After months of discussions about the future of fire services in Orono and Long Lake, there appears to be some clarity to the situation.
At its city council meeting on Monday, Aug. 22, the Orono City Council discussed a framework for the future of fire services in both the cities of Orono and Long Lake, and also in the surrounding communities.
The Long Lake Fire Department has provided fire services to the city of Orono since 2002 but Orono formally notified Long Lake in April 2021 that they will be terminating the contract with Long Lake and LLFD in 2025.
Ever since Orono officially notified Long Lake of its intention of terminating the contract, the two cities have been trying to figure out the future of the LLFD and fire services overall in the area.
For the longest time, the two cities were not talking face-to-face with each other, opting instead to send letters back and forth stating their positions and what they wanted for fire services.
Just a few months ago, both cities appointed representatives to conduct face-to-face meetings together to try to find a compromise to the situation.
Orono appointed city council members Victoria Seals and Matt Johnson as its representatives; and Long Lake appointed Mayor Charlie Miner and council member Jahn Dyvik as its representatives.
Those representatives have been meeting on a near weekly basis to try and figure out the details to a fire services between the two cities.
At the Orono council meeting on Monday, Seals and Johnson presented the framework that the two cities have discussed.
In presenting the details, Johnson said, “What this is a framework that has more holes in it that are available. This is a concept to see how far apart our two cities really are, to see if it’s likely to push forward in trying to do this or do we look at our alternatives. This is just a concept to gauge our council’s perspective on it so we can give something to Long Lake in a response so they can have the same conversation with their council and see how aligned we are.”
The framework calls for all current firefighters and the chief to stay on board, and the name of the department would remain the Long Lake Fire Department. The department would serve the cities of Orono, Medina, Minnetonka Beach, and Long Lake; and Fire Station 1 would remain owned 50/50 by the City of Long Lake Orono. Furthermore, Long Lake would pay 50 percent of maintenance and improvement costs going forward; Fire Station 2 would remain 100 percent owned by Orono and that Orono would take over 100 percent of maintenance and improvements at the site; a fire board would be created; administration of the LLFD would move to the city of Orono; and equipment provisions and cost for service will be determined based on the League of Cities model.
While the council did not object to retaining all personal, keeping the name the Long Lake Fire Department or the fire station stipulations in the framework, some members did voice concerns over some of the framework.
Mayor Dennis Walsh said he would like to see Orono own 100 percent of the equipment and he would like to see some of the administrative items - like budgeting and employee hiring needs - to go through the city of Orono.
“I think you guys did a great job,” Walsh said of the Johnson and Seals negotiating team.
What is next in the discussions? The Long Lake city council will go over the framework and voice their approval and concerns with the items and then the two negotiating teams will sit down and see if they can get closer to hammering out a final deal.
Walsh and other members of the Orono City Council said there is still a lot of work to be done and the timeline to get things finished is getting shorter and shorter.
“Both cities are trying to find some middle ground,” Seals said. “There are things in here that are no-brainers, they are easy – name of department, Station 1, Station 2, that makes sense. Where we need to tease it out is equipment, administration and stuff like that. Those will be tough for the city of Long Lake.”