Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, April 23, 2001

Schedule conflicts turn into standoff between city, Waverly fire department

By Lynda Jensen

A scheduling conflict between the Waverly planning and zoning commission and the fire department mushroomed into what appeared to be a standoff between the city and firefighters, as discussed by the council during its meeting April 10.

At the meeting, council members spent nearly 30 minutes discussing the conflict, which occurred when planning and zoning moved its meetings from Monday to Tuesday night a month ago, to avoid holidays.

The council chambers are used by the fire department on the first and third Tuesday of the month for training, which is a meeting time practiced by most departments across the state.

Fire department members attended the last regular council meeting and a work session to protest the conflict because it was a hardship to move their equipment to other meeting places.

Three council members and firefighters met March 22, and agreed to table the issue until September. In the meantime, the fire department will conduct its meetings outside of the building, while planning and zoning uses the chambers inside.

The city is researching the idea of remodeling its chambers or expanding to accommodate the extra demand for the rooms.

"They're still not happy with the solution we have, waiting until September," Councilor John Hertzog said. "Why are we prolonging it?" he asked.

Waiting will only get the commission used to meeting on Tuesdays and make the fire department more angry over the situation, Hertzog said.

"I thought we had an understanding that night," Mayor Charles Bush said. "I still maintain that these are city offices," he said, pointing out that the fire department is a separate entity from the city.

The Waverly Fire Department is one of two departments in the state that is completely separate from the city, collecting its own assessments for funding, and operating much like a private business, Bush said.

"The fire department is an independent group; the city owes them nothing but the assessments that everyone of us property owner pays," Bush said. "And that's not because it was our decision - it was theirs to be independent."

The fire department parted from the city about 30 or 40 years ago, Hertzog noted.

It was also noted that the fire department collects assessments from taxpayers, but taxpayers have no way of finding out how the money is spent because it is a private entity.

Bush indicated that waiting six months was a compromise, and would give time for both parties to cool down.

"We sliced the schedules six ways to Sunday (for a solution)," Councilor Ken Hausladen commented about the earlier meeting with firefighters.

The news about the rift was all over town, he said. "This thing is snowballing," commented Councilor Gary Olson.

Council members discussed the issue, saying they didn't want to antagonize either group.

Olson pointed out that the city could lose people on both planning and zoning as well as the fire department. "We could lose 19 people on the fire department, and we'd have to retrain everyone in town," he said.

"Not 'we,' Gary. You misspoke," Bush corrected. "The fire department is not part of the city," he said.

They could become part of the city eventually, Olson said. "What if we lose our fire department?" he asked.

"We can't afford to lose either of them," Bush said.

Bush indicated that the fire department should be meeting with the council instead of speaking with Hertzog privately and dividing it.

Olson and Hertzog disagreed with this, saying that it was more likely the fire department felt it wasn't getting anywhere otherwise.

Hertzog pointed out that the city would spend $1 million to create its own department.

In the past, the fire department was full of council members, so no time conflict existed, Hausladen noted. In addition, planning and zoning has been more active with developments in recent years.

Hertzog pressed the council to consider making planning and zoning go back to Monday nights in the meantime. "They (fire department) expect a decision by next month," Hertzog said.

Hausladen suggested gathering numbers for renovations on the council chambers by the next work session, May 4. The city plans to meet with the fire department May 8.

Some good that may come of it, Bush noted, is increased communication.

Possible demolition of Waverly Village Hall

Council members discussed what to do with the Village Hall, since only 32 out of more than 300 surveys were returned.

Although an option to demolish the city hall was not given on the surveys, Waverly residents will receive the city newsletter in the mail with another survey in it, asking about potential demolition, Clerk Deb Ryks said.

Councilors weighed the benefits and drawbacks of such a plan. The problem with doing any kind of fix up work on the existing building is that the state requires the building to immediately be brought up to state building codes, Ryks said.

"Once we touch that building, then we have to do everything to meet state code," Ryks said.

Hertzog suggested building a one-level unit that was energy efficient.

It was decided that the next step would be to formulate a budget so that whatever decision is made can be justified to the public.

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