Mabel’s Fire Chief, Orel Tollefson, addressed the city council again regarding a pay increase for his firefighters. Tollefson said, “When I was here at last month’s meeting, it seemed somewhat combative. It bothered me when Mayor Westby said that he had heard if we didn’t get a raise, my guys were going to quit. Well, that just isn’t true. I asked my fire department and no one said that. Someone is lying.”
At the October council meeting, Tollefson had asked the city for a $10 an hour raise for his 20-member volunteer fire department, bringing the hourly wage to $20 an hour for fire runs. Tollefson said that they didn’t expect to get the $20, but thought they deserved something. “We’re not holding a gun to the city’s head and demanding that much and none of my guys will walk if we don’t get a raise. We went for the brass ring by asking for $20 to see what would happen. I’m not sure where the mayor got the idea that we’d leave, but it’s not true. We’re not in it for the money.”
Tollefson continued to say that Mayor Westby and he don’t always agree on everything, but they both are looking out for what’s best for this city. Tollefson said his department would be grateful for any kind of increase. The chief encouraged the council to come to their meetings/trainings to get a better understanding of what they do.
Mayor Jim Westby asked Tollefson why billing for fire runs has not been done. Westby said that he billed for fire runs when he was chief and it brought in revenue from insurance claims. “If you want me to bill, show me how,” Tollefson said. “If I’m supposed to do this, I’ll do it. I’ll take the heat if I dropped the ball.” After discussion of what to charge per run and how this can be done, Karen Larson, City Clerk, offered to help the fire department with billing.
Council Member Gary Morken made a motion to give the fire department a $1 an hour increase starting in January. The motion was passed. The Mayor suggested the fire department work with the city on solid policies to ensure there’s consistency with attendance at meetings and pension compensation.
Prior to the council meeting, the Economic Development Authority (EDA) met to discuss the status of constructing a daycare center in Mabel. At a special meeting last month, the EDA recommended to the city council that a bid from Caledonia Lumber be considered to build the childcare center. The council wanted to move forward with this recommendation, but had several concerns about not having a spec book and final plans from the architect. Without these, potential contractors didn’t bid on the project because they didn’t feel comfortable bidding without having a spec book.
Only two bids were received and both were higher than anticipated, with Caledonia Lumber at $396,125 and Augedahl Construction & Cabinetry at $460,111. According to the EDA and city, the maximum construction costs should be $350,000 or less to make it feasible.
Mayor Westby said the cost of a spec book and final plans from the current architect was nearly $30,000 and seemed too much to invest upfront. The council turned it back to the EDA who will attempt to obtain a spec book and final plans at a reasonable cost. Kirsten Wyffels, EDA President, said that they will work hard in finding a solution to keep the project moving forward. “There may have been a miscommunication that the city council didn’t want the daycare center. That is not true. The city wants it. It will be a good thing for young families, job creation and our tax base.”
Public Works Director, Bob Mierau, reported that Horizontal Boring finished work on the culvert drainage project for Melby Drive. The council approved to pay them $37,983. The plans to move forward on installing a sewer main through city park were approved by the State. The project will be done by the city and begin this spring.
The next City of Mabel Council meeting will be held at City Hall on Wednesday, December 13 at 7 p.m.