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Pequot Lakes: Fire service, officer hiring are top discussion items

City council continues to talk about Breezy Point fire service, the need to hire another police officer

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PineandLakes Echo Journal file photo.

PEQUOT LAKES — Public safety is a top topic in Pequot Lakes as the city council continues to deal with Breezy Point looking elsewhere for a fire services contract and debates whether to hire another police officer.

Fire serviceFor months the council has been asked how it wants to handle a potential joint department or joint powers agreement for fire services with Breezy Point.

That city has concerns over capital expenditure planning and the amount of its fire service contract with Pequot Lakes, and has pursued potential negotiations with other area fire departments.

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Breezy Point contacted Crosslake, Ideal Township, Mission Township and Nisswa fire departments, and this month agreed to negotiate with Nisswa for a fire contract.

At the regular Pequot Lakes City Council meeting Tuesday, Jan. 4, Fire Chief Tom Nelson said Breezy Point is a big part of Pequot Lakes’ fire coverage, and the department would be dramatically reduced without Breezy Point.

Firefighters want to keep Breezy Point to keep building the department, Nelson said, noting questions remain regarding who would be in charge if the cities created a joint powers agreement.

Breezy Point sent a draft joint powers agreement to Pequot Lakes in August, and in September the Pequot Lakes City Council said it wasn’t interested in that agreement.

Since then, Pequot Lakes formed a committee to discuss fire services. Pequot Lakes City Administrator Rich Spiczka said legal counsel advised the city to draft its own joint powers proposal, similar to what Breezy Point initially offered.

“I don’t think they’re going to be crazy different,” he said.

The city is awaiting that draft proposal for council members and the committee to look at. The idea is to tweak it so it’s a custom fit for both sides to get what they need, Spiczka said.

Fire contracts run from May-April and require a 12-month notice to leave, so Breezy Point could give notice in April 2022 that it intends to drop the contract in April 2023.

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Spiczka said he doesn’t know what the council wants, and Breezy Point has made it clear they want change or will contract elsewhere for fire services.

Council member Scott Pederson said he wants to see cost scenarios and ramifications for Pequot Lakes if Breezy Point contracts elsewhere.

Council member Cheri Seils said she wants to see another draft of an agreement.

Mayor Tyler Gardner said the council needs to see the proposal to determine if it’s what’s best for residents.

Police officerThe council accepted the resignation of Police Officer Pat Pickar, and then tabled discussion to hire another patrol officer until next month to do homework on the demand for that position, cost and officers’ scheduling.

Council members Scott Pederson and Cheri Seils voted against tabling the discussion.

The council will discuss the police department at a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 24.

Pickar was hired in September. His last day with Pequot Lakes will be Feb. 1 after he accepted a position with the Ottertail County Sheriff’s Office.

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Sgt. Ryan Franz told the council it’s important to hire a replacement officer because another officer has been out of work and off the road for nearly eight months with no timeline on when that officer will return. It’s difficult for part-timers to pick up shifts, he said.

“We’re going to be looking at a significant number of shifts that will go uncovered if we can’t do this,” Franz said.

He said the pool of applicants isn’t great and it will take time to find an officer. The goal was to conduct interviews and select a candidate for the council to hire in February. With time required to do background checks, evaluations and orientation, the city could be down two officers for two to three months, with only three officers to patrol, he said.

Also at the special meeting, the council will discuss the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority and the city’s 2022 work plan.

In other public safety business, the council:

  • Approved a two-year labor agreement with Law Enforcement Labor Services and the police department.
  • Accepted the resignation of Larry Oaks, who retired after 29 years with the Pequot Lakes Fire Department. The council thanked him for his service.
  • Learned police had 240 calls for service in November.
  • Approved the Fire Relief Association’s request for a benefit level increase from $6,500 per year of service to $6,900 per year of service.

In other action, the council:

  • Approved the Kitchigami Regional Library System service contract for 2022 for $5,000.
  • Approved refuse hauler licenses for 2022 for Nisswa Sanitation, Pequot Lakes/Gull Lake Sanitation, Waste Management and Waste Partners.
  • Approved annual city committee and department appointments, and made the following annual appointments for 2022: First National Bank of Pequot Lakes and Wells Fargo Bank as official depositories; the Echo Journal as the main official newspaper and Brainerd Dispatch as the secondary official newspaper; First National Bank Insurance Services as insurance agent of record; and Widseth engineering firm as city engineer.
  • Approved the final plat of the first addition to Trailside Estates. Tom and Lois Johnson sought to replat 10.7 acres along Isabelle Drive and Paul Circle from 53 residential lots to 28 residential lots with increased lot sizes.
  • Agreed to have city engineer Widseth look at a drainage issue on North Oak Street.
  • Authorized the library to accept applications for a part-time library coordinator.
  • Made the following commission/board appointments: Matt Lottman, Michelle Lelwica and Mark Hallan to the Economic Development Commission; Pat Dittes to the Housing and Redevelopment Authority board; Renee Moodie and Mark Jurchen to the Library Board; Jeff Boucher and Kim Churack to the Park Commission; and Sara Boulka, Jenni Gonczy and Nathan Norton to the Planning Commission.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.

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