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Council OKs ambulance bailout

Nonprofit service facing 2022 operating loss north of $250,000

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 10/5/22

ELY— The city of Ely will contribute $62,500 to the Ely Ambulance Service before the end of the year to help cover a flood of red ink that’s threatening to sink the service. The city …

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Council OKs ambulance bailout

Nonprofit service facing 2022 operating loss north of $250,000


ELY— The city of Ely will contribute $62,500 to the Ely Ambulance Service before the end of the year to help cover a flood of red ink that’s threatening to sink the service. The city council agreed unanimously to the contribution although council members expressed some frustration with the service and the timing of its request for help.
“It’s hard to argue that we don’t need an ambulance service, even though we don’t run it,” said council member Al Forsman. “But our budget was set and this was not part of it. For the ambulance to come to us in the fourth quarter and tell us they need this to survive is derelict in their duties.”
At least it appears the city will have company in the rescue. Under a proposal discussed at the Sept. 27 joint powers board meeting, the townships of Morse and Fall Lake and Ely Bloomenson Hospital would also contribute $62,500 apiece to cover an estimated ambulance service shortfall of $261,000. The city of Winton would pitch in $11,000 under the plan.
The price tag for the cities and townships could increase, depending on whether the hospital can legally donate to the cause. That question was still up in the air as of Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Mayor Roger Skraba noted that Ely’s ambulance service isn’t alone in its troubles. He said ambulance services in Tower, International Falls, and Bigfork were all experiencing financial challenges, since most rely on Medicare payments which typically don’t cover all the expenses of providing the service. That’s been a longstanding issue, but it’s been exacerbated in recent years as payroll, the rising cost of ambulances, and other expenses have jumped significantly for many ambulance services in recent years.
The Ely Ambulance has seen its financial situation erode sharply since the beginning of 2020, when the service enjoyed a cash fund balance of $355,891. As of August, that was down to $85,521, according to a report given to the joint powers board by Scott Kellerman. A 2021 loss of $219,740 and the expected loss of approximately $261,000 this year, would have left the service unable to pay its bills within a matter of weeks.
City council members recognized they had little choice but to say yes to the request. “We’re in a position where we have to pay the money,” said council member Jerome DeBeltz, who made the motion to allocate the funds. The city had already budgeted for its standing contribution to the ambulance of approximately $34,000 annually, so approval of the latest bill added just over $28,000 to the city’s general fund outlays.
While the city council agreed to pay the $62,500 requested by the ambulance, members made it clear they’re more concerned about next year and beyond if the ambulance service can’t get its finances under control. The issue is slated for more discussion by the joint powers board at a special meeting set for 11 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the Morse Town Hall.
In other business, the council unanimously approved the recommendation of the employee relations committee to restore Dave Huberty to his former position as the city’s Limited Building Official. Huberty had been suspended from that position back in July following an alleged assault on a contractor who had come to city hall to question some of the orders he had been issuing at a job site. Huberty had allegedly physically attacked the contractor, putting him in the hospital.
The League of Minnesota Cities had no objection to bringing Huberty back to work at city hall.
Huberty had been serving in recent months as the city’s part-time planning and zoning director, but he had informed the city he no longer wished to continue in that position. With his expected return to building inspections, the council approved posting the part-time position planning and zoning director position, at ten hours per week.
In other action, the council:
• Approved a resolution to assess delinquent water and sewer bills onto homeowners’ property taxes. Clerk-treasurer Harold Langowski noted that homeowners can pay up their accounts up until the point where the city sends the assessments to the county. Langowski said about 20 residences owe a total of about $50,000 in overdue accounts.
• Authorized the use of city streets for Friday’s planned Homecoming Parade. The parade is set to begin at 1 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7 and will start near the school tennis courts on 7th Ave. From there, the parade is slated to continue down 7th Ave. to Chapman St., where it will turn west for three blocks, before returning south on 4th Ave. to Harvey St. and back to 7th Ave returning to the start.
•  Heard from council member Heidi Omerza about the events planned for Friday at the Ely Library in celebration of the library’s 100th anniversary. Omerza was filling in for library director Rachel Heinrich, who was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
• Gave the final reading to an ordinance authorizing the sale of Lot 54, Block 8 in Chandler Addition to Daniel Krings for $5,000.
• Approved a petition, as drafted, authorizing the annexation of .07 acres of Morse Township to allow for the extension of city utilities to all or portions of four lots in Shagawa plat.
• At the request of Mayor Roger Skraba, held a moment of silence to mark the recent passing of former council member Terry Anderson.
• Gave the final reading for an ordinance change reclassifying Lot 4, Block 1 of Echo Property from R-1 to C-2 zoning.
• Heard from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, via letter, that the investigation and/or clean-up of a petroleum tank release at the Ely Community Center has adequately addressed the situation.
• Received a letter from St. Louis County notifying the city of a public hearing on proposed amendments to the county’s short term rental ordinance.
• Heard from resident David Oliver, who complained about increases in his property taxes. “It will be close to $3,500 for a 94-year-old house in Ely by the time you’re all all done,” he said. “And my taxes go up ten percent a year across the board.”


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