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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ambulance meeting goes off the rails

Catie Clark
Posted 3/1/23

ELY- “Nobody is agreeing with anybody,” said Winton Mayor Marlene Zorman, the chairperson and Winton representative of the Ely Area Ambulance Joint Powers Board (EAAJPB) toward the end of …

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Ambulance meeting goes off the rails


ELY- “Nobody is agreeing with anybody,” said Winton Mayor Marlene Zorman, the chairperson and Winton representative of the Ely Area Ambulance Joint Powers Board (EAAJPB) toward the end of an extraordinarily contentious meeting held here on Tuesday.
The meeting started off with typically sedate and routine sorts of business, like approving the minutes from the previous meeting and paying the ambulance service’s bills of $1070.63. But it soon devolved into a free-for-all as a disagreement over whether the new ambulance building would be renovated, expanded, or both.
The disagreement arose during discussion of a proposal from TKDA architects for an assessment of existing conditions at the purchased building as the first step in renovating the space. That’s when Morse Township representative Bob Berrini announced that the $1.3 million federal grant recently awarded to the city for renovations of the building, would mostly go toward the construction of a 30 x 50-foot expansion of the building.
“We hired an architect when we drew up plans for $1.3 million already,” said Berrini. “We’re going to have to add on to the building with (an addition of) 30 by 50.”
Ely clerk-treasurer Harold Langowski asked, “This is the same architect, right?”
Berrini replied. “This is for a $1.3 million new building.”
“I find it quite interesting that in July, you purchased a building that was perfectly adequate for your ambulance service. And now you’re saying that you have to add a 30 by 50 addition onto that same building, responded Langowski. “Up to the last meeting, we were talking just renovation.”
The discussion devolved from there, as Langowski and Berrini, joined by EAAS board member Chuck Novak, argued over one another about who controlled the $1.3 million grant. Berrini insisted that it was the ambulance service that controlled the grant, although that remains an open question since it was the city that applied for the funds.
Earlier discussion on the lack of a lease for the ambulance building may have helped kindle the flames.
“This is one missing piece we’ve had since the purchase of the building is just making that landlord tenant arrangement,” Langowski noted. “There is no current lease.” EAAJPB purchased a building for the EAAS to use last summer.
Langowski went on to say that the EAAJPB could potentially start with a boiler-plate lease that Ely uses and modify it for the specific situation between the landlord, EAAJPB, and the tenant, EAAS.
EAAJPB member Al Forsman asked who would pay for the modification of the lease. Langowski responded that it was typically the owner who was responsible.
Hospital questions
Ely Bloomenson Community Hospital CEO Patti Banks presented another agenda item to the meeting, which was a list of questions from the hospital board, intended to serve as the hospital’s due diligence as it considers the ambulance service’s funding request.
The questions noted that EBCH could not find any yearly IRS 990 forms filed for the EAAS since 2019 and wanted to see filings since then. If none existed, then would EAAS identify when the 990 filings would be completed? The questions also asked the EAAS to identify the length of term served by its directors, noting that Minnesota has a ten-year term limit for the boards of non-profits.
The questions also inquired about the status of the audit of EAAS’s finances and whether the ambulance service was reporting its costs, revenues and utilization statistics to the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection System, as required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Non-compliance with the latter carries a penalty of a 10-percent reduction in all Medicare reimbursements for one year.
The EAAJPB moved to place the discussion of the EBCH questions on the agenda for the next meeting in March.
More questions raised
Other oddities aired at the meeting included EAAS’s failure to file a W-9 form with the city of Ely, since the city needs that form as part of its tax paperwork required by law. According to Langowski, the request for the form was sent weeks ago.
In addition, the EAAS did not have a budget prepared for 2023 or 2024 so the joint powers board could not discuss or approve financials. Novak said the budget numbers would be “available shortly.”
The Timberjay will continue to follow this developing story. The next EAAJPB meeting will be on March 28 at 4 p.m. at Ely City Hall.