Medina approves Hamel Fire contract

City to pay HFD $169,400 per year

HamelFireStation1After lengthy negotiations, the Medina City Council and the Hamel Volunteer Fire Department have agreed upon a two-year contract under which the HFD will receive $169,400 in 2014 in operating costs and $60,000 for the department’s capital fund.

The council looked at the contract in a study session on Tuesday, Dec. 17, asked a number of questions and got input from HFD Financial Officer Mario Fabrizio. Fire Chief Neil Wolfe sat quietly at his side. Then city councilors decided to discuss the contract further at their regular meeting, which began immediately after the study session.

The possibility of tabling the contract to a future date hovered in the air during most of the evening.

Finally, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution approving the contract as amended, contingent upon a review of the city attorney. Mayor Liz Weir stood and said to Fire Chief Wolfe, “Shake my hand. I’m learning, too.”

Suspense has surrounded the Hamel Fire Department since last spring, when the city of Corcoran decided not to renew the HFD contract. This action meant that the fire department had only one customer, Medina. Shortly after that, long-time Fire Chief Brandon Guest resigned and said he needed to spend more time working at his regular job. Wolfe put on the chief’s helmet and brought in Fabrizio as financial officer.

As these changes were occurring, the City Council raised the possibility of the HFD merging with the Loretto Fire Department by the end of the year. Wolfe told the council that he did not want this to happen. In April Medina decided to evaluate the new management and asked the HFD to come back with a progress report during the summer.

Wolfe and Fabrizio returned with news that the department was investing heavily in training of firefighters who are in leadership positions and in firefighter training in conjunction with other fire departments. The HFD had improved its response times and more firefighters were responding to each call. Several city councilors said they were pleased with the performance improvements.

So in August, the City Council began negotiations with the HFD on a contract.

At the Dec. 17 study session, Fabrizio reiterated what he said back in August: “We’ve done everything that’s been asked.” Now the HFD needed a commitment from the city.

Fabrizio asked that the city not compare the HFD with other fire departments. This type of comparison would be “divisive and serve no purpose.”

Instead he wanted the contract to contain measurable performance standards, and this is the case. The contract says that the HFD shall have a minimum of four firefighters at each call and that the department shall respond to each call within 10 minutes of dispatch.

Under the new contract, the HFD will be governed by a fire advisory board and Medina’s dDirector of Public Safety, currently Ed Belland. If the HFD wants to take on additional customers, it must get Medina’s approval.

City Councilor Kathleen Martin commented: “The Hamel Fire Department has been underfunded for years. This has affected its performance.” She said Medina should not continue to underfund the HFD, and the new contract is commensurate with other fire department contracts.

Contacted after the meeting, Wolfe said: “Bringing up the past serves no purpose. The City Council recognized the underfunding and has taken measures to increase funding for 2014. They are working on measures to close the gap for 2015.”

He continued: “It’s been a long negotiation process. It’s been a difficult nine months. We are well on the way in getting things back in order at the Fire Department. I truly appreciate the support of the council and staff, and I look forward to providing the best possible customer service to the citizens of Medina.”

The HFD is one of four fire departments that serve Medina, and it has the largest service area of the four in the northeast corner of the city. The Loretto Fire Department has the second largest service area in the northwest part of Medina. The Maple Plain Fire Department serves the southwest corner, and the Long Lake Fire Department serves the southeast corner.

WOODS OF MEDINA

The City Council also took up other business, including the proposed Woods of Medina single-family residential development. City Councilor Jeff Pederson sat in the audience as the council discussed requests of 4412 JKP LLC, in which he has a financial interest.

The council directed city staff to prepare an ordinance that would rezone the 9-acre site, located east of County Road 116, from Rural Residential Urban Reserve to R1 low density residential. The council also asked staff to draft a resolution approving a preliminary plat for 16 single-family lots — a density of 1.9 units per acre. Planning Consultant Nate Sparks said an R-1 zoning requires single family developments to have 2 to 3.49 units per acres.

The preliminary plat shows Shawnee Woods Road extending into Woods of Medina from the east and ending in a cul-de-sac in the middle of the subdivision. The developer would pay $96,160 in park dedication fees in lieu of donating park land.

City Councilor Martin and Medina resident Steven Thiesfeld both commented about the absence of a park in the proposed development.

Thiesfeld said he did not want to shoo kids out of yards because they have no place to play.

Martin said, “People in the area are looking for parks.”

Contact Susan Van Cleaf at susan.vancleaf@ecm-inc.com

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