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Keep firefighter training funding

Published (3/4/2010)
By Mike Cook
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Minnesota homeowners pay into a special revenue account designed to help protect their well-being.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to take $9.9 million from the Fire Safety Account, which helps pay for firefighter training, to help balance the state’s budget shortfall.

Rep. Steve Smith (R-Mound) doesn’t think that is right.

Held over by the House Public Safety Finance Division Feb. 25 for possible omnibus bill inclusion, HF2844, sponsored by Smith, would appropriate $4.4 million from the account in the current biennium for fire safety training. A companion, SF2502, sponsored by Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope), awaits action by the Senate Public Safety Budget Division.

This is a supplemental budget appropriation to support account purposes, Smith said. “The money has been available in the account since the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2009. … These are unappropriated funds that have been collected for a specific purpose.”

Fund revenue comes from a 0.65 percent surcharge on homeowner and commercial insurance properties, about $5.20 per year on an average home.

Because budget documents show that the dedicated fund, created in 2006, has a structural surplus of almost $4 million per year, the governor seeks to transfer the current balance and $3 million of the anticipated $4 million structural surplus in fiscal years 2010 and 2011. It is estimated that $1.5 million would remain in the account in the current fiscal year and $2.7 million the next.

The first year the fund was available, there were $2 million in requests and $1 million was given to the firefighter training board, and in the second year there was $2.5 million in requests and $1.4 million was given to the training board, said Tim Leslie, assistant commissioner with the Department of Public Safety. “With all the other requirements of the account — fire marshal’s office, regional response team funding — we weren’t able to meet all those needs as requested by the fire departments.”

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