Lutsen considers compensation for emergency departments

Abby Fincel

A spirited debate occurred at the Lutsen town meeting on Tuesday, May 17 as the two supervisors present, Lynn Rose and Andrew Beavers, revisited the board’s previous decision to raise the monthly stipend for both the Fire and EMS department chiefs and assistant chiefs.

It had been over 10 years since the wages were last raised, and Fire Chief Larry McNeally had cited an increased cost of living as one of the main reasons for the increase. At the time, there had been little discussion and the motion to raise the EMS chiefs’ and fire chief ’s monthly stipend by $25 was passed unanimously. This brought the stipends up to $200 a month for the chiefs and $150 a month for the assistant chiefs.

However, Rose said it seemed the decision had been made too hastily. “I asked that we look at the compensation that the other towns received and nobody was interested in that,” said Rose. “But I think it is very interesting to look at what we pay compared to other towns. Our people are very good and they are very well paid.”

“It is true that we are getting paid more than others,” Beavers agreed. “With that being said, I think it bears repeating that the Lutsen Fire Department and EMS department are active in ways that Schroeder, Tofte, Grand Marais and Silver Bay are not. It’s a sheer matter of the equipment that we have and the number of people on the squad. It is a matter of keeping good people here. It is not meant to make money. These gentlemen and women are not profiting. I think we made the right decision here.”

Rose, however, said it was important that the supervisors look out for the interests of taxpayers as well. While the wage increase was only $25 per chief and assistant chief, the raise means that the township is spending an additional $1,200 per year.

McNeally put in that he had been disappointed that the board only gave raises to the chiefs and assistant chiefs and he had wanted to see wage increases for the rest of the firefighters as well.

“It was my understanding it was a cost of living increase because of the time that had lapsed since it had been reviewed before,” said McNeally. “I was disappointed in the outcome of it in that it was not a cost of increase across the board for everyone, all of the firefighters.”

Both McNeally and Assistant Fire Chief and Lutsen Treasurer John Groth also agreed that it was important to make efforts to retain people. The departments spend a lot of money training their people and having to start over because they cannot retain the firefighters and EMS team they already have would not be ideal.

Groth also pointed out that the departments do not rely solely on township funding. The departments themselves rely on grants and donations and it is the department heads who go out and look for additional sources of funding. In the long run, paying a little more to keep four people in chief and assistant chief positions has a significant payback.

Beavers concluded that the wages were set for this cycle. The wage increase remained in place and Beavers recommended that McNeally bring up the firefighters’ wages during the continuation of the annual meeting in August.

In other business

. The supervisors passed a motion to remove the Lutsen specific sign policy from the Comprehensive Land Use plan after Beavers confirmed with Tim Nelson, who was present at the meeting, that no current signage would have to be changed.

. County Engineer David Betts updated the council on plans for culvert and road improvements over the next few years. Concern about the frost heave bumps on the Caribou Trail were voiced, and Betts said they would either need to be patched up or taken more permanent care of with more extensive roadwork. The board also asked if the stop sign at the end of the trail would be replaced soon and wondered if a stop ahead sign could also be added. Betts said that project was probably already in the works, but made a note of it anyway.

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