New building plan looms over CAFD budget talks

 

March 29, 2024

Pine Knot News file photo

The Cloquet Area Fire District is outgrowing its home on Cloquet Avenue in terms of both staff and equipment, with no room to expand.

Measures which promise to result in thousands of dollars in cost savings were approved at the March Cloquet Area Fire District board meeting, but speculation about the fate of bonding before the state legislature hung over conversations about the potential for a new building in Cloquet.

"I think we're literally chasing good money after bad things anymore, and the safety and health and comfort of staff needs to come first," said Cloquet board representative Sheila Lamb, regarding Station 1 maintenance.

At the March 20 meeting, the board members tossed around ideas for financing the potential project, from fundraising to using Inflation Reduction Act funds. But regardless of where the money would come from, some members said community buy-in would be essential.

"None of us wants to see our taxes go up. But I think it's important that the community gets involved and engaged to understand the true importance of it, and that this is theirs," Lamb said.

Likewise, Gary Harms, representing Perch Lake Township, said a referendum, while not required, should determine whether to raise the levy to support such a project.

The CAFD board wants to see what the state legislature does with the fire district's $10 million facilities bond request before deciding on next steps, possibly in May or June. But several board members expressed concerns about whether the bond would pass, especially if it is lumped into an omnibus bill - which they worry Republicans in a closely divided legislature won't support.

"One of the challenges of government is that there's always that possibility that if this isn't a standalone item, it's voted down because of what it's tied to," Buhs said. As part of what the fire chief said is the district's hardest push for bonding to date, they ask members of the public to reach out to their representatives in the legislature to "let them know what the importance of this bonding is to the district and our ability to move forward with facilities at all."

Website change

The CAFD website will get a new look, since the board voted to switch hosting to

Cloquet-based brand development company Promoting Me. Though the first year will cost the district $6,900 for website design and hosting, the annual hosting renewal fee will be $550 - more than a 10-fold reduction in what the district currently pays annually for hosting.

The idea for developing a new website arose out of conversations about marketing. Buhs said both are important to show the community what services the district can provide as well as communicate the need for a new building for Station 1.

Billing

The CAFD board also voted to make ECP Services the district's new ambulance billing service. Because the Wisconsin-based company is smaller than the district's former billing company, Buhs hopes ECP will take a more intimate look at the fire district's billing needs to maximize revenues generated from insurance.

The district estimates it will save $11,250 in fees by switching to ECP.

 
 

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