only be sold on-site in 64-ounce growlers.

Crown Hydro, facing license termination, says project is still possible

Crown Hydro, LLC, the company that wants to build a hydroelectric facility above St. Anthony Falls, sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Aug. 25, saying it believes that Gov. Mark Dayton will call another special session this fall and that GOP leadership has committed to passing a bill to allow for the project.

Though it was granted a 50-year license in 1999, Crown Hydro received a letter from FERC in May saying that the commission needed proof that the Crown Hydro was still making progress or else FERC would terminate the company’s hydroelectric license.

The letter came after weeks of negotiations between Crown Hydro and the Park Board over a lease agreement that ultimately went nowhere.

Crown Hydro, in the Aug. 25 letter, said it was “exploring the development of the facility within the licensed area that would allow the development of the facility without the requirement of (Park Board) consents and entitlements.”

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.