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Fire chiefs take a stand for Emergency Management Director

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- A trio of community fire chiefs came before Nobles County commissioners on Thursday in hopes of getting the county to reconsider its decision to cut the emergency management director position from full-time to three-fifths time as of Jan. 1.

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The decision, which was apparently made during a board work session in early November, cuts emergency management director Dan Anderson's hours such that the office will remain open Monday through Friday, but at a reduced number of hours each day.

At this point, the decision can be reconsidered because the county doesn't set its final budget levy until its Dec. 21 board meeting.

Adrian Fire Chief Ray Bullerman learned of the director's cut in hours at the last county fire chiefs' meeting. He said Thursday he is concerned about losing Anderson's guidance as they move toward the new ARMER communications system.

"With this radio system, Dan has done a lot of work for us and he's very good at what he does," Bullerman said. "If there's other ways you can find to make cuts, we would appreciate it."

Bullerman, joined by Wilmont Fire Chief Steve Joens and Ellsworth Fire Chief Kim Chapa, said Anderson's efforts in obtaining grants for the ARMER system saved the county considerable dollars.

"Instead of it costing the county $2 million, it's going to cost you about $600,000," Bullerman said. "We're just here to support Dan. We want him to stay."

Joens said with the ARMER implementation looming, it will be very difficult for the county to stay on pace and ensure the system is operable by the 2013 deadline without leadership from the emergency management director.

"The next step is to order the radios and if he's not around, we're really going to be at a loss here," Joens said. "I guess we don't all understand (the cut). He's led us through the system."

Bullerman said once the new system is in place, it will be the job of the emergency management director to make any programming updates to the radios.

The county could have the company do those, but it will come at a cost.

Racom representative Marv Kuipers was on hand to corroborate Bullerman's statements.

"We are initially going to program these radios when they come out, but there will be updates," Kuipers said. "It's going to be an ongoing process for many years.

"Dan's position as administrator, he has to be approved by MnDOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation)," he added. "There are so many hoops you have to jump through. Dan has followed it through day one, and he's very dedicated to his job. I'd hate to see him leave."

Bullerman said he'd talked to other emergency management directors in the region and "they all look up to Dan."

Anderson, who has been in his position for four and a half years, was not present during the fire chiefs' discussion with the board. Following the meeting, he said he did not ask fire chiefs to speak to county commissioners regarding the position.

"I certainly appreciate what the firefighters have done in standing for the position," Anderson said. "They're a great group of guys, and they mean very well for their communities.

"I serve at the pleasure of the county board," he added. "I will certainly live by their decision, no matter what it is. Once their decision is made -- and I do believe it has been made -- then I will decide what I wish to do as far as the future."

Commissioner Diane Thier said the county hopes Anderson stays in his position, but understands if he can't.

"One thing the board is faced with is balancing the budget," added Commissioner Marv Zylstra. He told the fire chiefs that the emergency management director position in the past was combined with veteran services.

County Administrator Mel Ruppert said he has had some general discussions in the past with Anderson about expanding his duties in the county, but nothing had been said recently about that possibility.

With the requests made by the fire chiefs Thursday morning, Zylstra said they will need to re-examine the cut in the emergency management director's hours.

"I think it's something we're going to have to look at as a board," Zylstra told the fire chiefs. "I'm well aware of this radio system, and I understand your concern. We'll take this under advisement."

The county will have its Truth in Taxation public hearing at 6 p.m. Dec. 14. It will set its final budget at the Dec. 21 board meeting.

The county set its not-to-exceed levy at 4.9 percent in mid-September, but Zylstra said commissioners are working to finalize a levy of 2.51 percent.

"We knew to be at that, we do have to make some cuts," Zylstra said. "If we wanted to put Dan back in, we could. We've got to weigh the discussion.

"With these radios, if we've got to go outside (for reprogramming), maybe in the long run it's cheaper to keep Dan at full time," Zylstra added.

Ultimately, Zylstra said commissioners have to think of their constituents, as funds for these positions come from taxpayer dollars.

In addition to its plan to cut the emergency management position, the board plans to cut a full-time help desk position in the information technology department to three-fifths time. Also, a full-time building maintenance position will be eliminated, along with a property appraiser's position which had been at approximately 100 hours per month.

Ruppert said the cuts were made so the county could reinstate a full-time deputy position within the sheriff's office.

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