TOWER— On Tuesday, a short-handed city council, minus Mayor Josh Carlson and Councilor Brad Matich, approved bids for renovations to the Lake Vermilion Cultural Center building on the city’s Main …
TOWER— On Tuesday, a short-handed city council, minus Mayor Josh Carlson and Councilor Brad Matich, approved bids for renovations to the Lake Vermilion Cultural Center building on the city’s Main Street. The city is handling the bidding for the project since the funding is coming through the IRRRB.
Earlier this year, the council had rejected bids that had come in well above the available funds for the project. But the cultural center board revised the project to lower the cost and the latest round of bidding came in mostly as expected.
The council approved the low bid, from TNT Aggregate, of Grand Rapids, totaling $273,466, or just over the $268,000 in funding that the IRRRB made available for the project. That included a base bid and two project add-ons, which will provide needed fixes to the building’s foundation and rough framing for other portions of the facility. The bid approval should provide a much-needed boost to the project, which has languished for the past two years after problems were detected in the structure of the historic church building that was moved to Main Street in 2015. The building is to be the centerpiece for the cultural center, which will provide gallery and performance space, as well as offices and meeting rooms.
Cultural Center officials hope that construction will get underway yet this fall.
In other action, the council appeared ready to grant a request by proposed RV park developer Dave Rose to refund a total of $3,163.75 out of $7,500 he had placed in escrow two years ago, to finance the cost of an SEH review of an environmental assessment worksheet on his proposed RV park along the East Two River. Last month, Rose said he was withdrawing his proposal and had asked for an accounting of the money billed to his account. SEH engineer Matt Bolf reported that $4,336.25 had been billed, which prompted an objection from Rose, who questioned why he was being charged at all when other developers had not been charged. But Bolf said no other private developer has proposed a project requiring an EAW in the 11 years since he started working for the city of Tower.
Councilor Lance Dougherty made a motion to refund the $3,163 to Rose, and got a second, but he then withdrew the motion at Rose’s request. Rose asked that the money be held for now, in anticipation that he might resubmit the project after the election. He said he had heard that a new council might be friendlier to his proposal, but he later clarified that, indicating that no candidates had made any promises, other than that they would follow the city’s ordinance.
Rose contends that under the city’s ordinance and state rules he could construct as many as 24 RV sites, but Planning and Zoning Chair Steve Altenburg and City Clerk-Treasurer Linda Keith have told him that the planning commission is unlikely to approve more than 15.
“Nobody has made any promises,” said Rose in a telephone interview. “What I’ve been told is that they’ll have to start doing stuff the way the rules are,” he said.
In his engineer’s report, Bolf reported that construction of the new TEDA manufacturing building appears to be behind schedule. He said he has a meeting with the builders planned to get an update on progress. “I had hoped to see walls up by now,” he said.
In other action, the council voted 2-1, with Dougherty voting against, to raise the ambulance rates by $100 per run for both basic life support and advanced life support as well to increase the loaded mile rate. The rate increases amount to 16 percent per loaded mile, 12 percent for BLS and seven percent for ALS.
Ambulance director Altenburg made the recommendation for the increase after claiming earlier in the meeting that the ambulance service was showing a $67,000 fund balance after six months of the paid on-call service, although his report provided no explanation or detail for his claim. “Why are we asking for a rate increase if the fund balance is going up by $67,000?” asked Dougherty.
Altenburg said it was time for an increase, since the last hike had been implemented in 2016 and that failure to implement an increase for 2019 would require a bigger increase in the future.
And Altenburg said other expenses, such as the cost of equipping a third ambulance, were going to make the ambulance budget look “very poor” at the end of the year. He said the department is going to have to replace an ambulance and has only half of the funding that will be required. He said he’s trying to get the Ambulance Commission to approve a change in the funding mechanism to increase the revenue for ambulance replacement, but he has been having difficulty convincing some area townships of the need for the change.
Altenburg also said the ambulance department has experienced higher-than-normal costs for truck repair and maintenance, which is contributing to budget problems. Since its shift to paid on-call, the department has been accepting more non-emergency inter-hospital patient transfers, which has increased the department’s revenue, but also added to vehicle wear and tear.
Altenburg points to a sizable increase in the number of runs this year as justification for the paid on-call service. The department has undertaken 62 more runs through September than last year, although roughly two-thirds of that increase can be attributed to a jump in non-emergency transfers which the department is undertaking in order to help pay for the paid on-call service.
In other action, the council:
Pulled a discussion of the harbor and river trail project bid until Bolf can meet with the bidders, Nordic Group, of Hermantown, to find ways to reduce the project cost to within the $679,000 in funding.
Approved two pay estimates totaling $111,720 for the ongoing work on the TEDA building.
Approved an airport project change order.
Approved adding Randy Johnson to the casual labor pool.
Approved a motion to request that Walker, Giroux and Hahne complete the 2019 audit for a cost of $23,000. That would be a reduction from the $23,900 that the auditor had proposed.