Support the Timberjay by making a donation.

Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Greenwood pressured to contribute to ambulance

Jodi Summit
Posted 2/28/24

TOWER- Greenwood Town Board Chair John Bassing faced some of the toughest pushback to date at a meeting of the Tower Ambulance Commission here on Monday as members of the commission repeatedly urged …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Greenwood pressured to contribute to ambulance


TOWER- Greenwood Town Board Chair John Bassing faced some of the toughest pushback to date at a meeting of the Tower Ambulance Commission here on Monday as members of the commission repeatedly urged him to get his township to restart contributions to the city of Tower’s ambulance replacement account.
Representatives from Breitung, Vermilion Lake, Kugler, and Eagles Nest townships, as well as the city of Tower, all said their boards were in support of increasing the subsidy payment to $25 per capita, though Vermilion Lake representative Frank Zobitz said his township would formally vote on the issue at their annual meeting in March. All seemed also in favor of dropping the fee on transfer miles, which had the city of Tower contributing an additional $1.66 per mile for non-emergency calls into the subsidy account, though Eagles Nest representative Frank Sherman said his board still needed to discuss the transfer fee.
The city is already subsidizing ambulance services to cover shortfalls in the operational account, including over $50,000 in 2023, an amount city officials say is not sustainable.
The Greenwood Town Board, unanimously, rejected the proposed agreement in a vote at their February meeting.
“I want to respond to John Bassing’s letter,” said Vermilion Lake township representative Frank Zobitz, speaking about a letter in the Feb. 23 Timberjay. “He said Greenwood wants shorter response times and a higher level of service. We all want that.”
Eagles Nest representative Frank Sherman noted that Bassing has also said Greenwood didn’t want to throw money at a failing system. “This system is not currently failing,” Sherman said. “Greenwood residents need to be very clear. They are freeloading off the city of Tower and the surrounding townships.”
Sherman tried to probe for the real reasons behind the township’s refusal to participate. He asked if restoring indemnification language into the agreement would resolve the township’s concerns even as he questioned its relevance. “Will that make Greenwood happy?” Sherman asked.
Bassing made it clear that would not bring Greenwood back to the table. He brought up a laundry list of reasons why Greenwood was not in support of the agreement: including that Embarrass Township does not contribute to the per capita subsidy. He also cited financial issues dating back several years to the previous city and ambulance service administration, some inconsistencies in transfer miles reported, and some late transfer fee payments by the city. In addition, he complained that the city was late in producing a business plan, has high costs for administering the ambulance services, and that the agreement failed to include exact meeting dates for the ambulance commission.
“You are looking for excuses not to make the payments,” said Sherman. “None of those things ultimately really matter.” Sherman said those failures, from previous years, have been remedied.
Sherman asked Bassing to bring back an agreement that Greenwood would agree to, but Bassing rebuffed that idea, along with the idea of having members of the TAC attend a Greenwood Township meeting to discuss the issue.
“Nobody else would like to be insulted like this,” Bassing said.
“You want to starve the beast and think it will automatically create a new entity,” said Sherman. But nobody seems to have the interest in coming in to do it [create a regional service].”
Tower officials did address Bassing’s contention that the city had misrepresented transfer miles recorded back in 2020/ 2021. Ambulance Supervisor Dena Suihkonen, who had just been installed as supervisor at that time, said an earlier call, that was actually just a local call with no mileage without a transfer, was recorded as a 150-mile transfer run.
Moving forward
Other representatives on the board seemed eager to move ahead and help find a solution to the funding issues facing the department.
Bassing reiterated his township’s desire for a regional service and said his township would be willing to participate financially to operations for such a service using a model like the solid waste fee.
“It seems to me it would cost less to support the Tower service, to get part-time ALS in Tower,” said Sherman.
Suihkonen said, on average, only 11 percent of their emergency calls need ALS service, which they dispatch through Virginia just as soon as the Tower Ambulance is getting out of the hall.
Bois Forte representative Jeff Damm talked about a medical call a few days before at Fortune Bay. The Tower Ambulance was on the scene quickly, he said, and by the time they had an IV in the patient, the Virginia paramedics were on scene for transport.
“That’s how the system works,” Damm said. “ALS from Virginia gets here very quickly.”
Bassing said that wasn’t always the case.
“We are talking the majority of the time,” said Damm. “Some days all five Virginia rigs are out on calls at the same time.”
Bassing said contributing to the Tower service was “providing a road to failure.”
Sherman said Greenwood was letting the “perfect get rid of the good.” “You hired a consultant, and it didn’t get anywhere,” Sherman noted.
“We wanted a regional system and they didn’t bring that back in the draft report,” said Bassing. “It was undermined from the very beginning.”
Bassing complained that area departments had not given their full participation to the Greenwood study, and accused Suihkonen of having refused to admit that ALS service was superior to BLS service. Suihkonen explained that she had been trying to tell the representatives that the ALS level of service was only required for 11-percent of the calls they responded to. On average, the ambulance service has a little over one call a week that requires ALS level of care. Suihkonen also said the members of her service do not care what city or name is painted on the outside of their ambulances.
“We care that there will be an ambulance there when you need one,” she said.
Bassing’s position seemed to frustrate other representatives on the commission.
“This is your community, your people, and you are not helping the ambulance service,” said Damm. “I really don’t understand it.”
“Regionalization isn’t going to happen right now,” said Sherman.
Breitung representative Matt Tuchel said one way to create a regional department would be to form a joint powers board, but noted that Greenwood, along with the smaller townships of Vermilion Lake and Kugler, were not in favor of that idea.
Tuchel also wondered if they did come to a regional service agreement with a funding mechanism, what would happen if Greenwood then decided to stop participating.
Bassing replied that the ambulance commission was trying to “kick the can down the road from getting us something really good.”
Commission members decided to invite the members of the Greenwood Town Board, along with a representative from Embarrass to their next meeting, which will be held on Monday, April 29 at 5:30 p.m. at the Vermilion Lake Town Hall.
“Let’s make an effort to find a resolution and move forward,” said Tuchel.
Commission members also heard an update on the delivery date for the new ambulance, which has once again been delayed.
“There is no firm completion date,” said Suihkonen. “It’s behind again.” The ambulance service will need to pay the remainder due on the rig when it is ready for delivery. Right now the ambulance capital fund has $212,758, which includes a $9,709 payment from the city of Tower for transfer miles in 2023, but this amount is still about $22,000 short of what will be due.