Open houses planned for St. Peter fire hall project

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Sep. 30—ST. PETER — St. Peter has open houses planned next week for residents to learn more about the city's fire hall project ahead of a November vote on how to fund it.

The city's fire hall at 227 W. Mulberry St. was built more than 90 years ago. Efforts to replace the aging building have been going on for years, and the City Council moved forward plans for construction in late 2022 or early 2023.

Voters on Nov. 2 will choose whether a 0.5% sales tax should be used to fund the project, with the alternative being property taxes.

Before going to the ballot box on Election Day, though, they can learn more about the proposals at open houses planned from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m.-noon Saturday, Oct. 9. Both informational events will be at the fire hall.

The open houses will have funding estimates, while also giving people a firsthand look at the current fire hall, said City Administrator Todd Prafke. The cost estimates being available both at the open houses and on the city website give residents options to view it.

The existing 8,100-square-feet fire hall isn't big enough to fit modern fire trucks and doesn't have room for training or decontamination facilities. Its proposed replacement on the northwest corner of Broadway Avenue and Sunrise Drive would be about 27,000 square feet.

The need for a new fire hall is clear, said Council member Ed Johnson.

"It's not a question of if we're going to build a fire station," he said. "We're going to build it. It's just how are we going to pay for it."

A breakdown on the city's website showed a resident with a home valued at $150,000 would pay about $70 per year in property taxes if there were no sales tax. If the sales tax is approved, no property tax increase would be needed, and a resident would have to buy $14,057 worth of taxable items per year to pay as much as the property tax amount would've been, according to the city.

A needs study determined the project's budget will be about $9.4 million to be paid over 40 years, although the sales tax would end if it gets paid off earlier. One difference between property taxes and sales taxes is that people who live outside St. Peter but buy taxable items in it would contribute to the fire hall through a sales tax.

If people are unfamiliar with the fire hall, Johnson, also a volunteer firefighter, encouraged them to take a 15- to 30-minute tour at the open houses to get a sense of how limited the space is. No shower space means firefighters exposed to contaminants at a fire scene have to clean off at home.

Residents, especially the ones who've seen the current fire hall, seem supportive of the proposal for a replacement, Johnson said.

"I think people are pretty positive," he said. "Most people understand that we do need a new fire station."

The St. Peter Fire Department responds to about 70 calls for service per year, Prafke said. Along with fires, the responses range from hazardous material calls to medical emergencies to car crashes on Highway 169.

For more information on the fire hall project, including proposed renderings, visit the open houses or go to www.saintpetermn.gov.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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