Two Minneapolis firefighter jobs saved, at loss of $300K

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 14, 2011 - 11:13 PM

The city is likely to scrap the year-old program of boarding vacant houses designed to keep firefighters on payroll.

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A year-old effort to have Minneapolis firefighters board up vacant buildings to save two jobs in the department has instead lost more than $300,000.

Now the program is likely to get scrapped.

In its first 11 months, the program has cost almost $400,000, including administrative costs, but been able to bill only about $89,000. And $10,000 of that is still uncollected.

Meanwhile, boarding tasks have taken three firefighters off their rigs, according to Fire Chief Alex Jackson.

The program originated with former Council Member Paul Ostrow, who chaired the council's budget committee. He was trying to keep as many firefighters on duty as possible, and adding vacant property boarding was seen as a way for the department to collect fees that the Department of Regulatory Services had paid to private contractors.

The department hoped to generate enough income to pay for the cost of materials and the firefighters who otherwise would be laid off.

The firefighters were responsible for both emergency boardings ordered by inspectors, police and firefighters, and less urgent boardings ordered by inspectors.

But according to Thomas Deegan, the city's director of housing inspections, the city ended up paying less for property boarding because of fewer foreclosures and the renovation or razing of empty buildings. Now the fire department is spending more than $34,000 monthly on the program.

"They've got to shut it down," said Mark Lakosky, president of Minneapolis Firefighters Local 82. "If it's costing the city money, then we can't do it because with our staffing levels, they need to staff for the rigs. So I would hope they'd dispose of this program today and put it out for bid."

Ostrow said Wednesday that firefighters need to be willing to take on more duties that generate income for their department if they want to maintain their staffing. The department is laying off six firefighters for lack of funding.

The disappointing results were discussed by a council committee Wednesday, but now go to the budget committee, which may defer a decision until it takes up the 2012 budget.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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