Safety Center decision making

Yelling "Fire" in a crowded Council chamber

“Safety Center Policy Decisions” is first on Tuesday’s worksession agenda.  The staff memo states:

The City Council has three major policy decisions to make related to the new Public Safety Center:

1. Reconfirm the joint Public Safety Center (PSC) Project

2. Choose a site for the PSC

3. Establish a budget and financing for the PSC project

These are important decisions, but these are not policy problems.  These are concrete, implementation problems.  Unfortunately, the Council has not yet really been clear about the underlying policy problems and I consider myself at fault for failing to articulate questions clearly and not finding ways to guide the discussion more fruitfully.   And, of course, hindsight helps, too.   So, from the acres/tons/volumes of raw information we’ve received, here’s how I’m trying to structure my own thinking for the discussion tonight:

1. Let’s review ALL the capital spending we anticipate: I’d love a user-friendly inventory of all existing capital assets, but simply working with our CIP we can construct a forecast of the capital projects, their cost and approximate timing of expenditures.   So far, we’ve discussed the library (CIP includes $7.6 million in 2015).  Street improvements are a regular item on our agendas, but we’re struggling find ways to catch up with street reconstruction/repair.  Goal: make choices for the PSC which will not adversely affect the city’s ability to maintain and replace other capital assets in future years or at least be able to project the limitations the PSC will create.

2. Let’s determine how much debt we can afford.  We’ve begun to discuss the “how much” issue in relation to our street reconstruction projects, but not for the PSC and future facilities projects and not all together.  For an $8.5 million dollar bond issue, our finance director has projected an annual levy of $600,000.  – this levy amount is about 50% of our current debt levy and almost 3x the total levy increase for 2012.  Where will the revenue to pay the add’l debt service come from?  It doesn’t get any easier when our revenue stream is partly in the hands of the state legislature and its decisions on local government aid.

We need help from staff to bring this information together in a useful form so the Council understands the consequences and so we can clearly explain it to you taxpayers since you’ll be paying for it.  So, if we had knew what we needed to replace when AND had developed guidance on how much debt we should reasonably issue relative to our expected revenue, our budget choices would become a lot clearer.  And, if the budget choices were clearer, I suspect the site, design and timeline would also come into focus.

The other large unanswered question not entirely unrelated to the above:  “Partners”: We’ve talked about our partners – colleges, Dundas, rural fire association – but what sort of relationship are we talking about?  We have a rough commitment for a capital contribution of $500,000 from the rural fire association.  However, the service agreement is decades old and Northfield relies on the rural association’s equipment.

The Council is scheduled to receive an update on our partners tonight.  I’m eager for this update since the Council hasn’t had much information about the details of negotiations, so my more cynical self thinks it looks like Northfield tries to see how much we can get our not entirely enthusiastic customers to pay without giving them a great deal of input on what they’re buying.  So far, contract talks seem stalled.  A bolder alternative strategy would be to create a regional fire district governed by a joint powers agreement for services, facilities and equipment?  It would certainly clarify the relationship, support Northfield’s interest in regional solutions, and perhaps build in a more sustainable structure where all parties have a strong stake in helping the fire district succeed.

5 Replies to “Safety Center decision making”

  1. Good thinking, Betsey… but here’s my cynical question: If in all this time your questions about: (1)How to finance a new facility that will be acceptable to both taxpayers and city… and
    (2) What is the current real/legal operational relationship between the RFD and NF, taking into consideration the contract/agreement… and
    (3) How to solve the all-too-apparent angst between the firefighters and the organizational structure…
    if these questions have not been answered, what is your plan to get the complete answers needed to satisfy the decision making?

    At some point, the Council will have to get ‘tough’ with staff, and insist that every question is answered fully and to the satisfaction of each council member… and without having the Council told that they are being too hard on staff, or that if they have a differing viewpoint, are being “argumentative”.

    1. I keep asking and trying to find different ways to describe the missing information and asking again. Then you ask staff and Council (and ask your friends to ask, too). We repeat as necessary.

    1. As far as I know it is Crystal and New Hope (and these municipalities also, apparently, have some controversy). But there is more info about joint powers agreements and fire districts at State Auditor’s website.

      I think if Northfield is serious about regional cooperation (whether in land use planning, stream protection, transportation, public safety, or whatever) we have to consider the available statutory tools to organize how we share decision-making and responsibility equitably.

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