The Deep Dive: More on the Cloquet Area Fire District's $10M bonding request
Why is the CAFD pursuing $10 million in bonds for a new station? We talked to Chief Jesse Buhs to get more details.
THE TOPIC: The Cloquet Area Fire District has asked the Minnesota Legislature for $10 million in bonds to put toward the construction of a new fire station.
BACKGROUND: Officials in the CAFD have talked about building a new fire station for the past six or seven years, said Chief Jesse Buhs. Legislators included a similar request from the CAFD in last year's bonding bill, but a bonding bill was never passed.
The district's headquarters (508 Cloquet Ave.) is aging and located on a site that restricts what the district can do with the building, Buhs said. Furthermore, infrastructure in the building is old and expensive to repair.
"It’s a need in my mind because of the age of our facility, because of the limitations it creates, of the significant maintenance and infrastructure issues that we’re having — everything from plumbing failures on a consistent basis to all of our heating and air conditioning components failing one piece at a time," Buhs said. "We had taken a stance that essentially we were going to build a new facility, so we had put off a lot of major overhaul or consideration for a complete remodel and infrastructure repair in that building, but at some point we either have to do that or we have to build a new facility."
The CAFD owns 13 acres next to Sappi Fine Paper, which is where officials would look to build a new station if the bonding request is approved.
Despite the need for a new station, Buhs said officials don't want the burden to fall solely on local taxpayers.
"The understanding that the taxpayers are taxed pretty heavily already between all the city, county, state, federal taxes that they pay, and we don’t believe it’s reasonable at this time to look at local taxpayer dollars to fund a fire station project," Buhs told the Cloquet Pine Journal.
Buhs said he wanted to make it clear that the district would not build a new station unless it receives bonds from the state.
"Until the funding component comes into place, there is not a plan to build a new facility at this time," Buhs said.
If the CAFD's bonding request is approved, the money would cover up to half the cost of a new facility. Since officials don't want taxpayers to foot the bill, Buhs said one of his primary goals is finding new revenue streams to cover the remainder of the costs, including grants from federal, state and local agencies.
The $10 million figure also doesn't mean the organization would build a $20 million facility.
"The $10 million ask is just a starting point and as we work our way through the bonding process," he said. "As long as we stay included in their consideration, then we start to dive into the actual costs. ... We just wanted to make sure we didn’t sell the taxpayers in our area short.
"If, for example, we would have asked for $5 million, and the total project cost was $11 or $12 million, we’re a million or two less than what we could have received from the state," Buhs said.
WHAT'S NEXT: State Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, and Rep. Jeff Dotseth, R-Kettle River, have introduced legislation to grant the CAFD's bonding request. The measures have been referred to the Capital Investment Committee, according to online records.
In the meantime, officials will have to wait and see how the bonding process plays out, Buhs said.
The Deep Dive is a monthly feature produced by Cloquet Pine Journal staff. Have an idea for a topic you want us to dive into? Email email@example.com.