Burnsville may reclaim hotel inspections

Annual checks needed, supporters say

Amid growing concern over conditions at some Burnsville hotels and motels, the Fire Department may reclaim inspection duties it hasn’t had in years.Amid growing concern over conditions at some Burnsville hotels and motels, the Fire Department may reclaim inspection duties it hasn’t had in years.

At a July 11 work session, a majority of City Council members agreed to consider adding the duties back next year. The net cost, which includes hiring a second full-time fire inspector, is estimated at $100,000 annually.

In June 2009, city budget cuts claimed a fire inspector position, reducing the fire-prevention staff from three people to two. The city returned responsibility for fire inspections of hotels and motels to the state, which licenses the facilities.

State law requires fire inspection only once every three years. Tri-annual inspections by the state fire marshal’s office cover 10 to 20 percent of the rooms, Burnsville Assistant Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Doug Johnson said.

Burnsville fire officials say the extra inspector position would allow annual fire inspections of all common areas and rooms.

They’re needed, say supporters, including some owners of Burnsville’s nine hotels and motels who complain that problem properties are dragging down the city’s reputation as a lodging destination.

Changes in ownership or operations at “several” properties were followed by “numerous” guest complaints, according to a report from Fire Chief B.J. Jungmann and Nelson.
Problems have included missing or nonworking room smoke detectors, nonworking exit doors, poor sanitary conditions in the rooms and criminal activity.

“In addition to the city receiving disturbing complaints at some of these facilities, there has been a significant fire at one of these facilities in the past five years,” the report said.

At a Burnsville Convention and Visitors Bureau meeting in February, some owners complained of “substandard operators” who hurt the city’s lodging reputation, the report said.

“We have no control over this, and it gives us a bad name when we can’t respond to some of the issues,” Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said.

Bill Coughlin was the lone council member saying he wouldn’t consider adding the inspector position in 2018. Officials are now writing the 2018 budget.

“At this point, I’m a ‘no,’ ” he said. “It might be something I look at next year.”

The net cost would raise the 2018 tax levy by 0.3 percent, Coughlin said. The total proposed levy increase would rise to 3.9 percent.

The other council members agreed to consider certifying a 3.9 percent maximum levy increase in September, rather than the 3.6 percent that’s been a working assumption for budget purposes. The final levy vote is in December.

Council Member Cara Schulz said she’s concerned about “mission creep” from the proposed inspection regimen.

“I have real concerns that this could go past what is intended,” she said.

With another inspector, the city could also reclaim from the state fire inspections of schools and day care facilities, which it also handed off during the budget cuts.

That would add some revenue to help offset the cost of the position, fire officials say.
Altogether, the city could raise about $30,000 every three years through fees charged to the inspected properties.

The city can’t recover all its costs for annual hotel and motel inspections. By law, its fees can’t exceed those of the tri-annual inspections in state law.