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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Council rejects use of taxpayer funds for private development

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 10/14/20

TOWER— The city of Tower won’t use taxpayer funds to advance development of a private RV park or other prospective development along the East Two River. The city council, on Monday, voted …

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Council rejects use of taxpayer funds for private development

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TOWER— The city of Tower won’t use taxpayer funds to advance development of a private RV park or other prospective development along the East Two River.
The city council, on Monday, voted unanimously to reject a request by developer Geoff Griffin to pay for one-third of the cost of enrolling a formerly city-owned parcel in a brownfield program overseen by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, or MPCA.
The site in question once housed a city dump, although the city paid to remove years of accumulated trash back in the 1990s as part of a remediation effort there. But some restrictions on the type of development allowed at the site remain, unless developers enroll the site in a brownfield program designed to ensure that the clean-up did not leave any lingering contamination.
The status of the former dump site has stalled development of an RV park proposed by Dave Rose, who owns adjacent property and recently swapped land with Griffin that includes part of the former dump site. The city, at the insistence of the MPCA, has called a halt to any development on Rose’s property until the brownfield process is completed. The cost of the work, which would include a phase I and limited phase II study, is approximately $9,000. That could be the total cost assuming that no major contamination is discovered. Under Griffin’s proposal, the city would pay one-third of the cost, while Griffin and Rose would split the remaining two-thirds.
Rose, who spoke at Monday’s meeting, argued that the city had a responsibility to help finance the studies. “The city advertised this land for sale for development property,” Rose stated, “and put the price at eight or nine times what it was assessed for.”
He cited letters from the MPCA to former clerk-treasurer Linda Keith, which recommended that the city enroll the site in the brownfield program. “The city ignored those letters and, instead, advertised it for development property.”
“It’s true that the MPCA recommended it, twice,” acknowledged council member and zoning administrator Mary Shedd. “But the city of Tower chose not to enroll, which is typical.” Shedd said such studies— particularly the more-involved phase II portion— are typically undertaken by developers, since the parameters of the study depend on what the developer wants to do with the property.
After a bit more back and forth, council member Kevin Norby motioned to deny any cost-share by the city. Council member Dave Setterberg seconded the motion and the rest of the council agreed.
In other action, the council approved a resolution to assess overdue utility bills from seven property owners onto their property taxes. The resolution won’t include overdue bills from Karel Winkelaar, who spoke to the council last night. Winkelaar argued that the bills had been assessed against a commercial property he owns that was not utilizing the service. “I’m having to pay between $2,800-$2,900 for no services rendered,” he said. “How would you feel?” he asked.
Clerk-treasurer Victoria Ranua pushed back, noting that the city continues to incur the cost of maintaining the infrastructure that makes the service available, and that those services increase the value of his property. She noted that Winkelaar was sitting near RV developer Dave Rose. “He would love to have water and sewer available on his property,” she said, referring to Rose.
Winkelaar noted that he had set up a payment agreement with the previous city clerk, under which the city took five dollars a month from his bank account. “And I agreed to that under protest,” said Winkelaar.
Ranua said she could find no supporting documentation of that agreement. While she agreed that the city has continued to take five dollars monthly from Winkelaar’s account, she said that action was being taken by the deputy clerk, who she said was simply following direction that had been given by the previous clerk. And Ranua noted that the arrangement was inadequate to ever address the overdue amount in a reasonable time frame.
Regardless, the council agreed to look into Winkelaar’s situation before assessing the overdue bills onto his property taxes. Because of a county-imposed deadline for assessing property taxes, Winkelaar will have another year before the council can take action on his overdue account.
In other business, the council:
• Formally set the hourly pay for EMTs and EMRs serving with the Tower Area Ambulance Service at $11.50 for EMTs and $10.50 for EMRs for paid on-call and $25 for EMTS and $15 for EMRs for responses on a paid-per-call basis. Ranua had asked for the clarification after she discovered that the city council had never set pay rates for paid on-call ambulance staff.
• Authorized development of a new contract with grant writer and manager Nancy Larson, limited to 100 hours, at $75 an hour, for next year. Larson gave a report on the work she completed this year, including salvaging several grants mismanaged by the previous clerk-treasurer. “The backlog of work on the grants was extensive,” noted Larson in her report to the council. Larson estimated her work either brought in new grant dollars or reclaimed dollars that the city was at risk of losing totaling $1.325 million. She also has pending grant applications submitted totaling just over $850,000. The city had contracted for 200 hours last year, but the backlog of grant management took up much of that time, which won’t be required under the new contract. The new contract should be ready for council approval at their November meeting.
• Approved a motion to remove the clerk-treasurer from most city committees as a means of allowing her to focus on higher priority work. Ranua has contended for months that the long list of responsibilities that come with the clerk-treasurer position, many of which are mandated in state law or in the city’s charter, makes it impossible to do the job well without assistance or more focused assignments.
Council member Dave Setterberg said he had analyzed an informal time report that Ranua has been providing council members for several weeks and he said the basic must-do items already consume 40 hours a week. “That doesn’t include dealing with the 40 emails a day, the phone calls, and numerous other interruptions,” he said.
Setterberg said the issue has been a longstanding one with the city. “Things just didn’t get done in the past,” he said, “and that’s still happening at times.” In addition to her routine work requirements, Ranua has had to find time to address years of financial mismanagement and lack of clear standards and policies at city hall.
• Denied a request by Keith Schweiberger for a five-year renewal of a dockage lease he has maintained since 1986 at Hoodoo Point. Schweiberger’s was the last such lease still in existence.
• Approved, on a 4-1 vote with council member Sheldon Majerle voting no, a motion to accept the low bid for propane for the 2020-21 heating season from Superior Fuel at a price of 95.9¢ per gallon plus a $3.98 delivery fee. Como Oil and Propane had bid $1.049 per gallon without a delivery fee.
• Authorized seeking grant funding from the state fire marshal for the purchase of a gear washer and dryer for the fire department.
• Approved a low bid of $5,000 from C&C Winger for replacement of an eight-inch sewer main on North Third St.
• Approved a motion to investigate applying for an aquatic invasive species control grant for the possible purchase of a boat wash for installation at the Hoodoo Point public access.
• Approved a motion to establish an absentee ballot committee.
• Set a special meeting to work on the city’s 2021 budget for Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 5:30 p.m.

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Dave Rose

The summary of what took place at the city council is correct. The old dump ground is approximately 1 acre. The land put in the dump ground problem area was increased to 10 acres. Within that 10 acres is my rv park. The notices sent to the city years ago recommended the city Install the dump ground into the Brownfield program and this would put the old dump ground finally to death and the land could be used for redevelopment. This was ignored and instead the land was put up for sale as prime development land Without disclosing there was a Problem. The land was appraised and Minimum bid was set at 8 times assessor's value. The new leaders of the city have inherited this problem. Right now there can be no development on any kind on the 10 acres. I requested a permit to put in a road approach 2 months ago and that was even denied because there can be no Construction Or Development on the land according to MPCA. What I was trying to get accomplished at the meeting is to come up with a equitable solution to put this thing to bed instead of a large drawn out battle. I offered to pay 1/3 because I am in the middle of this as a neighboring property owner. For 5 years working of my project I have not asked for any handouts. I have been a tax payer not taker. The Brownfield program and testing is being done now and soon completed. There will be a rv park . The good news is the site plan has been turned into the city for final Approval. It shows the RV layout of the new park. There is a large amount of green space for all to enjoy with a nice section right on the river. There will be some very nice sites for sale at a reasonable price to bring a new group of RV'ers into tower and also some nice sites available to the locals who want to just hang out and enjoy their lake . All sites will have a access to your lake. Thanks for hanging in there. Dave Rose cell 320 295 1883.

12 hours ago