By Jennifer Kotila
COKATO, MN The citizens of Cokato will be asked to vote on a referendum for a new public safety building on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
The question as it appears on the ballot is, “Shall the City of Cokato issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $1,400,000 to finance the construction and equipping of a new public safety building?”
The general obligation bonds will be 20-year bonds at an average interest rate of 4.5 percent.
The building that currently houses the Cokato volunteer fire department and ambulance service was built in 1967, and there are several problems with the building.
In need of space
At the current Cokato public safety building, the fire trucks barely fit through the garage doors, the ambulance barely fits into its bay, only one fire truck can have its doors open when parked, there is not enough parking for firefighters, and closets are being used for office space, according to Fire Chief Mike Holmquist and volunteer firefighters Jimmy Martinson and Dennis Johnson.
Not only is the fire department and ambulance service out of room, but the building is also in need of major repairs; the roof leaks, the concrete is cracking and broken in pieces, and there is moldy Sheetrock in the ambulance bay, according to Martinson and Johnson.
“A new fire hall is something that is needed. We are out of space and way behind the times for fire service. We have outgrown the station we have today; it is inadequate,” said Johnson.
On a tour of the building with Martinson, who is also a volunteer EMT, he pointed out many of the concerns the firefighters and EMTs have with the building.
The modern trucks used to fight fires do not fit. There is only about 1 inch of space between the highest part of the biggest truck and the top of the garage door when backing in and out.
In the winter, the snow has to be shoveled down to the pavement or the fire truck hits the garage door, Martinson said.
When the trucks are parked in the building, the doors of two trucks sitting side-by-side cannot be opened at the same time, Martinson pointed out.
The ambulance is kept in a separate bay than the fire trucks. The bay for the ambulance is only about 6 inches longer than the ambulance.
Martinson noted a post fastened to the floor so the ambulance driver knows when to stop before hitting the back wall of the bay.
If the ambulance is a little too far one way or the other when backing in, it either hits the driver’s mirror on the garage door, or the ladder to the attic with the back of the ambulance, Martinson said.
When the ambulance is parked in the bay, the emergency response technicians (EMTs) cannot access the driver’s side or supplies without opening the garage door, according to Martinson.
In the winter, the volunteer EMTs are freezing while doing regular maintenance and stocking supplies for the ambulance, Martinson said.
Although the ambulance service had discussed building its own separate building, it would not help with the lack of room for the fire department. “Nothing from the fire department would fit in the ambulance bay, anyway,” said Martinson.
The Cokato ambulance service would also like room to have another ambulance for the communities it serves, according to Martinson.
Not only is the space tight for the fire trucks and ambulance, the 24 volunteer firefighters and 13 volunteer EMTs have a hard time squeezing into the building.
The office for the ambulance service is really an old closet, according to Martinson. There is barely room for a desk, a chair, filing cabinets, and a couple shelves to store things.
There is also not enough space for parking for all the firefighters and EMTs on the department, Johnson, pointing out the “No Parking” signs that line most of the street in front of the building.
The public safety building only has seven parking spaces in the lot for the fire hall.
“If we had extra space, we would just add on, but where we are at now, we’re landlocked,” Johnson said.
Safety issues for the current building
Along with the fact that the fire department and ambulance service have outgrown the current building, there are also numerous safety issues, Martinson said.
“It’s a safety hazard just getting in and out of the trucks, and getting the trucks out of the barn,” said volunteer firefighter Hutch Erickson. “It’s a liability for the City of Cokato, for us as firefighters and as city employees.”
In the ambulance bay, there is mold growing on the Sheetrock because the ambulance’s bumper is within inches of the back wall, Martinson said.
Whenever the ambulance comes back from a call during a rainstorm, or in the winter with snow, the back wall gets wet, and the mold started growing, according to Martinson.
There is also a drain in the floor of the ambulance bay that runs across the width of the bay. The concrete around the rusted iron grate is broken and falling apart.
“When the ambulance is driven into the ambulance bay, the iron grate falls into the drain,” Martinson said.
He noted that this is a work safety hazard for the EMTs since one of the doors they use to get in and out of the ambulance is right above the grate.
Martinson demonstrated how easy it would be for an EMT to step wrong on the broken concrete and sprain, or even break, an ankle. “It’s just an accident waiting to happen,” he said.
Another safety hazard is the leaking roof right above firefighters’ lockers.
As kindergarten through fourth grade elementary students learned during Fire Prevention Week, a wet firefighter’s uniform will burn a firefighter when the water turns to steam while fighting a fire.
What will the cost be to taxpayers?
The 20-year, $1.4 million bond with a 4.5 percent interest rate, would amount to less than 50 cents per day for most taxpayers within Cokato.
A raise in property taxes would pay for the debt service on the bond.
Following are some examples of how this would affect individual homeowners and businesses property taxes:
• a home worth $100,000, would have an additional $66 in property taxes per year.
• a home worth $150,000, would have an additional $99 in property taxes per year.
• a home worth $200,000 would have an additional $132 in property taxes per year.
• a $300,000 home would have additional $198 in property taxes per year.
“We do not go to the City to ask for anything unless we need it,” noted Martinson.
Most of the equipment that the department needs or wants is purchased through pull tab purchases, Chief Holmquist said. Some of the things purchased recently are chairs, uniforms, an air compressor, a grass fire rig, a computer, and a generator.