When Aitkin Mayor Megan Workman asked meeting attendees if there were any public comments, she heard from two community members.

FIRE DEPARTMENT

Aitkin Fire Chief Brian Pisarek had a number of issues to share with the council.

The annual fire department meeting with the townships it serves is Jan. 19 at 6 p.m. at the Aitkin Fire Hall.

“We hold that meeting after our budget is determined for the year, in this case we are considering the 2023 budget,” Pisarek said.

One wrinkle in this year’s planning is that Ross Lake Township is withdrawing coverage for one third of the township.  Pisarek asked to keep the billing the same for 2022; the fee for 2023 would then be about $4,000-5,000 less. In the past there has been a city council member at that meeting.  This year it will be Jason Henke, budget committee chair.

Pisarek mentioned two other budget items, radios and turnout gear.

The fire department is ordering ATX-4000 radios for firefighters; the total cost for that is $25,000.

The department also added four new firefighters two years ago, and they are finally getting the turnout gear they need at a cost of $17,000 for five sets of turnout gear.  

“These firefighters have been working in turnout gear that didn’t fit them for the past two years,” Pisarek said.  

The insurance claim for damage to the roof of the fire hall in a 2018 storm has still not been paid. Premier Adjusting has the contract and will take 15% of the contract payment as a fee.

“My point is that the claim has been declined for four years and we are continuing to have damage to the building and equipment,” Pisarek said. He said that in 2018 the bill was around $200,000 and that did not include replacing damaged insulation. If the fire department has to bear the extra cost, Pisarek will have to put that cost in the 2023 budget. “Where are the extra costs going to go?  To the department?” He asked the council.

Workman said the matter will have to be discussed by the council. Moriarty agreed and said this would specifically be the purview of the council’s facilities committee. Workman said that this issue had only recently come to her attention.

City Administrator Mike Skrbich said the claim would be 30-40% higher because of the delay.

Pisarek asked that the city let him know as soon as possible because the department has a complex budget process that involves the townships. Skrbich has consulted all the parties involved and everyone to whom he has spoken has said the League of Minnesota Cities is the party that will resolve the issue.

“I worry about the scenario where the building collapses on a million dollars worth of fire equipment,” Pisarek stated. To this, Police Chief Paul Ryan added that the part of the building that houses the police department was also affected by the damage.

The insurance adjuster  brought its people out to look over the damage to the roof. That estimate was much higher than what the LMC insurance trust originally estimated. Council members agreed that given what they have learned, the city might want to be planning for repairing the damage.

“We should get it in a budget, then if it doesn’t get paid by insurance, at least we have a means to pay for it,” Moriarty said.

 Pisarek asked to have an estimate of the potential liability prior to the January budget meeting. Skrbich agreed to work on getting an estimate of the cost of repairs.

POLICE DEPARTMENT

Amy Dotzler of the police department said a recent audit of its use of body-worn cameras was done and the department did pass.  A new  penalty for violating the policy was added. Aitkin adopted the state’s policy.

STUDENT PROJECT

Aitkin High School senior Craig Visnovic spoke to the city council about his proposal to increase the number of trash cans in the city park, as a way to reduce littering.

Visnovic presented his project in such a way as to give the message that, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

He spoke about coming up with the idea, thinking about what would be needed to make it a reality and then finding ways to engage community partners to make it a success. Rather than just approaching the city and asking for funds to purchase the materials and services he needed to make his project a reality, Visnovic enlisted the help of local businesses.

Visnovic approached AHS  industrial arts fabrication lab through instructor Erik Heimark.  Heimark made it possible for students to weld cages to surround the  trash cans; a school logo would be part of the design.

Hyytinens Hardware in Aitkin donated five trash cans to the project, and Beartooth Hardware agreed to donate paint and primer for the cages.

After listening to Visnovic’s presentation, council member LeeAnn Moriarty said her only concern is the additional cost of disposal for the collected trash. She thanked Visnovic for his time and effort and said, “It’s a fantastic project and we wish more young people in Aitkin would be this involved in the city.”

IN OTHER BUSINESS

Aitkin Fire Department donated $25,000 to the city to put toward the new warming house at the city park; this money will be used for architectural and engineering design work.  Council unanimously approved accepting the donation.

In addition, the Blandin Foundation donated $57,000 for development costs on the new warming house. Facilities committe chair Henke moved to approve accepting the funds and the other council members voted in agreement.

Resolution 2012-12-20B authorizing funding application to Minnesota Housing Finance Agency could represent up to 25% of the project cost for putting up an apartment building.

“If we want to apply for this, we need to pass this resolution,” Skrbich said. This grant is a 2:1 match that can be funded without doing some kind of a tax deal (without adding to a future levy).  “This fits in with our city planning from this past summer,” Skrbich said.  “We can use the IRRRB grant and other donations to help fund the match.”

Council member Kathy Galliger moved to approve the funding, Moriarty seconded and members unanimously approved.

The 2022 city council meeting calendar was approved; there was discussion about meetings for other city departments being included. Acting street department supervisor, Lon Nicko, pointed out that some meetings might be able to be combined for efficiency. There are options for adjusting the meeting times and frequency and the schedule can be updated, Skrbich said.

At this point the meeting was closed for a personnel issue.

The next meeting of the Aitkin City Council is planned for Jan. 3 at 6 p.m. at the Aitkin Public Library.

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