Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

City mulls priorities for 2017

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 11/16/16

TOWER— The city council here will have to decide on a number of new spending options as it works to finalize its budget for 2017. The council, at their regular meeting on Monday, heard requests to …

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City mulls priorities for 2017

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TOWER— The city council here will have to decide on a number of new spending options as it works to finalize its budget for 2017. The council, at their regular meeting on Monday, heard requests to fund land acquisitions, upgrades to Hoodoo Point Campground, Main Street enhancements, economic development services, and the possible costs of establishing day care facilities in the city.

The proposed budget, which City Clerk-Treasurer Linda Keith presented to the council, includes no increase in the levy. The council had approved a tentative levy increase of 10 percent back in September, but had hoped to whittle that down prior to making its final budget decision in December. A ten-percent levy increase would raise about $35,000 for additional spending, far less than the total of the requests currently before the council. “We have some big decisions to make in December,” said Mayor Josh Carlson.

The funding requests for next year included:

• A request from Vermilion Housing for the city to purchase about 3.2 acres of land near the current apartments. The $28,500 appraised price would help the nonprofit housing agency to leverage other funds for renovations to the apartment building. “I’d love to be able to help out with their project,” said Carlson. “But considering how many other projects are out there, I don’t know how many irons we can throw into the fire. Where do you draw the line?” Carlson noted that the city is also hoping to purchase some Main Street lots from St. Louis County for redevelopment, but questioned whether that would be the best use of city funds given all the other priorities.

• A request for major upgrades to the Hoodoo Point Campground. The city has already committed to engineering to determine the needs of the project. Jason Chopp, of SEH, is recommending new water and sewer lines at the campground and possibly extending municipal services out to the point to replace an aging septic system. Chopp pegged the cost of improvements, minus a city hook-up of water and sewer (which would be much more costly) at just over $100,000.

• A request from the Tower-Soudan Community Development Corporation to provide economic development services for the city for next year. TSCDC board chair Marshall Helmberger indicated that with the high number of potential projects currently in various stages of development in the city, the city needs to be able to work effectively with prospective developers, but does not currently have the workforce to do so. He said that’s typical of small towns, which is why many of them rely on nonprofits like the TSCDC to serve as their lead economic development agency. Helmberger said the TSCDC would like to hire a part-time executive director to advance a number of projects, including a prospective new hotel, a new marina operator, a small house development, Main Street redevelopment, and the establishment of a year-round day care facility. Helmberger asked the council to include $10,000 in the budget for 2017, which would pay for direct services on economic development in the city. Councilors took no immediate action, and had no comment on the proposal.

• A request from the TSCDC’s Main Street Enhancement Committee for a letter of support for a city entrance improvement grant from the IRRRB. The new program is designed to generate highly visible improvements to city entrances and business corridors and the committee is finalizing a grant proposal due Nov. 30. The city would serve as fiscal agent and would need to provide some financial contribution, although it could entail improvements to city-owned facilities, like the Civic Center, which is part of the grant proposal. The council approved submitting a letter of support.

The council also had a discussion about how to facilitate development of a child care facility and whether a city investment in that is warranted. Carlson noted that a number of parents had raised the lack of established child care in the community as one factor behind the erosion of student numbers at the Tower-Soudan Elementary. “In order to ensure the longevity of this community and the school, we need to get the ball rolling on that front,” said Carlson.

Councilor Bill Hiltunen noted that St. Paul’s Lutheran Church is already licensed as a day care, but needs someone to operate it. Carlson said he felt the school was the best location for a child care facility and he planned to speak with Superintendent Steve Sallee about possible options. Councilor-elect Kevin Fitton said any facility in the school needs to be open year-round. He said the school district’s extended day program has helped to some degree, and that the community could build on that success by making the program available throughout the work year, so it’s a viable child care option for working parents. “Not having it open on holidays or during the summer that was a concern for a number of parents,” he said.

In other business, the council discussed but came to no conclusion on how to address the looming resignation of Ambulance Director Matt Tuchel, who will be undergoing shoulder surgery in December and will have an extensive period of physical rehabilitation. Keith said no one responded to the latest round of job postings. That leaves Steve Altenburg as the only candidate who has come forward, but he told the council earlier this year that he won’t take the job without a significant pay increase and fewer scheduled hours.

“I’m getting a little worried about finding a replacement,” said Councilor Lance Dougherty. “We need to come up with a plan.”

Tuchel said the service could legally operate without a director, and that the duties would fall to the current assistant director if no director is hired. Keith said she was hoping to present a long-term solution to the council at their second meeting in November, set for Nov. 28.

In other action, the council:

• Heard a brief update on the joint emergency services building. Carlson said he had expected that the committee working on the project would have approved a design at their last meeting, but that updated drawings weren’t available. Keith said the architect is having trouble fitting everything into the 15,000 square feet that the committee had set as the limit. “There’s still work to do on it,” said Keith. “I think the architect is down to 17,400 square feet.”

• Approved a new contract with Randy Pratt and Julie Kranz to serve as Hoodoo Point campground managers again, at an annual contract rate of $36,000. The city had advertised the contract, but received no other proposals.

• Established a committee to draft an ATV ordinance to allow off-road vehicles on county roads within the city.

• Took no action on changes in the city’s fee structure for 2017.

• Approved a new contract with the Virginia Ambulance service for intercepts, increasing the rate from $300, to $400.

• Approved a resolution drafted by RAMS to oppose new sulfate standards that are currently in the rulemaking process with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

• Accepted a proposal by Walker, Giroux accountants for city auditing services for next year, at a price of $23,000.

• Discussed a resolution of a blight violation involving a number of cars parked on a vacant lot. Police Chief Jesse Anderson said the party involved had moved the cars around to other lots in the city. “He figured out a way around the ordinance,” said Anderson, “but it doesn’t look like a car lot anymore.”

• Accepted an offer of $35,000 for the sale of a city-owned parcel on Mud Creek Road.

• Agreed to obtain an appraisal on a small piece of property along Mud Creek Road that Bud VanDeusen requested to purchase for access to hunting land.

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