Tag Archives: Tom Nelson

Progress! Understanding the structural, financial, and legal operations of the Fire Relief and Rescue Squad associations

At the August 21, 2012 City Council Work Session, TJ Dvorak and Tom Nelson from the Fire Relief Association and Rescue Squad Association met with the Council to:

… provide an update on their efforts to address process and procedural topics of the Association. Attached is supporting information on the steps they are taking in this process and how the Relief Association is integrated with the Fire Department and the Rescue Squad.

It’s been a long and tortuous road to this point (see all the blog posts for background). There are no dollar amounts attached to anything yet, so it remains to be seen whether item 3D Transparency Review will reveal the important numbers to the public. But I’m pleased that there appears to be progress. The document in the packet (PDF) included this outline and flowchart (PDF):

Northfield Fire Relief Assn and Northfield Rescue Squad Relief Assn Funding FlowchartNorthfield Fire Relief Association & Northfield Rescue Squad Association – Progress Update

1. Process Goal: Association and City staff leaders jointly review (with external assistance) the structural, financial, and legal operations of non-profit Fire Relief/Rescue Squad associations, outline recommended changes, and report to City Council

2. Process Team

a. TJ Dvorak – Association President
b. Tom Nelson – Association Secretary
c. Mark Taylor – Public Safety Director
d. Tim Madigan – City Administrator
e. Kathleen McBride – Finance Director
f. External Review/Recommendations members
i. Tom Olinger CPA – Abdo, Eick, and Meyer CPA
ii. Eve R. Borenstein JD – Eve Rose Borenstein LLC

3. Process Steps:

a. Preliminary Meetings and flowchart development
b. Information/documentation gathering for external review
c. Outline Time Line – process, deliverables, and any change management.
d. Transparent Review – Structural, Fiscal, and Legal
e. External Assistance/Recommendations – CPA and Non Profit specialized JD
f. Recommendations Review – External consultants and process team
g. Next Steps & Change management
h. Final Report presentation to Council

Here’s the video from that segment of the work session:


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Northfield News story on firefighters’ pension is misleading

Northfield Assistant Fire Chief Tom Nelson; Griff Wigley March 13 Nfld News:  Northfield’s firefighter wages, pensions among highest in state DSC08083 Northfield Assistant Fire Chief Tom Nelson; Griff Wigley
Northfield Assistant Fire Chief Tom Nelson stopped by my corner office at GBM yesterday. We mostly argued, hence the scowls in the left photo. (Feel free to sort through the 180+ comments to my blog post to find my criticisms of the Northfield Fire Department. More to come?)

But one thing we did agree on (hence the smiles in the right photo) was that the two versions of the Northfield News stories about the firefighters’ pension contained some misleading information. In the March 6 version, Northfield firefighters: paid or volunteers?, reporter Suzy Rook wrote:

According to a state auditor’s report for 2009, the city’s firefighters, who also serve the Northfield Rural Fire District, have $7,500 apiece placed in the fund annually;

In the sidebar:

$7,500 — Northfield’s annual pension contribution per firefighter

After the March 6 story appeared, Tom’s email to me and Suzy included this:

Northfield Fire Relief is presently at $7500/yr of service.  This is not to be confused with “The City pays each member $7500/year” as was stated in the Northfield News e-edition last week.  The impact on the annual budget is only the Municipal Contribution amount.  For this year, the impact is slightly more than $900/fire fighter.

Likewise, in the comment thread attached to the March 6 story, firefighter Aramis Wells argued with her about this issue.  But to no avail, as this week’s March 13 version, Northfield’s firefighter wages, pensions among highest in state, contained the same text and sidebar.

My take

Individual firefighter pension obligations DO NOT cost the City of Northfield/taxpayers $7,500/year, as the Northfield News’ stories indicate.

Rather, if they stay on the job for 20 years or more (and past the age of 50), the pension fund pays them $7,500 per year of service. Big difference.

The amount in the fund fluctuates with the stock market and so the City’s annual contribution to the fund fluctuates.  Back in 2008, the City contributed nearly $100,000 to the fund. In 2009 it was half that. This year, Tom says it’ll be about $29,000.

I think the City of Northfield and we citizens get a good deal with this arrangement because the pension encourages firefighters to stay on the job.  Lack of turnover is generally a good thing when it comes to firefighting and I think we’re better served by having so many firefighters with so many years of experience.

But we need not worry too much that the current turmoil with the City and the Northfield Fire Department will cause many firefighters to quit.  Fire Chief Gerry Franek’s attorney David Hvistendahl, Northfield Area Rural Fire District administrator Jerry Anderson and others are wrong to, um, fan these flames.

Why?

The firefighters get a good deal, too. If they stick with it for 20 years, they get a decent lump sum payout of $150,000. A few are going get twice that as they been on the job for nearly 40 years. Plus, they have an interesting and challenging part-time job in which they get to make a real difference in people’s lives, contribute measurably in the community’s quality of life, and earn our respect for doing so. Not many $21/hr part-time jobs offer all this.

I’m glad the Northfield News did the story because it has helped raise awareness of the issue.  But I think they owe it to the firefighters and to the citizens to run a correction.