GREENWOOD TWP- Several Greenwood Town Board officials, at their meeting on May 14, questioned the township’s participation in the ongoing regional broadband project. The Blandin Foundation has …
GREENWOOD TWP- Several Greenwood Town Board officials, at their meeting on May 14, questioned the township’s participation in the ongoing regional broadband project. The Blandin Foundation has awarded a $75,000 grant to several local communities consisting of representatives from Tower, Breitung, Eagles Nest, Vermilion Lake, and Greenwood to use for smaller community projects to increase broadband availability.
The group has allocated $5,000 of the grant to allow Greenwood to purchase a public computer for use at the town hall. The township is required to provide a match for the grant, but the township’s contribution could be in-kind services, such as providing rent-free use of the town hall space, use of the township’s printer (at a per copy charge) and oversight by township staff. The plan calls for the computer to be available only during the clerk’s regular office hours, 20 hours a week. The grant would also cover additional costs for higher speed internet service.
But town board members, who had approved the project at last month’s meeting, had more questions, and some seemed unwilling to participate at all.
Treasurer Pam Rodgers appeared to support the project, but she questioned the computer and software set-up from Mark Wilcox Computer Services that had been included in the proposal, at a cost of $3,278. She said she had talked with Wilcox and felt a lower cost computer would be more than adequate. She estimated that annual maintenance costs for the computer would be $300 a year.
Chairman Carmen DeLuca wondered why the public couldn’t use the old fire department office computer. Board members told him that computer was outdated, and probably wouldn’t be suitable.
Joanne Bassing, who is now the chair of the area broadband group, said Blandin is willing to purchase a new computer for the township, and they felt it was a good idea to get a computer that would serve the needs of any resident needing to use it.
“We will not pay any money for this,” she reiterated.
DeLuca also questioned the project’s commitment to installing broadband service. He said that in five years that technology would be outdated and satellite technology would be in use.
DeLuca also balked at the idea of having the computer station located in the township office space, though both Clerk Sue Drobac and Treasurer Rodgers had agreed to that idea last month and felt it wouldn’t be disruptive.
“This is not going to be kids coming in to play games,” said Bassing.
Bassing said that Blandin had urged them to upgrade the computer, since their project didn’t hit the $5,000 allotted.
“We are just asking for permission for Blandin to give us money,” she said. “If Pam Rodgers wants to spec out a different computer, she can make changes to the grant proposal.”
Right now there are no public or private locations where residents or summer visitors can come to use a computer or a computer printer in the township.
Supervisor Paul Skubic said he didn’t think there was a need for a public computer.
Joanne Bassing said it was estimated that 20 percent of area families do not have a computer at their home. In addition, many others do not have adequate or reliable internet speeds.
There was some support on the board for the idea.
“If they have the money available,” said Supervisor Larry Tahija, “I say take it.” Supervisor Byron Beihoffer, who has been involved in the project, was not at Tuesday’s meeting.
Bassing said that Blandin was urging the local committee to get their projects underway as soon as possible.
The initial project proposed for the township is a step toward a significantly larger initiative to bring broadband to the region through much larger state grants that are likely to be available as soon as later this year. Communities who engage with Blandin at this stage will become part of a feasibility study to research different ways of getting broadband internet speeds to residents across the area. Such a study is required before applying for larger state grants to improve broadband access.
Bassing said if the township declined to be part of the broadband effort, they would lose the opportunity to be part of this wider initiative. It is widely expected that the state will be increasing grant funding available for such projects in the near future.
Supervisor Mike Ralston said he would be interested to see if the township could use some of the $5,000 grant to wire the entire town hall into the fiber optic cable already in place. He said he would get quotes on the cost for the next meeting.
DeLuca put a motion on the floor to table the issue and discuss it again at the June meeting.
Joanne Bassing said if the township wasn’t willing to move forward at the June meeting, the grant funds allocated to Greenwood would end up being used in Tower-Soudan.
“If you don’t want the five thousand dollars to do good for the community, that is fine,” she said. “I am not going to do any more work on this, the town board will need to get the information for the grant application by the next meeting.”
Ambulance subsidy questions
In other action, Tower Area Ambulance Director Steve Altenburg again attended the Greenwood meeting to answer any questions on the proposed increase in the ambulance subsidy rates starting in 2020.
Greenwood Township has yet to approve the new contract, which calls for doubling the per capita subsidy amount over a period of three years. The subsidy monies are kept in a segregated account and can only be used for ambulance purchases, Altenburg said.
Altenburg told the board the financial condition of the department is fine.
“The status of the ambulance service is fine,” he said. “We just went through the audit. The ambulance service has no issues or problems.”
That audit, however, revealed that the city of Tower had spent most of the ambulance service’s approximately $885,000 reserve fund to cover deficits in other city accounts, leaving a total of $238,000 as of year-end 2018. The city also maintains a separate subsidy account that includes funds provided by area townships to help with ambulance purchases. That fund included $117,000 as of the latest update. The ambulance service still owes approximately $219,000 on a new ambulance that it purchased but has not yet been delivered.
The audit also revealed that the ambulance service’s profitability has diminished significantly since it switched to a paid on-call staffing model in April 2018. Altenburg had argued that an increasing number of non-emergency transfers would help pay for the cost of the paid staffing, but the number of transfers has fallen well short of Altenburg’s projections.
On the ambulance subsidy, Altenburg noted that the city of Tower has already approved its contribution at the proposed higher rate and said Breitung Township had done the same. “Brietung has passed it and Tower has passed it,” he said.
In fact, officials in Breitung have not given their approval, to date, for the increase in the ambulance subsidy. Residents who turned out for the township’s annual meeting did approve a levy amount that would allow the township to cover the cost of the increase next year, but it remains up to the town board to decide whether to actually approve the higher amount. Breitung Town Clerk Polly McDonald confirmed that the town board has yet to take such an action despite requests from Altenburg to do so.
Altenburg explained that the city had just given the department permission to look into expanding the department to provide part-time advanced life support (ALS) level care.
Altenburg addressed concerns that the city of Tower was using ambulance funds to pay its other general expenses.
“They had projects with cost over-runs and they didn’t have funds to pay for it,” he said. “So they borrowed it from the ambulance fund. The money is still there on paper. They have to put it back.”
The board did not take any action on the issue, noting they have until the end of the year to decide.
Historic Fire Hall
Tower-Soudan Historical Society board members, and township residents, Pauly Housenga and Cookie Bonicatto gave a brief presentation on the renovations now underway at the historic fire hall on Tower’s Main Street. The building is on the National Historic Register and is the oldest community building north of Duluth, as well as the oldest fire hall.
TSHS was able to purchase the building with a grant from the IRRR, and is now working on a multi-year effort to restore the building using grant monies from the Minnesota Historical Society, the IRRR, and local matches.
The two said the group is hoping to raise $10,000 a year, for the next five years, as a local match, which will allow TSHS to access enough grant funding to complete the project.
Once restored, the building will house the city’s historical horse-pulled steamer pumper, as well as historic items and memorabilia from area fire departments. They said TSHS would welcome items from Greenwood also.
The board voted to donate $100 to the project, which is the township’s standard community donation.
It was noted that the township would be permitted to make a greater donation to this project because of its historical importance to the community, according to state guidelines.
Pam Lundstrom again spoke to the board about the Tower Cemetery. She said that 3,947 people are buried in the cemetery, and at least 186 are from Greenwood Township, which does not have a cemetery of its own.
“A township cemetery would cost a lot of money,” Lundstrom said. “I think the $500 we asked for at the annual meeting should be put into our budget for next year.”
In other business the town board:
Declined to reimburse fire department member Jeff Maus for a $125 fee for an Officer Training II class that he took with the Virginia Fire Department. Such expenses for the department are reimbursable through a state training fund, but Treasurer Pam Rodgers noted the township has a limit on how much training funding the department can receive, so asked if this might have the township hit their limit. Chairman Carmen DeLuca said that all fire department training expenses were supposed to receive approval from the fire chief.
After the meeting, Maus informed the Timberjay that this class is funded through a separately-funded program, but reimbursement for the cost needs to be made to the township, not the individual.
Heard that recreation committee members had done a site cleanup earlier in May, and that the bocce ball and tennis courts are ready for action. The group is looking for people to help organize weekly bocce ball games.
Heard that a Pavilion Community Open House will be held on Wednesday, June 5 at 4 p.m. There will be food served.
Had a request from a summer resident who wants to hold free yoga classes at the pavilion this summer. The board asked the recreation committee to review the request.
Will get quotes on the parking lot project. The township has set aside $25,000 for seal coating and repairs this year. Supervisor Mike Ralston had an engineer from St. Louis County do a site review, and give recommendations on the scope of work required. The project will also include new striping.
Accepted the single quote for lawn mowing at the town hall grounds at a cost of $150 per time. The board noted that the service cost $125 per time last year.
Held a special meeting for May 21 to discuss a request from a resident on Frazer Bay Road who wishes to have a platted, but vacant, road between his two parcels legally vacated. The town board will also set a date for the public hearing on the issue.
Approved a liquor license for BayView Lodge, which will be operated by the Vermilion Club.
Noted that township cleanup days are underway now through June 15. Residents can pick up garbage bags outside the town hall, and then bring filled bags back to the town hall for proper disposal.
Will contact St. Louis County to have them patch some potholes on Birch Point Extension. The cost will be billed to the township, since this is a township road. Ralston estimated the cost to be less than $1,000.
Will get quotes for crack sealing on the paved trail to Moccasin Point. The township t expects the work to cost around $2,000, and it will come from the trail fund.
Ralston said he had informed St. Louis County that the township had no interest or ability to take over ownership of Old Highway 77. Back when Highway 115 was put in, the original plan was to have the township take ownership of that section of highway. The county will retain ownership and maintenance. The county has given that section of road the name County Road 770, but residents’ addresses will remain unchanged.
Gave final approval to the minor revisions made in the fire department’s paid-on-call and standard operating guidelines. The changes clarified training requirements for EMR personnel, andstated the town board would give consideration to the fire department membership choice when appointing a chief.