TOWER— The city council here won’t entertain further talks on the merger of the Tower and Breitung fire departments, at least for now. The council, after considerable discussion, voted to suspend …
TOWER— The city council here won’t entertain further talks on the merger of the Tower and Breitung fire departments, at least for now. The council, after considerable discussion, voted to suspend further discussion on the merger while reassessing the merits of the proposal annually.
Their action came in response to a letter from Breitung officials, who expressed their continued support of a merger, despite the breakdown of plans for a joint emergency services facility.
Councilor Lance Dougherty argued for continuing the process, suggesting that fire officials from both communities hold at least one more meeting to weigh the “pros and cons” of a merger, even if it resulted in maintaining two separate halls. Dougherty said both communities had invested considerable time and money in the merger effort, and said the option of combining without sharing a common hall had only been briefly discussed at the final meeting of the joint facility committee. “I just hate to see that three or four years of work go away with the stroke of a pen,” Dougherty added.
But Tower Fire Chief Steve Altenburg argued against further talks until the city’s emergency services building needs can be addressed. He said members of the Tower fire department had discussed the issue and concurred that the issue should be tabled. “No one is against the idea…the problem is it’s been three years, money has been spent, and nothing has been resolved,” Altenburg said.
Mayor Josh Carlson argued that there was little point to a merger unless the new department would be housed in one building. “It made 100 percent sense when you were all under one roof. I don’t know if it makes as much sense in two separate buildings.”
Altenburg also noted differences in the types of air packs used by the two departments and that combining the relief associations would be difficult. Councilor Kevin Fitton agreed. “Where I get hazy is how this would work,” he said.
The merger discussion comes as city officials are seeking their own solutions to a space shortage for its fire and ambulance equipment. But Dougherty said if the city and township both build their own fire halls, it’s likely to prevent any possible merger for decades. And he said the city has made little progress in its own facilities planning effort. “We still don’t know what our plans are. We don’t have a clue what our plans are,” he said.
In other emergency services action, the council granted permission for the Tower Ambulance Service to sign on to a letter critical of a recent decision by the Eveleth City Council to contract with North Memorial for administration of ambulance services for the community. Altenburg said the move had upset other area ambulance services, who he said see the latest move as part of a troubling pattern with North Memorial, which now provides air ambulance service in the region. “They have a history of coming in with a helicopter and taking over local ambulance services,” said Altenburg.
City councilors initially discussed whether they wanted to go on record as a city council, and seemed to be leaning that way for a time. But Dale Horihan, who was in the audience, suggested the council might want more information. “You might want to consult with Eveleth to see what the city’s thoughts were,” he said. “There had to be something behind it.”
Mayor Carlson then recalled that the council had declined a request to take a position on expansion of the Cook-Orr Healthcare District when Vermilion Lake Township sought city support earlier this year. “Ultimately it wasn’t our business,” he said.
The council then authorized the ambulance service to sign on, without the council taking a position.
In development-related action, the council held off on a proposed sale of a lot in the city’s industrial park to Lamppa Manufacturing until it can vacate an old snowmobile trail easement that passes through the center of the lot that the company has indicated interest in purchasing. City Clerk-Treasurer Linda Keith said the easement is inactive, but that it could still take 30-45 days to vacate. The easement needs to be cleared away, said Keith, in order for the city to provide the Lamppas with clear title to the roughly onr-acre parcel. Keith suggested that the company consider Lot 3 in the industrial park, which could avoid the easement, but Dale Horihan, who was representing the wood stove manufacturer, said he couldn’t approve that without consulting with company owner Daryl Lamppa.
Mayor Carlson also noted that a sale agreement will need to be drafted, to ensure that the expansion goes forward once the sale is consummated. He said he would hope that agreement could be drafted by the council’s next regular meeting, set for Nov. 13.
The council voted to move forward with the easement vacation and also authorized SEH to proceed with staking the corners of Lot 2 in the industrial park, for a cost estimate not to exceed $1,500.
In other action, the council:
• Heard from Ambulance Director Altenburg about a proposal to change the billing for the annual ambulance service fee to surrounding townships from a per-capita payment to a per-parcel payment. He said the current system excludes a lot of non-residents from paying the cost of operating the ambulance service. He said the Ely ambulance recently made the switch and nearly doubled its revenue from the annual assessment without increasing the rate.
‰ Approved a resolution applying certain property transfer restrictions within the city of Tower, which will be submitted to St. Louis County.
• Approved a resolution to assess four seriously delinquent water and sewer accounts onto their property tax bills. Keith said all of the parties have been notified multiple times of their delinquency, and that the failure of some to pay their fees hurts the finances of the wastewater board. “As our water and sewer budget cries for money, this is not helping,” she said.
• Requested that the city clerk provide budget numbers for a proposed water and sewer rate increase to the next council meeting. The wastewater board is considering a rate increase to the city and township of $15 per household service per quarter, which the city will need to cover, either through its tax levy or an increase in the water and sewer user fee.
• Approved a resolution to allow Sunday liquor sales beginning at 8 a.m. this coming Sunday due to the early start of the Minnesota Vikings football game.