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Nevis firefighters’ pensions are flush with funds

Acting fire chief Josh Winter reported that the Fire Relief Association's net position, after all active and deferred liabilities, is about $322,000 as of the end of 2022.

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Nevis city hall
Park Rapids Enterprise file photo
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The Nevis City Council on Dec. 12 went through an audit of the Nevis Fire Relief Association’s 2021 financial and investment reports and its 2022 schedule for lump-sum pension plans.

Acting fire chief Josh Winter presented the reports in the absence of the association’s treasurer, Nick Skjonsby, who had been called out of town on a family issue.

According to the audit report, fire personnel’s benefits are partially vested after 10 years of service, fully vested after 20, with $1,700 payable per year of service and a minimum age of 50 for full retirement benefits. The association’s treasurer and secretary are each bonded for $250,000.

As of the end of 2021, Winter reported, the relief association’s special fund investments totaled $462,279, including CDs, interest-bearing bank accounts, stock and bonds. There was also a general fund balance of $4,405 in the bank.

Total net special fund assets at year’s end were $483,089, Winter reported, following revenues totaling $91,970 and expenditures of $32,295.

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Revenues included state aid, municipal contributions, interest and appreciation. Expenses included $21,917 in pension benefits to former firefighter Ben Roehl, who retired after 15 years of service, and survivor benefits of $10,270 to Billie Bellomo, whose late husband Bryce served for over 6.5 years.

Regarding the pension schedule, Winter presented a table of the department’s current membership and their accrued pension liabilities. He noted that five deferred members’ pension benefits are held until they turn 50 in a separate account that isn’t invested.

Current liabilities, which Winter explained as “if everyone has to retire at one time,” total about $129,000 for 2022, plus $76,000 being held for deferred members. If nothing changes in 2023, he said, the active liabilities will grow to $155,000 and deferred liabilities to $80,000.

Winter said the fire department currently has four members who have served 10 years or more, and thus are partially vested for retirement.

With projected net assets of about $527,000 as of the end of 2022, Winter reported, there will be a $322,000 surplus in the pension plans after accounting for this year’s accrued liabilities.

Fire equipment

Winter also presented two bids for electrical work at the fire hall. Noting that the light fixtures in the truck bay are going bad, he said he wants to replace all the lights at the fire hall with LEDs.

One bid from Avenson Electric quoted a total of about $4,900 for the job, while another bid from Northern Pines Plumbing, Heating and Electric was for $4,432. However, council member Blair Reuther pointed out some discrepancies between the two bids.

Mayor Jeanne Thompson urged Winter to go back to Northern Pines for more details, to ensure a fair comparison, and bring the bids back to the council in January. The council voted to table bids for the electrical work.

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Winter also quoted rough costs for purchasing wildland fire gear for the firefighters, noting that the prices will go up about 5% at the end of the year. He said a coat and pants set currently cost about $1,100, while just the coat would be $600 to $700.

He stressed that Nevis firefighters’ first responsibility, even at a wildland fire, is to protect structures, while DNR personnel are primarily concerned with controlling the wildfire.

Winter said that if firefighters wear this full gear to a wildland fire scene, they would have to carry their structure fire gear somewhere on the truck, and because the boots are difficult to separate from the pants, this would also mean buying an additional pair of boots for each firefighter at a cost of about $400 each.

As a result, he said, he was inclined toward purchasing the coats only, so firefighters would only need to change coats to move between wildland and structure fires.

Thompson asked Winter to bring exact prices to the council’s next meeting for comparison. Winter said he would try to work with his salesperson to extend current pricing past the end of the year. He noted that it may take months to fulfill an order.

He said the department’s first response truck is back in service after nearly a month under repair. “They had to put a used part in it,” he said. “The computer was bad in the truck. They found a used one; they couldn’t find a new one.”

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Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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