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Fee for fire dept. service continues to be debated by city brass

WILLMAR -- The Finance Committee is continuing to discuss a City Council member's suggestion to charge property owners a fee if they receive service from the fire department.

The committee met Monday with two local insurance agents who said most property hazard insurance policies provide coverage for fire department service fees if the policyholder suffers a loss.

Bill Leindecker with Farm Bureau Insurance said $1,000 in coverage is built into the premium to cover fire department service fees.

"If we're billed, we pay it,'' he said. If the fire call goes within a municipality like Willmar, the insurance company is never billed, he said.

Committee Chairman Denis Anderson asked if there was any "down side.''

"I think we're getting by pretty reasonably in Willmar by not paying fire department service charges when a call is made because it's tax-based already,'' said Kevin Quinn of Kevin Quinn Insurance Agency. "There is no down side that I'm aware of.''

Committee and council member Rick Fagerlie has suggested the council implement an ordinance that would authorize the city to charge for emergency fire protection services as a way to raise revenue for the fire department. He said property insurance would cover a portion or all of the cost.

Committee Chairman Denis Anderson said the committee would take the agents' comments as information.

"We're going to have to ultimately come to some decision how we want to do this, if we want to do this, what an ordinance would look like,'' he said.

Anderson asked Fire Chief Marv Calvin to estimate the number of yearly fire calls that might qualify for a service fee that might be payable by insurance companies.

Calvin said the fire department averages about 320 calls a year, but may have about 350 this year. He guessed from 140 to 160 are false alarms.

Committee member Jim Dokken said the data would tell how much money potentially the city is "leaving on the table by not collecting it.''

Committee member Ron Christianson asked if money collected by the fee would be in addition to what is budgeted or be less on the taxpayers' backs. "Are we replacing money or adding to it?'' he asked.

Anderson said that's a discussion the committee needs to have.

In other business, the committee:

- Delayed action on a request by Willmar Head Librarian Christine Beyerl to spend $51,000 from the library's reserve capital fund for computer and technology upgrades, programming for teenagers and four re-upholstered chairs for the children's department. Action was delayed until Beyerl meets with the committee.

- Recommended the council accept a donation of 21 cubic yards of concrete valued at $2,203 from Duininck Concrete for playground equipment footings and an $868 donation of sandblasting and repainting services from Hanson Silo Company to refurbish playground equipment at the renovated Bria's Playground at Jaycee Park.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150