TOWER— The city council, here, on Monday, unanimously accepted the recommendation of its hiring committee and agreed to offer Tower resident Michael Schultz, the job of city clerk-treasurer. …
TOWER— The city council, here, on Monday, unanimously accepted the recommendation of its hiring committee and agreed to offer Tower resident Michael Schultz, the job of city clerk-treasurer.
The committee must still decide on a pay and benefits package for Schultz, which the parties involved will negotiate ahead of the council’s next meeting, set for Sept. 27, at which time a final hiring decision could be made.
The decision to offer Schultz the job was not a surprise. Schultz had finished a close second to current clerk-treasurer Victoria Ranua back in 2019 and he was one of only two candidates interviewed for the position this time around. The hiring committee had sought to interview a third candidate, but that person withdrew shortly before the interview.
Ranua had announced her resignation on June 1. The city’s job posting, released shortly after Ranua’s announcement, had attracted relatively little interest, with only five applicants responding over a two-and-a-half-month period. The committee had determined that two of the applicants did not meet the minimum requirements.
Schultz currently works as a revenue collections officer for the Minnesota Department of Revenue, based in the Ely, a position he’s held since 2018. He previously worked for two other private collections firms, based in the Twin Cities, where he served as a manager and coach of collections teams. Schultz grew up in Virginia and holds a BA in political science from St. John’s University in Collegeville.
Schultz also has recent experience in city of Tower governance, currently serving as treasurer of the Tower Economic Development Authority and as chair of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. If the council approves the hiring later this month, Schultz would likely begin his employment with the city in October. Ranua has agreed to stay on to help Schultz settle into the position.
In other action, the council voted 4-1, with councilor Sheldon Majerle voting no, to pursue a contract with Breitung Township for police services. Councilor Joe Morin presented cost information provided by the township, which put the city’s share of employing and equipping a full-time police chief at $65,346 in 2022, which would include the cost of a vehicle. Morin and councilor Dave Setterberg recommended budgeting an additional $10,000 for possible part-time wages or overtime pay for special events.
The new arrangement would provide the city a substantial savings over the prior contract with the township, which had consumed 32 percent of the city’s tax levy, according to Setterberg. The new contract, including the additional $10,000, would encompass about 19 percent of the city’s tax levy, according to figures the two council members presented to the council this week.
The new contract with Breitung would provide approximately 40 hours a week in local coverage, which Morin said would be focused on “community policing.” Both communities would rely on the St. Louis County Sheriff for 911 response the other 128 hours per week.
Currently, the city relies on the sheriff’s office full-time for emergency response, with the cost of that response covered under the county’s tax levy.
The council did not discuss which agency would take the lead for criminal investigation if the Breitung police department is reconstituted. The township is currently reviewing the possible hiring of Daniel Reing as the new police chief. That decision could come as early as Sept. 23.
In other personnel matters, Ranua informed the council that the city’s ambulance director, who is also an EMT, works an average of 40 hours per week, which has typically qualified city employees for various benefits, including health and dental insurance and life insurance.
Ranua said that as a small employer, the city isn’t required to pay for health coverage for any of its workers, but that once the city decides to do so it should have a “solid foundation” for doing so. An agenda item that Ranua included in the council packet indicated a wide disparity in the benefit packages offered to various employees, ranging from $14,605 for members of the AFSCME union, which includes the deputy clerk and public works staff, to $27,900 for the wastewater supervisor, who is hired and paid through a joint powers arrangement with Breitung. The clerk-treasurer’s benefits package totals $18,497.
In other business, the council:
• Authorized Mayor Orlyn Kringstad and councilor Kevin Norby to discuss with Breitung officials a request by the township for a “fair and reasonable goodwill offer” for the township’s past and ongoing maintenance of an extension of Breitung’s bike trail, a portion of which passes through undeveloped land owned by the city of Tower. The city and the township had agreed to work cooperatively on the trail project about seven years ago, which was supposed to complete a bike trail circuit extending “around the horn,” including Hoodoo Point and McKinley Park campgrounds. The project was only partially built, never reaching Hoodoo Point, and the township has mowed the trail, including the portion that passes through city of Tower property, ever since. Some on the council objected to Breitung’s request and Ranua noted that the city has mowed a portion of the Mesabi Trail that passes through the township for decades, without requesting compensation. But Kringstad said the township was signaling a desire to discuss the issue, which he said he supports.
• Discussed the advisability of conducting a bathymetric study of the East Two River channel to document the degree of additional sedimentation in the channel as a result of increased boat traffic and the removal of a portion of the retaining wall along the river’s east side.
Ranua noted that a similar study was done several years ago when the harbor was dredged and that conducting another one now would establish a baseline for determining to what extent changes along the river are affecting sedimentation. She said that information would help the city plan for its ongoing maintenance needs for the river channel, which connects the harbor to Lake Vermilion. Council members agreed on the value of the study, but balked at the cost, estimated at $5,000-$7,000. In the end, the council agreed to consider it as they budget for 2022.
• Briefly discussed but took no official action on the recommendations of the Emergency Medical Services Board, provided to the city last month. Norby said he’d be willing to meet with the ambulance director, the clerk-treasurer, and others in order to develop recommendations to bring back to the council. “There are things we need to take action on,” Norby said. “We need a smaller group to go through the report in more depth.”
• Voted 3-2 to sell the police vehicle that the city had purchased several years ago as part of its police agreement with Breitung Township. Councilor Sheldon Majerle offered to take the vehicle to Waschke Family car dealership in Cook to get a valuation on the vehicle, a Chevy Tahoe. Kringstad and Norby supported Majerle’s motion to sell the vehicle. Ranua noted that used car prices are exceptionally high right now, which might yield a good price for the vehicle.
• Unanimously approved declaring the city’s 2005 ambulance as surplus and putting it up for bids with a $5,000 minimum bid.
• Approved change orders in the Pine Street project. The first was for $4,140 for the excavation of additional concrete roadbed , more than originally specified. The second change, totaling up to $15,705, was for the replacement of the concrete apron and driveway in front of the fire hall and ambulance quarters. The funds to cover the additional costs will come from the Hoodoo Point Campground account, which has the money available.
• Asked Morin to talk with public works director Ben Velcheff about options for grading services for the city. The city’s 1973-vintage grader requires a long list of costly repairs, but the city is not in a position to easily replace the equipment.
• Accepted the recommendation of Velcheff to leave the city’s seaplane docks in place over the winter. The docks cannot be easily removed due to extremely low water levels.
• Briefly discussed but took no action on the latest rewrite of Ordinance 2, dealing with utility hook-ups.
• Heard a brief description, but took no action, on the 2022 budget process. Ranua noted that the council will need to approve a proposed 2022 levy at its Sept. 27 meeting.
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