International Falls will soon have a fire marshal to carry out blight enforcement.
The Falls City Council Tuesday approved a job description and agreed to proceed with first posting the job internally within the International Falls Fire Department.
The non-union position's annual salary was set at $67,237, based on a wage study of Duluth, Hibbing, Moorhead and Virginia, where similar positions exist, and conducted by Fire Chief Adam Mannausau.
The position, which could be in place before or by Jan. 1, will investigate fires and other hazardous conditions, conduct fire inspections on new construction, daycare and adult living facilities, hotels motels, boarding and apartment buildings, among other places.
Fire code violations and fire code complaints would be handled by the fire marshal as would the fire prevention program, in addition to other duties.
The position, which would be supervised by the fire chief, would be an integral part of, and funded through, a rental licensing program, which Mayor Harley Droba said has been in the works for five or six years.
Councilor Leon Ditsch asked Mannausau how creation of the position would affect his job.
"I should be able to do it better," Mannausau replied.
He told the council the temporary assistance in blight enforcement provided by Jared Baldwin, while recently assigned light duty on the fire department, demonstrates how committing to enforcement and followup can benefit the city.
Mannausau said the position would be doing things never done before in the city.
"There are some things we can do better and this position would help do that," he said.
In addition, Mannausau said he's been notified of an increase in the city's ISO rating. The ISO scores fire departments on how they are doing against its organization's standards to determine property insurance costs. After analyzing the data it collects, the ISO assigns a public protection classification on a scale from 1 to 10.
Mannausau said the city's rating is now 4, which could result in decreased insurance rates in the city.
"This position goes right along with that," he said.
The council discussed whether the position should be in place to assist in finalizing the rental licensing program.
Councilor Walt Buller and Droba voiced support for the position, as well as concern about creating the position before implementing the licensing fee program that will help pay for the position.
"The sooner we get this licensing thing in place, I will feel a lot better about it," Buller said. "I hate hiring a position thinking that's how we fund it and then we don't."
Councilor Brian Briggs agreed. "It's not fair to have taxpayers pay for it," he said. "We need to get funding figured out now."
City Administrator Ken Anderson reminded the council it must have a preliminary budget and levy for 2021 to Koochiching County Auditor before the end of September.
Anderson said financial analysis is needed to determine how to set rental licensing fees, and that will require counting rental units in the city to figure out how much money can and needs to be generated.
Anderson estimated that could be accomplished and the position hired by Jan. 1.
In related business, the council appointed, based on Fire Civil Service Commission recommendation, appointment of Andrew Eldien as assistant fire chief, following the retirement of David Vohler.
As a result, the council appointed Ryan Zub, current safety officer, as captain, resulting from the appointment of current captain Eldien as assistant fire chief. It also appointed John Winkel, firefighter, to safety officer, with appointment of Zub as captain.
Mannausau said each of the officers bring unique skills that make the appointments fit each well.
The council also Tuesday adopted a resolution supporting passage by the Minnesota Legislature of a bonding bill, allowing the state to borrow money and fund specific projects.
Locally, the city, in partnership with Koochiching County, have sought $2 million to assist in offsetting cost of runway and taxiway reconstruction now underway at the Falls International Airport.
The Legislature did not act on a bonding bill during the regular and last special sessions, but Gov. Tim Walz is expected to call another special session, as early as this week, and the Legislature could debate and consider the bonding bill then.
In the past, bonding money helped pay for the new airport terminal building.
Also, the council tabled until next meeting an application for removal of dilapidated uninhabitable trailers from each of two non-homesteaded properties, which have been used as rental units.
More information will be sought on options to offer the property owner, including removing and demolishing the trailers at no cost in exchange for title to the properties, located at 2105 and 2107 Third Ave. West.
The city demolition policy requires the council to approve using the city's demolition program for non-homesteaded properties. The council agreed the trailers there are an eyesore and deteriorated beyond repair.
Droba said it would not be right to have taxpayers remove the structures, with the property later being used as profitable rental units.
The council also:
- Approved quote of $7,580 from PhysioControl/Stryker Medical for three video laryngoscope packages for the ambulance departments, with money from the city's portion of CARES funding.
- Approved the final plat of the First Addition to the Industrial Business Park, which had been tabled earlier.
- Approved reappointment of Shaila Spry to serve as City Beach Camp host next year from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
- Authorized staff to seek quotes for the purchase and installation of a security access system for city buildings.
- Heard from Droba that I Falls Nice has canceled the free showing of two movies at City Beach. Droba said recent free "drive-in" movies saw a drop off in attendance, and with cooler temperatures it didn't make sense to show them. He said the movies will be offered free next year in the summer.
- Approved a request by Zachary Scofield for a variance to the city's electronic noise ordinance for an event at a residence on Ninth Avenue East from 7:30-11:45 p.m. Saturday. Anderson noted exceptions in the city ordinance are allowed by city approval. Scofield provided information about how parking and other issues would be handled, and Droba said he appreciated Scofield bringing the request to the council.
- Adopted a resolution approving the sale of 17 tax forfeited properties within the city of International Falls by Koochiching County.
- Declared a variety of items as surplus equipment from the police and public works departments and authorized sale via public auction online via Do-Bid.