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Update: Firefighters oppose Pawlenty's training fund cut

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Update: Firefighters oppose Pawlenty's training fund cut
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

AUSTIN, Minn. (AP) -- Minnesota's fire chiefs and leaders of firefighter unions from around the state have teamed in opposition to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal to cut $10 million from a fund for training firefighters in order to help pay down the state's budget deficit.


The Austin Daily Herald reports that the Minnesota Professional Firefighters union and the State Fire Chiefs Association are united in opposition. Firefighters affiliated with both outfits said the training money is needed to help budget-strapped fire departments in other cities train their firefighters.

"Two years ago, we had a training coordinator, an actual position for training," said Austin firefighter Chris Grunewald, the head of the local firefighters' union. "Since then, that position has been eliminated. Now, we just have our senior guy do it, whether he's qualified or not. And it's hurt us."

Some Austin firefighters have started taking on their own training, mainly through books and online sources, Grunewald said. Adding to the burden, a recently passed state law will require all firefighters hired after July 1, 2011, to have a license.

In Austin, two of nine full-time firefighters have such a license -- and Grunewald said he's worried budgets will continue to be so tight that firefighters will have to pay for their own licenses as well.

"I don't know how those individuals would get trained," he said.

Under Pawlenty's proposal, $3 million would be shifted out of the training fund's current $4 million surplus with the rest a transfer from its fund balance. The $10 million would be applied to offsetting the state's nearly $1 billion budget deficit, part of a much larger package of cuts that Pawlenty has asked state lawmakers to consider.

The fund is fueled by a 0.65 percent surcharge paid by homeowners, in place only since 2006, when Pawlenty signed it into law.

"The man who signed the bill into law and said it is good policy is now taking the money," Zikmund said.

Pawlenty's spokesman, Brian McClung, said the governor knows such cuts are difficult for recipients but said the proposal to trim fire safety funding is less severe than other possibilities.

"In this case we are proposing to transfer special funds from a special revenue account to help balance the budget," McClung told the newspaper. "While in many other cases, programs would receive direct cuts."