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Officials look for efficiencies

March 1, 2012
Meg Alexander - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - City, county and school officials gathered Wednesday to discuss ways they can share services and save money.

Turns out they're already sharing more services than most people probably realize:

Fairmont Area school board member Myron Moeller asked if the city can maintain Cardinal Park's parking lot, since the city uses it during the summer for the Aquatic Park. Turns out, the city already does.

When county snowplow drivers are heading out of Fairmont to clear snow in the countryside, they plow a few city streets on their way out of town.

Those are just a couple examples of small ways the entities are cooperating to make life easier for everyone.

There's a fair amount of that being done ... just as an informal agreement," said Kevin Peyman, Martin County engineer. "We can see if there's something we're missing."

Thanks to the brainstorming session, it turns out there may be a few more ways they can all work together to save money. Peyman, for instance, suggested each entity compile a list of specialized equipment they don't use often. Then when someone is working on a project, they can review the list and potentially borrow an item rather than rent it.

City administrator Jim Zarling thought that was a good idea, since the three entities probably have a broad range of equipment.

We do a lot of that work now, city to city," said Zarling, mentioning the electric department's assistance in Truman, and sewer televising in Northrop.

Peyman also offered to help the school get set up through the state's bidding contract, which finds the lowest bidders on small to big items, including vehicles. The county is a member of the state system, which means cities and schools within the county are as well.

"That way you don't have to go through the full bidding process," Peyman said.

Superintendent Joe Brown also made an appealing offer to the group: Use of school property for training. The district has plenty of space that isn't used when school isn't in session, such as meeting rooms and computer labs. Rather than charge for the service, Brown said he would prefer to barter.

"The bottom line is, we all get our dollars from the same place, so any way we could save the taxpayers money would be great," said Randy Quiring, Fairmont's mayor.

Wednesday's meeting was hosted by Quiring, who suggested the three entities look into sharing the following services:

Snow removal and sanding

The school doesn't have the proper equipment to sand its parking lots, and they do get slick, noted Quiring, who recently found out from personal experience when he fell on the ice.

The city previously gave the school a rough estimate of $1,025 to sand the school's three parking lots, but Zarling wasn't confident an agreement could be reached.

When the school is done plowing, we'd have to pull our people off our routes," Zarling said. "... That's the drawback for us."

Because of the size of its sanding equipment, the county really can't work in confined spaces, Peyman said. Even if it could, the county has to be careful about setting a precedent and stretching its workers too thin, since Fairmont Area isn't the only school in Martin County.

The city and county have already talked about going in on sand and salt, but their combined order still wouldn't be large enough to generate a discount.

Lawn care

The vast majority of the county's outdoor work is done by Sentence to Serve crews, said Peyman, who suggested the other entities take advantage of the free labor.

The school has used STS crews on occasion, like cleaning up after games, but they can be difficult to book, said Dave Ternberg, the school's buildings and grounds supervisor. The city agreed, but both entities agreed to try to make better use of the free labor.

As for government entities sharing labor or equipment, Ternberg wasn't sure it would be realistic.

"When the grass needs mowing on a pretty steady basis, everybody is mowing," he said. "It would be hard for one entity to share."

However, he pointed out, it would be nice if someone had an extra piece of equipment available to borrow if a machine broke down.

Office supplies

The school buys a semi load of copy paper to last the year, selling some of it to places like the Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce. Brown said the school makes about 5 million copies a year, which is about 2.8 pieces of paper per child per class period.

In comparison, the city and county use only a small quantity of paper, but they agreed to look at their prices and see if they can get it cheaper from the school than their current supplier.

The group also talked about recycling hazardous materials, such as lightbulbs and batteries. The county offers recycling of hazardous materials, paying a company to haul and dispose of the items. The school goes through a private company. The three entities agreed to find out which way is cheaper.


The county shares workers and equipment from Faribault County to do its own sealcoating, but it would be cheaper for Fairmont to hire a contractor than pay county staff. City engineer Troy Nemmers is learning how the county's system works, however, to see if it's something the city could take on itself.

The group had one other item on its agenda: Lincoln School

The building in northern Fairmont is no longer used by the school, but four programs do rely on it for their operations, and their rent isn't covering expenses. Brown figures the school is subsidizing $100,000 to keep Lincoln open.

"It's a nice location ... The building is very sound," Brown said, touting its new windows and roof, and Internet and fiber optics setup.

The school is renting out space at $6 per square foot. If tenants could be found for a couple of empty offices and a few empty classrooms, the building would pay for itself, Brown said.

The city can help by making the neighborhood a mixed-use zone, explained assistant city administrator Mike Humpal, but neither Fairmont nor Martin County want to buy the building: "We'll do our part with zoning to try to get as many renters in there as possible."

Attempts to sell Lincoln for $1 to the city and county have been unsuccessful. A private buyer would be required under state code to make some major upgrades.

"Once you change the use, there are going to be different requirements," Humpal said, plus the building would no longer be tax-exempt.

Moeller asked if the city and county would be willing to share the expense, since the programs there - particularly Stepping Stones Day Care and Head Start - provide such valuable services.

"How as a government can we subsidize one private entity and not every other in town?" asked Humpal, noting the precedent such an arrangement would create. It was a concern shared by other government officials in the room.



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