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Fight over fire fees rages on

2008 fire contract fees

City Amt. paid percent increase over 2007

Stewartville $95,191 14.65%

Pleasant Grove $17,845 13.19%

Racine: $11,155 30.38%

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High Forest: $39,103 20.68%

Rock Dell $11,863 12.58%

Sumner: $4,945 5.8%

City of Racine: $4,349 9.8%

By Heather J. Carlson

hcarlson@postbulletin.com

STEWARTVILLE — A standoff between the city and officials from six neighboring townships over fire protection costs has some townships faced with an ultimatum: Sign the contract or lose fire coverage.

Townships have until Dec. 28 to sign the 2008 fire protection contract with the city. Those that do not will be without fire and emergency service coverage starting on Jan 1. Pleasant Grove Township Supervisor Paul Gerber said city officials have refused to meet with township officials to discuss the fire costs.

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"(City officials) are willing to cut those services off rather than talk to people and that really bothers me," he said.

But City Administrator Bill Schimmel, Jr. said officials have met with townships in the past to discuss the fire contracts. He said the proposals made by the township would have placed too large of a burden on city taxpayers.

"We’re responsible to our residents and if (the townships) elect not to take our services, all I can say is the council respects that," Schimmel said.

Township officials on Monday agreed to send a written request to the city to be put on the Dec. 18 Stewartville City Council agenda to discuss their concerns.

Stewartville currently provides emergency service for the city of Racine and Pleasant Grove, Racine, High Forest, Rock Dell and Sumner townships. The dispute centers on how the city bills townships for fire service. The city divvies out the fire costs using a formula that looks at a city or township’s fire department usage over 5 years and its net tax capacity.

But some townships say the formula is unfair. High Forest Township Clerk Willie Dux said residents in his township pay twice as much per capita for fire service than residents who live in Stewartville. The township is now facing a proposed 21 percent increase in its fire costs for 2008. One issue is motor vehicle accidents, which count towards a township’s fire department usage. In 2006, High Forest Township was billed for 454 hours of firefighting usage with 247 of those hours for motor vehicle accidents, Dux said. The townships have proposed basing the formula on population or on building value.

There is no set rule when it comes to these formulas. The city of Rochester uses building value to charge townships and caps annual increases at 4 percent. Meanwhile, Kasson charges townships a per-parcel rate and Chatfield bases its rate on population.

Adding to the township’s frustration are the rising fire costs. The proposed 2008 fire budget calls for a $65,200 increase. The biggest spending increases include $10,000 toward firefighter salaries to try and recruit new members, $15,000 for the firefighters’ pension and $11,000 for insurance.

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Schimmel said Stewartville’s formula is one used by other cities. It is also similar to one recommended by the Minnesota Fire/EMS/Safety Center — although that formula takes into account population. He noted that the city still covers the bulk of fire costs and covers all maintenance for the fire hall building — including a recent $50,000 roof repair.

Pleasant Grove’s Town Board has already voted to sign the contract for fear of losing service, Gerber said.

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