GREENWOOD TWP- While there is still uncertainty about federal and state funding for broadband projects in the township, Greenwood Chair Mike Ralston said he was looking into having the township sell …
GREENWOOD TWP- While there is still uncertainty about federal and state funding for broadband projects in the township, Greenwood Chair Mike Ralston said he was looking into having the township sell bonds to raise the money needed to make high-speed internet for the majority of Greenwood residents a reality.
CTC, a company that is providing broadband in this area, said they are interested in working with the township, Ralston said, and CTC is working on a budget for expanding broadband to the road-access portions of the township. Generally, these multi-million-dollar projects get funded using grants that cover about half the cost, and then the local company picks up the remainder, financing it by hooking up new customers. A study done by the area broadband group did show that providing broadband in the more densely populated areas of the township would be financially feasible.
Whether or not a project in Greenwood would qualify for either state or federal funding is an open question at this point. Questions have been raised about LTD Broadband, the company that just was tentatively awarded federal grant dollars to do projects in this area. Several groups knowledgeable about such projects are asking if LTD is capable of completing projects in this area, which require “wired” broadband instead of the wireless systems the company has installed in other regions. In addition, Frontier received state funding through the “Border to Border” program for a partial project in Greenwood Township that ended up not providing high-speed internet to homes but did install fiber optic cables in certain areas. Whether this would preclude Greenwood from receiving additional state grants is not known.
“We are still underserved,” Ralston said.
The township would need to work with a financial firm that specializes in bonding and would be required to set up a special taxing district, Ralston said. This process, he noted, would take several months, if not more.
“It’s going to be quite a process,” he said. “We should start sooner than later.”
John Bassing, who has been active on the area broadband committee, said a final decision on awarding the federal grant dollars should be made sometime this month. There is a chance that LTD’s application will be denied, if they cannot prove they can provide wired broadband in this area, said Bassing.
If LTD’s funding is approved, Ralston said perhaps Greenwood would be chosen as an early project.
“We have high density,” he said. “It is low-hanging fruit they should do first.”
But Ralston said beginning the process to be able to bond for funds now would give the township options if federal or state grant funds are not available, which should be known sometime later this year.
Ralston asked other board members if they would help with the legwork. The first step, he said, is to reach out to financial firms that work on bond projects.
The board passed a motion to ask voters to approve a $150,000 levy for 2022, plus an additional $25,000 into a restricted fund to set aside for future broadband projects. The vote was 4-1 with Ralston voting against. The 2021 levy is $150,000. Voters set the levy at the annual meeting, but the board is planning to ask that the annual meeting on March 9 be continued to June 8, when the weather should allow an outdoor meeting if indoor gatherings are still not permitted.
Interim treasurer Belinda Fazio put together two budget scenarios, one with the $150,000 levy and the other with a $200,000 levy. The higher levy amount did include $25,000 for broadband.
Fazio noted the lower levy amount leaves the township with a budget reserve equal to 110 percent of expenditures, while the higher budget amount leaves a reserve of 129 percent. According to Fazio, the state recommends a budget reserve of 150 to 200 percent of their annual spending.
The new budget presentation did clear up questions raised about clerk and treasurer salaries, budgeting $16,700 for the clerk’s salary in 2022 plus $2,700 for additional training hours and $500 for deputy clerk training; and $11,000 for the treasurer plus $2,500 for additional training hours and $500 for deputy training.
The board passed a motion setting 2021 pay for the clerk position at $16,700 annual salary and $11,000 annual salary for the treasurer.
“It was confusing last year, and I apologize for that,” Ralston said.
The board did not set any limit on hours worked for either position.
Sue Drobac resigned from her position as elected clerk last August, after the board decided to cut her salary from $2,316 a month to $1,404 a month and limit her time on the job to 12 hours a week. Drobac had been keeping office hours for 20 hours a week.
Some residents raised questions last fall about the amount of pay the appointed interim clerk Debby Spicer was receiving, since that data was being redacted from the public claims forms that are part of the monthly meeting packet.
MAT attorney letter
Interim Clerk Debby Spicer told the board she had received an election mailing from Barb Lofquist, who is running for supervisor, and then either talked or emailed her questions about the letter to an attorney at the Minnesota Association of Townships. The letter included an application for an absentee ballot, though the letter erroneously said it was an absentee ballot (which Lofquist later realized was the wrong wording), and asked voters to vote no on Option B. Spicer said she was told “it is not illegal” to send out absentee ballot applications. But the letter, from attorney Steve Fenske, also weighed in to support the town board’s desire to adopt Option B, which gives the board the authority to appoint a clerk and treasurer, instead of having these positions elected by voters.
Spicer read at length from the letter, but it was not clear if she was reading it in its entirety.
A request by the Timberjay to get a copy of the letter so that the paper could accurately report on its contents has been denied by the township, at least as of this writing.
State Open Meeting law does require that any documents discussed at an open meeting be made available to review by the public. Indeed, an advisory opinion issued in 2018 by the Minnesota Commissioner of Administration found that the Greenwood Town Board had violated this section of the Open Meeting law by not making such information part of the public packet.
After this reporter’s initial request for the letter the morning after the meeting, the clerk emailed back asking, “May I have your word you will publish it in its entirety without any changes?”
The clerk later stated since “it is part of the minutes, I will forward it to you when the minutes are approved.” She also said the paper should submit the township’s information request form.
The Open Meeting law does not carve out any sort of exception like this.
After the Timberjay contacted Ralston, he insisted that his only information was from the oral presentation from the clerk that is available in the recording, that he had not seen “the whole email chain correspondence,” and later added that he would have the clerk transcribe what she read from the tape of the meeting and release that information. Ralston also noted the board had refused similar requests when letters were read by individuals.
This letter was read as part of the “clerk’s report” on the agenda, and as such, does fall under the Open Meeting law.
Ralston did state he was forwarding his response to this request to Fenske and township attorney Mike Couri, but as of press time, the Timberjay was not granted access to the information the newspaper had requested.
• Heard that MATIT will review the township’s insurance status again in the summer. Until that time, the township will need to carry an additional policy from Western World. “They hope the nuisance suits will have been settled by then,” said Ralston. “The consistent frivolous suits are still costing the township a considerable amount of dollars.”
• Approved using ADP, a national payroll processing company, to process the township payroll and the quarterly tax filings. The setup cost is $25 and monthly rate is $150 based on 30 employees. The township currently has 29 employees. Additional employees can be added for a nominal charge. Tammy Mortaloni, fire department administrative assistant, said this will eliminate the need to have both the clerk and treasurer entering the data into their own computer software. The paid-on-call and hourly staff would still need to have their data entered each month Another benefit is that employees can opt to get automatic deposit instead of paper checks. Mortaloni has worked with ADP before and noted there are a lot of benefits to the service. ADP will provide phone support and training for township staff.
• Did not support raising the Tower Area Ambulance subsidy payment from $15 to $20 per capita for 2021.
• Discussed plans for the annual meeting on March 9. The meeting will open and a moderator will be elected. Then the meeting will be continued to June 8, with a contingency for bad weather. The meeting time is to be announced, potentially at 8:30 p.m., but the board needed to talk to election workers to find out when they felt the ballots would be counted. Election results will be announced at this March 9 meeting. Polls are open on March 9 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the township election.
• Will hold their annual reorganizational meeting on Thursday, March 25 at 6:30 p.m.
• Heard that the interim clerk wishes to remove the clerk’s report from the monthly agenda.
• Declined to renew the township’s long-time subscription to The Timberjay.
• Discussed the possible road improvement project on the Birch Point Extension. The estimated township share of the project is $62,000. Ralston said if the township does receive grant dollars for the project, the board would look into setting up a special taxing district to assess property owners along the road for the township’s share of the cost.