Gold Cross lease stirs debate

FAIRMONT – Since 2002, Gold Cross has been leasing space in Fairmont’s fire hall for $1 per year, and Fairmont City Council is determined to put an end to this arrangement.

What the council could not agree on Monday was how soon the city should demand that the nonprofit ambulance service begin paying more.

City administrator Mike Humpal presented the council with a draft lease that would hike the rent to $1,496 per month. Gold Cross uses the facility to house several ambulances and employees.

Humpal said he spoke with Gold Cross staff on Friday, and they asked to speak to the council at its April 22 meeting.

Councilman Terry Anderson was adamant the council should start negotiations immediately, and he suggested asking for $3,100 per month.

“It’s public property, and we’re housing a private industry. I really don’t like it,” he said. “… For 10 years they’ve had a free ride. It was supposed to be short-term. I think it’s time to fish or cut bait.”

That would not be fair, in Councilman Joe Kallemeyn’s opinion. Ten years ago, Gold Cross planned to stay in the Fairmont fire hall just until Fairmont Medical Center completed building a new emergency room bay. Since then, a number of substantial changes have taken place at the medical center – including the name to Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont. None of those changes were within Gold Cross’s power to control.

“Leases don’t happen with most companies this quickly,” said Kallemeyn, speaking from his own business experience. He worried that forcing an ultimatum on Gold Cross – to sign the lease or immediately find new lodging – could force them out of town.

“I object to the attitude of fear,” said Anderson, believing that other ambulance services would fill the gap.

Police Chief Greg Brolsma did not back Anderson on this.

“They’re the only ALS that can serve our citizens right now,” he said.

Humpal confirmed that he knew of no other ambulance services that have ever expressed interest in coming to Fairmont.

“Let’s take our time to walk through this and give them the time and energy we would give any company to retain them,” Humpal said.

His recommendation was to allow Gold Cross to make a presentation April 22 and then start negotiations. The council concurred, but not before Anderson made a motion to set the lease at $2,300, with Gold Cross to pay 50 percent of utilities. The motion failed to pass, with Kallemeyn, Darin Rahm and Chad Askeland voting no.

In other business, the council:

o Discussed flying city flags at half-mast on holidays. Citizen Jim Hardt told the council he is disappointed the city has not done so in the past.

Part of the reason, according to city staff, is due to the type of flag poles the city has, since lowering each flag is a two-person job. In the past, there was a tethered pulley system for each flag, but those were switched out due to vandals.

Humpal said last year he spoke with representatives from the Legion and VFW, and both said they understood the city’s predicament and were not offended. This year, Humpal said an effort will be made to lower the flags at City Hall and Veterans Park.

“We are trying,” he said. “It’s not that we disrespect our veterans.”

o Discussed adding stop signs on Albion Avenue at the intersection with Woodland Avenue. The police chief said he watched morning traffic at the intersection and found there was only about five minutes when there was any congestion, and it cleared within a few minutes. Adding a temporary stop sign during the school year can be risky, Brolsma said, since it takes drivers time to adjust to traffic control changes on their regular routes.

o Approved support of legislation that if it passed would authorize cities to create municipal street improvement districts. The legislation would provide more resources and flexibility for small cities to make necessary street improvements.

o Approved advertising for bids for the reconstruction of Elm Street, from First Street to the railroad tracks.

o Approved a conditional use permit for St. John Vianney Church and School to allow an electronic messaging sign.

o Approved a Minnesota Department of Transportation agreement to pay for half the cost of a new hangar door at the airport.

o Approved extending its agreement with Western Area Power Agency to Dec. 31, 2050. The city purchases about 2 percent of its power from WAPA, for the western industrial park.

o Approved going out for bids a second time on an outdoor warning siren system, since the only bid that met the city’s specifications was $19,000 more than the police department’s estimate.