City officials increase compensation pay for Grand Marais Fire Department

City officials increase compensation pay for Grand Marais Fire Department

A long-awaited conversation regarding increasing compensation pay for the Grand Marais Fire Department occurred during the Nov. 30 city council meeting.

Ben Silence, fire chief of the Grand Marais Fire Department, spoke during the meeting to request an increase in compensation pay for officers and per-call pay. 

Silence said the conversation has been circulating in the Fire Department for numerous years, but the formal discussion with the city council never occurred. 

Prior to the meeting, the chief and assistant chief made an additional $400 a year, and the secretary made $100. The rate for a per-call pay was $10. 

Silence said the $10 per call pay was typically used to cover gas to and from the fire hall.  

Silence proposed increasing officer pay for the chief, assistant chief, and secretary positions. The chief and assistant chief pay would increase to $1500, and the secretary’s pay would increase to $500. Silence also requested the per-call pay increase to $20. 

The city council approved the request for the pay increase.

During the meeting, Grand Marais Mayor Jay DeCoux asked Silence, “Is this enough?”

Silence replied, “Yes, I think this is fair.”

He said the pay increase would put the Grand Marais Fire Department on pace with the same pay as the Lutsen Fire Department. He added, “I don’t do it for the money, so whatever it is, it is.”

“We are so lucky in our community to have the people that we do, doing the fire protection that we have because they don’t do it for the money,” DeCoux said. “They do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

While the city council approved the increase in the compensation pay, and the Fire Department was satisfied with the amount, DeCoux said, “I think we should be paying them way more than that.”

Moving forward, the city council will discuss compensation pay on an annual basis with the Fire Department.

In other city council news, discussions continued regarding the levy. Previously in Sept., the city council set the preliminary levy at 5.91%. However, during the Nov. 30 meeting, the council updated the preliminary levy amount to 4%. 

DeCoux said the initial 5.91% was a very conservative percentage. However, he said as more information and data have been gathered, “we’ve been able to see what actual expenses are vs. projected expenses.”

He added the city’s actual expenses have been lower than they budgeted, and incomes have been higher. “We were able to move that levy number down by roughly $18,000, which moved it down to around 4%.”

There are a few final steps for the council before the levy is officially set for 2023. One of the following steps is a Truth in Taxation public meeting. The meeting will be held on Dec. 14, the same day as the next city council meeting.

The budget conversations continued during the meeting with a discussion with Chris Lavigne, liquor store manager. 

As 2022 wraps up, Lavigne shared highlights and challenges throughout the year. 

He said the liquor store has consistently experienced a positive upward trend in business and sales. In addition, he said the liquor store is battling inflation, and the “price of everything has gone up pretty substantially in the last three months.”

Lavigne is buying in bulk to keep costs down to counteract the increased cost of goods. However, lack of space is a growing challenge. 

He shared that the liquor store is open on Sundays again and has been very successful.

Before the Nov. 30 meeting, the council met with LHB, the hired contracting company, to build and design the new city hall and liquor store building. 

DeCoux said the discussion was a brainstorming session where LHB and the council could bounce ideas off each other. He said during the conversations, “one thing that was very clear was the city wanted to be very conscious of cost and also very conscious of space.”

“We understand that we probably don’t need a huge space for city hall,” DeCoux said. 

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Grand Marais Mayor Jay DeCoux following the Nov. 30 meeting. Audio from the interview is below.