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Nevis Fire Department seeks more volunteers

More firefighters are needed in Nevis. Assistant Fire Chief Brent Nicklason told the council at the Dec. 10 meeting that there are currently 18 active and seven inactive members of the fire department. Inactive members are those who have worked f...

More firefighters are needed in Nevis. Assistant Fire Chief Brent Nicklason told the council at the Dec. 10 meeting that there are currently 18 active and seven inactive members of the fire department. Inactive members are those who have worked for 10 years, but haven't reached the age of 50 for payout or have requested a leave of absence.

Council member Jeanne Thompson questioned how many of the 18 active members are really active. "How many show up for fires and meetings?" she asked.

Nicklason said probably 12. He said they have updated their bylaws this year with minimum requirements for meetings, trainings and calls. "If a member does not meet that requirement, they lose that year of service," he said. "You can hang around for 20 years, but if you never show up, you're not going to have any years of service."

In addition, firefighters only get paid for calls they go out on.

Nicklason said having 18 firefighters on the roster is the lowest the department has been in quite awhile.

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"If there is a fire, you can count on maybe 50 or 60 percent to show up," he said.

In addition, many of the firefighters work outside of Nevis during the day.

He said the department will be looking at ways to attract more members. "We're not unique in this problem," he said. "Some are doing better than others. Akeley has a good, strong department, and Park Rapids has a bigger pool to draw from. So we've got to have some kind of incentive."

The council discussed raising the current annual benefit of $1,300 for those who serve on the fire department. The fund receives an average of $1,719 for each member. The maximum lump sum benefit allowed is $3,100. "The report shows the Nevis Fire Relief Association with a surplus of $126,442 if everyone retired today," Nicklason said.

Ways to improve communication and collaboration between the Nevis Fire Relief Association and the council were also discussed.

Nicklason, who is also the Fire Relief Association treasurer, brought the Nevis Fire Relief Association 2017 financial and investment report and schedule for lump-sum pension plans to the council for approval as Fire Chief Mike Marchell was not in attendance.

Thompson said the process of getting information about the organization's financial status needs to happen in July, so if they ever need funds from the city there will be time to put it into the budget before it is sent to the county Sept. 15, rather than bringing this information to the council in December.

"I believe the mayor and the city clerk are supposed to be involved in the Fire Relief Association," Thompson said. "The fire department is a city entity, and we are ultimately responsible for the majority of what you do."

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City Clerk/Treasurer Dawn Veit said she and Mayor Jarod Senger need to be included when there is a vote so they can bring the information to the city council and that is not always happening. Veit said there also needs to be a retired member on the fire board.

"These procedures used to be followed, but with a new fire chief and city council it got lost in the shuffle," she said.

Council member Sue Gray said that in the past, the city had to pay out a large sum of money due to a fire department stock investment that "tanked."

"I really think, with the stock market going like it is right now, you could totally drop," she said. "I'm really glad you are looking at options to diversify."

"When that happens, you are still liable for all those firefighters," public works supervisor Don Umthun added.

Gray thanked Nicklason for helping the council better understand these issues. "We're all learning," she said. "Thank you for explaining things. We appreciate it."

The council approved the Nevis Fire Relief Association financial and investment report and lump-sum pension plan.

In other action, the council:

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• Unanimously approved a motion to have the planning commission provide a new comprehensive land use plan by July 1. The city's land current land use plan was approved almost 20 years ago. "It needs to be updated badly," Gray said.

• Adopted the property tax levy for tax year payable 2019 of $236,022 and the general fund budget for 2019.

• Approved a lawful gambling premises permit for the Park Rapids Hockey Association at the Iron Horse Bar and Grille and Bullwinkles.

• Approved placing a past-due utility account of $431.53 on the resident's 2019 property taxes.

• Approved on-sale and Sunday liquor licenses for Iron Horse Bar and Grille, Leona's and Bullwinkles and a 2019 off-sale 3.2 beer license for Northwoods Grocery Store and Cafe.

• Approved year-end transfers to the general fund.

• Heard the city ice skating rink has been flooded and is ready to use.

• Heard an update on the Muskie Park playground. The committee is seeking quotes on equipment, which includes an inclusive play area near the Muskie for handicapped children. Some money has already been pledged for the project. The next committee meeting will be Dec. 20.

• Heard a thank-you to the fire department and first responders who provided help when a man fell off a ladder while trying to clean gutters and hit the wooden deck with his back.

• Heard it was a productive month for the police department with 28 traffic stops. Officer Josh Oswald also attended a school safety meeting.

• Heard a girl brought a "thank you" goodie bag to the city office, saying how much she loves Nevis. "We were part of her 25 random acts of kindness countdown to Christmas," council member Rich Johnson said. The tag of the gift said, "We hope this brightened your day. Don't let this random act of kindness stop here, but spread the holiday cheer."

The next council meeting will be at 6 p.m. Jan. 14 in the city hall meeting room.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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