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East Grand Forks Council approves new police officer, firefighter

East Grand Forks will soon be getting a new police officer and firefighter after the City Council unanimously approved both positions Tuesday. A citywide hiring freeze in effect for most of the year left the two positions vacant. The departments ...

East Grand Forks will soon be getting a new police officer and firefighter after the City Council unanimously approved both positions Tuesday.

A citywide hiring freeze in effect for most of the year left the two positions vacant. The departments were able to keep minimum staffing levels -- two per shift at the Fire Department and three or four per shift at the Police Department -- but had to rely heavily on overtime to do so.

Council member Marc DeMers said he had to debate approving the firefighter position because he thinks the Police Department could be trained to handle some of the emergency medical calls. "I think we can perform the same amount of services effectively with some comingling of public safety."

But he said it wouldn't be fair to leave the position open and force the departments to realign so quickly and said the city should look at efficiency measures over the next few years.

Council member Greg Leigh said he also wrestled with the firefighter position because the city has few fires. "Unfortunately, we have a lot of medical calls."

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Still, he said the taxpayers "are getting taxed to death" and want the council to make city services more efficient and less costly in the future.

City Administrator Scott Huizenga said it will cost about $53,000 per year including benefits for each position at entry-level salary.

Salaries

The council also discussed salaries for the Parks & Recreation winter programs. Hockey and figure-skating coaches were in line to receive a total salary increase of $3,458 for this season, but $1,887 of that was for minimum wage increases.

Council members had approved the salaries Oct. 6 by a 4-2 vote, with one member absent, but Mayor Lynn Stauss vetoed that vote.

Stauss said he did that because the increases would send the wrong message to the city's permanent employees. "I feel that we have been talking a long time about freezing wages."

"We have to start somewhere on the freeze," he added.

But council Vice President Henry Tweten said the winter programs are important in the community because they teach teamwork, cooperation and other good values. "That's part of developing future good citizens."

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Leigh said the salaries as they are now are in line with other part-time jobs in the city, and most of the people work in the program because they want to do it.

Council member Craig Buckalew said the wages are minimal right now, and said there needs to be "a minute level of enticement" to keep people returning each year.

The motion to override the mayor's veto required six votes, and failed to pass by a 4-3 vote in favor. Council members Leigh, DeMers and Mike Pokrzywinski voted no.

Other news

- Council members unanimously approved amending the parking ordinance to clarify the city's "calendar parking," which prohibits vehicles on certain streets from Nov. 15 to March 15. The change will also allow for 60 minutes of parking on public streets for loading and unloading.

- The council unanimously approved increasing or adding some city fees and charges. Fees or licenses will now be required for block parties, bonfires and special events.

Increases include: Parade permits, now $100 instead of $25; annual vending wagon license, now $100 instead of $45; and annual transient merchant licenses, now $500 instead of $300.

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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