Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Tower picks new ambulance chief after long search

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 11/30/16

TOWER— Steve Altenburg is Tower’s new ambulance director following city council action here on Monday. The decision came months after a city committee recommended hiring Altenburg, but raised …

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Tower picks new ambulance chief after long search


TOWER— Steve Altenburg is Tower’s new ambulance director following city council action here on Monday. The decision came months after a city committee recommended hiring Altenburg, but raised concerns about a number of conditions that Altenburg had set before agreeing to take the position. Among the conditions was a $500 per month salary increase and the elimination of set office hours for the position.

The city had re-advertised the position after Altenburg and the council failed to come to terms, but found no takers. Matt Tuchel, who has served as director for the past several years, had announced last summer that he would be resigning the position in early December, when he undergoes shoulder surgery and will be laid up for an extended period.

With Tuchel’s resignation just days away, Mayor Josh Carlson said the council needed to make a decision. He told councilors he had met with members of the ambulance service, who indicated their support for Altenburg’s hiring and that the pay raise was justified based on the growing workload of the position.

“I think Steve will do a good job of moving us forward,” said Carlson. “I apologize that it took so long.”

Councilor Joan Broten suggested that the council consider phasing-in the pay increase, but that prompted a terse response from Carlson, who appeared to blame the hiring committee for failing to address the issue in a timely manner.

“I don’t feel the committee should be blamed for any of this, that’s unfair,” responded Broten.

“It’s not fair that I had to pick up the slack,” responded Carlson.

Councilor Lance Dougherty said he had talked to Tuchel, who had told him that the pay increase, to $1,800 per month, was justified, even though he hadn’t asked for a raise during his tenure.

Broten questioned why the council would accept having no scheduled office hours, but Carlson said Altenburg spends plenty of time at the fire and ambulance hall as it is.

In the end, the council voted 4-0, with Brad Matich absent, to hire Altenburg and agree to his conditions.

In other business, the council voted unanimously, pending review by the city attorney, to join a joint powers board to oversee development, construction, and maintenance of the proposed Lake Vermilion Trail, a planned paved, non-motorized trail that could eventually stretch along the south shore of Lake Vermilion, from Cook to Tower. Project coordinator Russell Habermann, from the Arrowhead Regional Development Corporation, gave a powerpoint presentation on the plans for the biking/walking trail. He said the formation of the joint powers board, which would include the cities of Cook and Tower, along with several affected townships, will need to be completed to allow the group to apply for state trail dollars in 2017 to fund design and partial construction beginning in 2019. He said a connecting trail from Cook to the Wakemup area, along with a segment from Tower to the Y Store, would be part of their initial goals. Habermann emphasized that such a trail project is likely to be both an expensive and long-term effort, with final completion of the approximately 40-mile trail currently scheduled for 2037. He said construction costs are likely to run $400,000-$900,000 per mile.

Other business

The council also gave its approval to submit a Main Street enhancement grant on behalf of the Tower-Soudan Community Development Corporation, which will use the funds for a number of improvements to the Main Street, including a new city entrance sign, additional crosswalks, tree improvement and replacement, flowers, and initial design work for a planned welcome park near the civic center. The total project cost is estimated at $79,000, half of which would come from a new dedicated IRRRB fund, with the rest coming from city funding and in-kind volunteer effort by the TSCDC and the city. Most of the city contribution will come in the form of upgrades to the civic center, for which the city has set aside funds.

In other action, the council:

• Further discussed but took no action on the city’s budget for 2017. City Clerk-Treasurer Linda Keith said the budget she presented included anticipated spending increases for next year for employee health insurance, the pay increase for the ambulance director, and higher legal and auditing costs. Employee insurance costs will jump from $43,750 in 2016 to $51,000 next year. The council has until their first meeting in December to approve their 2017 budget.

• Offered condolences to Keith for the recent untimely passing of her husband Scott.

• Referred a question regarding use of an airport hangar for retail sales to the airport commission.

• Approved the canvass of the results from the Nov. 8 election.

• Nominated Lance Dougherty to the RAMS board of directors.


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Are you sure that the estimated Vermilion Trail cost of "$400,000-$900,000 per mile" is correct? With the stated trail length of 40 miles, that would put the cost between $16 million and $36 million for a bike path..... If those numbers are correct, someone needs to be removed from office.

Friday, December 2, 2016