Oak Grove City Council members voted 5-0 Oct. 29 to join four other Anoka County cities in seeking a state grant with the intent of improving firefighting services, but not without some discussion that grant money still equates to public money from taxes.
Elected officials and administrative staff from Oak Grove, Nowthen, Bethel, St. Francis and Ramsey have been meeting monthly for about a year in effort to determine how they could share firefighting services – which could include personnel and equipment – for the benefit of all.
The partnering cities now have an opportunity to apply for a Minnesota Department of Public Safety grant that could range from $25,000 to $40,000, which the cities would use to hire a consultant for fire services. They would owe a 10 percent match in order to utilize the grant, and based on its population compared with the other four cities, Oak Grove could owe a share ranging from $450 to $720 if the state DPS approves the grant.
In considering this request, Oak Grove Councilmember Dan Denno said, “I don’t want to say (or tell taxpayers) it’s $450. It’s not. It’s $40,000.”
Denno’s experience with consultants is they do not always bring something new to the table beyond what their clients have previously discussed, he said. “They put your thoughts together and give them back to you,” Denno said.
Kevin Robinson has been the council’s liaison to the monthly meetings throughout this process and said a consultant would help the cities move forward in getting something done.
“I don’t take grants lightly, I know it’s not free money,” he said. “I’m not super-keen about spending $40,000, but we’re at a point where we need a coach.… We’ll all come away with something that’s worthwhile.”
Councilmember Mike Wylie said the public safety grant money will go somewhere to these Anoka County cities or toward another project, regardless who applies.
“State grant money is going to get spent,” he said. “It stinks, but it’s true.”