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Minneapolis Fire Dept. board-up program lost $281,977 in 11 months

A program designed to turn a profit for the cash-strapped Minneapolis Fire Department has been bleeding money since it launched last October, according to city data.

Fire Chief Alex Jackson will report to City Council members Wednesday afternoon that the board-up program, which tasks on-duty firefighters with boarding up Minneapolis properties, is already $281,977 in the red.

This is particularly bad news -- and bad timing -- for a department so financially troubled that it announced layoffs just last month.

"You talk about us being over-budgeted," fire union secretary Joe Mattison told City Pages. "That $280,000 we spent on it -- that was probably a couple firefighter positions."

When the city started the board-up program last fall, council members predicted it would make the department $400,000 a year, which would be used to save firefighter jobs.

But not everyone was so optimistic. Bert Castrojen, an independent contractor who took care of board-ups before the fire department, told City Pages in an October 2010 interview that the city's numbers seemed inflated. Many firefighters have also been skeptical of the program, especially because it takes firefighters away from emergencies.

"We predicted that this would fail," says Mattison. "I even believe our administration believed it would fail. It was just forced upon us."

Six months into the program, the numbers looked bleak. The department had only billed about $39,000 for board-ups. Factoring in costs of materials and manpower, the program seemed destined to lose money.

"If you ask me, are we going to reach that mark that they were looking for, I'm going to guess and say no," said Asst. Fire Chief Dave DeWall in an April interview with City Pages.

At the time, DeWall hoped the program would be more successful in months to come. But the new city data suggests that any pickup in business was insignificant.

In the 11 months since the program began, the fire department has billed $88,848, according to city data. The board-up program has cost $370,825.

The cost breaks down like this:

-$292,009 for personnel.
-$59,337 for tools and materials.
-$19,480 for the board-up truck.

"Where did this money go?" asks Mattison. "It's kind of like smoke and mirrors...City Hall politics amazes me."

Jackson will report the data to the Public Safety, Civil Rights & Health Agenda committee of the City Council today at 1:30 p.m.

Previous Coverage:

  • Minneapolis Fire Dept. board-up plan failing after six months
  • Man Down: Minneapolis Fire Department faces perilous future
  • Minneapolis firefighter who saved referee to be laid off

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