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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Preliminary levy shows 3% increase for Tower

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 9/29/21

TOWER— The city council here voted on Monday to set its preliminary levy at approximately $406,000 for next year, a three-percent increase over its 2021 levy. But councilors noted that they …

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Preliminary levy shows 3% increase for Tower

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TOWER— The city council here voted on Monday to set its preliminary levy at approximately $406,000 for next year, a three-percent increase over its 2021 levy. But councilors noted that they hope to hold the line on city taxing and spending when they determine the city’s final levy in December.
Under Minnesota law, the council must set a preliminary levy in September. The final levy can’t be higher than the initial figure, but it can, and often is, reduced as officials fine tune their budget for next year. The city is looking at considerable potential budget savings for next year on police coverage, which should provide “more wiggle room,” according to council member Dave Setterberg. At the same time, clerk-treasurer Victoria Ranua advised the council to continue to rebuild the city’s reserves, which were badly depleted due to incautious spending in the past.
Council member Kevin Norby asked whether the city could do more to retire its existing debt ahead of schedule. But Ranua said municipalities rarely seek to advance payments on debt because the interest rates they typically pay are very low. She urged the council to be more mindful in the future of the debt they incur, in order to keep debt from becoming unmanageable.
Councilors considered Ranua’s initial proposal to keep the city’s levy as is for another year, but they agreed there was no harm in setting a preliminary levy slightly higher. “You can lower it but you can’t increase it,” noted council member Joe Morin. “Based on that, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to set it a bit higher now and lower it before the final levy is set in December.”
Setterberg agreed that the council would have a better idea by then of how well city spending tracked with the 2021 budget.
Norby finally made the motion for a three-percent increase in the levy, and noted his intent to cut that when the final levy is certified.
Clerk-treasurer pay package approved
The council also gave unanimous approval to a compensation package for Michael Schultz, who the council tapped at their prior meeting to be the city’s new clerk-treasurer. The pay package includes a salary of $54,000 a year. With medical and PERA contributions, the total compensation package comes to $77,435 for 2021, a number which would be prorated for the roughly two months he is expected to work in the calendar year. Schultz’s package comes in just slightly lower than the compensation package for the current clerk-treasurer.
According to Morin, Schultz has seen the proposal and has indicated a start date of Oct. 25.
After approving the compensation package, the council approved a motion to tender the offer to Schultz via a letter that Ranua will prepare.
Mayor’s resignation
The council also began the process of filling the vacancy left by the recent resignation of Orlyn Kringstad as mayor. Kringstad, who presided over Monday’s council meeting until the final agenda item, ceremoniously handed over the gavel to acting mayor Setterberg and offered extended comments on his two and three-quarters years as mayor. “I immensely enjoyed it… mostly,” he said, noting that his first year in office was “a little gruesome.”
“I’ll never forget my first day, when I got a call from the bank president saying we were overdrawn by $20,000,” he added. He told the council that he would be writing each of them a personal note of gratitude and would also write something to residents, “thanking them for the privilege of presiding over the council.” He also said he would like to receive a “certificate of attendance,” for not missing any meetings while he was mayor.
He said he intends to refocus on economic development in the community and asked to be appointed again to the Tower Economic Development Authority and to the Gundersen Trust.
The council took no immediate action on those requests, but the council did approve a motion declaring a vacancy on the council. While Setterberg is designated as acting mayor, Ranua explained that the title doesn’t mean he automatically becomes mayor in the event of the mayor’s resignation. The city’s ordinance provides no guidance on a process for replacing a council member, but in recent years, the council has opted to advertise and take applications from interested persons. Setterberg urged council members to think about how they would like to proceed and talk with others in the community about possible additions to the council.
The council would have the option of appointing a member of the current council to the position. Setterberg suggested that the council talk to former council members or mayors to see if they would be willing to serve again.
But least one person was ready to offer his services. Cade Gornick, who said he had moved back to the Tower area about two weeks ago, told the council he’d be willing to serve as mayor. He said he knows lots of people in the area and thinks he’d be good at the job. Councilors thanked him but took no immediate action on his suggestion.
Other business
In other action, the council:
• Heard from Mike Ostlund and Larry McCray, of the Eagles Nest Fire Department, about the possibility of a regional consortium to address emergency preparedness. Ostlund, who works in emergency management for Hennepin County, also serves as the director of emergency management for Eagles Nest. He noted that Eagles Nest had already taken considerable steps forward in emergency preparedness, but said a regional approach, that would include neighboring townships and the cities of Tower and Ely, could be a more effective approach.
Ostlund said he wasn’t sure how such a consortium would be structured, but he hoped to start a discussion on the topic. The council took his comments under advisement and hopes to bring the issue back for more discussion on a future agenda.
• Agreed to look into leasing a new grader if the existing grader is not worth repairing.
• Discussed but took no action on the possible sale of the former police vehicle.

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