Friday, February 19, 2010

Governor proposes taking funds from dedicated firefighter training account
by Anne Finn, League of Minnesota Cities
A portion of funds dedicated to firefighter training will be diverted to the state’s general fund if Governor Tim Pawlenty has his way. The governor has identified the Fire Safety Account as a source of funds to help balance the state’s ailing budget. Since 2007, under a statute signed into law by Governor Pawlenty, homeowners and commercial property owners have paid a “fire safety surcharge” of 0.65 percent on insurance premiums. The surcharge, which is listed as a line-item on policyholders’ statements, is deposited into the Fire Safety Account. The account is used for firefighter training and state chemical and decontamination response teams, as well as the State Fire Marshall's office.

The average homeowner pays $5.20 into the fund annually. The Governor is proposing to divert $6.9 million from the fund in 2010 and another $3 million in 2011 to the state’s general fund. The proposal would leave about $1 million per year in the account. Since 2007, the Fire Safety Account has provided $2 million to partially reimburse over 400 fire departments for training expenses. According to a representative of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association, the requests for reimbursement from the account total approximately $5 million. Even though the account has the funds to accommodate all requests, the dollars have not be allocated because the Legislature and Governor must first approve the expenditure. The $3 million in requests that have not been reimbursed must then be borne by local property taxpayers.

On Thursday, ironically the same day that two firefighters were injured while responding to a large fire in South Minneapolis, the Minnesota State Fire Department Association and other groups voiced their concerns about their frustration with Governor Tim Pawlenty's proposal Groups representing nearly all of Minnesota's 20,000 firefighters attended the news conference. The League of Minnesota Cities recognizes this proposal as another potential loss of revenue for local units of government and will oppose this diversion of funds.