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Dave Olson, Published January 17 2010

Moorhead city councilors discuss merging services at retreat

Merging the Moorhead and Fargo fire departments and fixing traffic light problems when trains are present are just two of the many issues Moorhead city councilors discussed at a Saturday informal retreat.

Much of the talk dealt with how Moorhead will provide services in the future knowing that one of three main sources of revenue – state aid to local governments – will continue drying up.

“We’ve been embattled for the last eight years; we’ll be embattled for the next four years,” Mayor Mark Voxland told fellow council members meeting at the Hjemkomst Center.

“The feeling is local state aid will never go back up,” Voxland added.

Finding ways to economize may include teaming up with other local governments, including Fargo, said Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger.

He said combining fire departments might be one way to achieve savings, adding that some of Fargo’s fire stations would be in a better position than Moorhead’s to respond to some fires on the Minnesota side of the Red River.

The council also talked about potential efficiencies that could be realized if aspects of Moorhead Public Service, the city’s publicly owned utility, could be combined with the comparable city of Moorhead office.

Examples cited included things like information technology and office management.

Voxland said such changes would have to be arrived at through talks with Moorhead Public Service, as the utility is a semi-autonomous city department run by the Moorhead Public Service Commission.

While the city council appoints members to the commission and must approve the utility’s major bills, the commission essentially controls the utility and its administration, Voxland said.

Citing examples of the utility’s autonomy, Redlinger said Moorhead Public Service rents space from City Hall and the city pays rent to the utility for things like fire hydrants.

In a discussion of Moorhead’s strengths and weaknesses, council member Greg Lemke said there is an ongoing problem with how traffic lights operate when trains are passing through town.

“It needs to get fixed. It’s terrible,” he said.

Council members discussed items that will likely come up at meetings in 2010, including a proposal expected from the Moorhead Human Rights Commission that would use a city ordinance to establish a domestic partner registry in Moorhead.

Council member Diane Wray Williams said the registry would be largely symbolic and not impose requirements on the city or employers.

Proponents of the registry say it would offer same-sex or opposite-sex partners in a committed relationship the opportunity to secure a certificate they could show to an employer who requires such paperwork before extending benefits.

The issue could reach the council some time in March, Redlinger said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555