Fairmont OKs Gold Cross lease

FAIRMONT – Gold Cross has no more than three years to find a new home to house its equipment and crew.

Fairmont City Council approved a lease Monday by which the nonprofit ambulance service will be charged $22,404 per year. Gold Cross has yet to sign the agreement.

Since 2002, Gold Cross has been leasing space in the fire station, including a kitchen and sleeping area, for $1 per year. Last month, Paul Anderson, chief operating officer for Gold Cross, insisted to the council that the organization has not had a “free ride,” and he described $93,000 in contributions to the city, both in-kind and direct, over the past 10 years.

The lease of $22,404 approved by the council includes utility costs of $13,525, plus $4,700 for cleaning.

Terry Anderson was the only council member to vote against the lease.

“Why do we have a private enterprise inside a public building?” he asked. “… At the end of this year, I’d like to see them gone.”

According to Fairmont City Administrator Mike Humpal, the relationship between the city and ambulance service dates back to before Gold Cross entered the picture, when the ambulance service was a for-profit company but the ambulances themselves were owned by the city.

“We’ve always had a history of subsidizing the ambulance service,” said Humpal, noting the city has felt it was important that its citizens have top-quality emergency response services.

“What this lease is saying is that we’ll work with you cooperatively for no more than three years, and so you need to be finding a new place,” Humpal said.

Councilman Wes Clerc pointed out that since the space is available, the city might as well use it to earn money. This brought up a discussion about whether the city needs the space. Currently, one of the fire department’s trailers is being stored at the airport.

Tense words were exchanged between Anderson and Councilman Joe Kallemeyn more than once during the discussion, beginning after Anderson said Gold Cross needs to find its own space “like the rest of the boys.”

“‘The rest of the boys’ is a very broad generalization,” Kallemeyn said. “… I think if we look at other communities, and even within our own, we would find instances of private and public cooperation.”

The sunset on the arrangement with Gold Cross is December 2016, but the lease must be approved every year, at which time the council can decide if rent or utilities should be increased. The city or Gold Cross must give 90 days notice before terminating the relationship at the end of the year.

“In no case will it be extended beyond 2016,” Humpal said.

In his dual role as economic development director, Humpal plans to work with Gold Cross to help it find potential sites for relocation. He estimates the company will need a minimum of 18 months to make other arrangements.