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City Council: Variance talk, playgrounds and firefighter availability

The Hastings City Council will meet tonight, July 5, at 7 p.m.

Two issues will be up for public comment. The council will hold a public hearing on a change in how variance requests are handled. The city code was amended last year after a Minnesota Supreme Court decision changed the interpretation of the state law governing zoning variances. The 2010 decision made it difficult for cities to grant zoning variances. A new state statute went into effect May 6. The test for granting a variance is now "practical difficulties" rather than "undue hardship;" the proposed use must me reasonable and consistent with the comprehensive plan; and conditions imposed by the city must be directly related to and bear a rough proportionality to the impact created by the variance.

The council will also hear comments regarding new play equipment at Cari and Westwood parks. The Parks and Recreation Commission is recommending the council move ahead with the purchase of two play equipment structures from Webber Recreation. Because a discussion about security at Cari Park is still ongoing, the PRC recommended moving forward with security lighting at the park; other security measures may be retrofitted at a later date if the PRC and council decide they are necessary. The cost of the Cari Park structure totals about $51,000; the Westwood Park structure totals about $39,000. The purchase of both structures was approved in the city's 2011 budget.

A memorandum of understanding goes before the council from the public safety committee and city staff regarding firefighter availability. Through the past year, members of the Hastings Fire Department's labor management committee, Fire Chief Mike Schutt, Assistant Fire Chief John Townsend, City Administrator Dave Osberg and Assistant City Administrator Melanie Mesko Lee have worked to develop a program that provides availability requirements to fire department members. Discussion and the results of a fire department membership survey revealed that one of the greatest concerns among members was the need for more availability of members to respond to calls. The new program, which will be in place as a trial run through Dec. 31, 2012, requires members of the fire department to make themselves available at least 15 percent of the time throughout any given quarter. Failure to comply would result in the member being considered inactive, impacting their pension. Members who are available at least 35 percent of the time would be eligible for $200 per quarter, to be paid the following year. Staff expects the 2013 budget would be affected by no more than $26,000. The Public Safety Committee of the City Council approved the concepts in the memorandum of understanding, as did the membership of the Hastings Fire Department.

The council will also review the results of the 2010 comprehensive annual financial report, conducted by HLB Tautges Redpath.

To view the complete council agenda, including more information on each item, click here.