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EDITORIAL: Financial transparency

City of Tower’s finances appear shaky, which is why the council needs answers

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For the past several years, the finances of the city of Tower have been virtually unknown to the public and were of little apparent interest to members of the city council. Last year, when the city’s auditor laid out the worsening financial picture, the entire council failed to ask a single question, apparently not recognizing that the auditor was trying to raise the alarm.

Those days appear to be over, and none too soon. Tower’s new city council, led by Mayor Orlyn Kringstad, is slowly peeling back the onion on the city’s finances, and the results could well shock plenty of the city’s residents. Those in attendance at this week’s council meeting were certainly surprised when the clerk-treasurer told the mayor she “didn’t have a clue,” how much cash the city actually had on hand.

We suspect that the city is in difficult financial straits, but the city clerk-treasurer has managed to keep the city’s financial woes hidden, in part, by diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city’s ambulance fund to pay the bills. On paper, the ambulance fund has about $885,000 in surplus funds built up over the past decade or so. But city officials have hinted that much of that has been diverted to cover deficits in other city funds.

It’s not clear how much cash is actually remaining in the ambulance fund, or if there is enough cash remaining to pay for the new ambulance the previous council ordered in December.

And the days of surplus in the ambulance department appear to be over as a result of the shift to paid on-call, which is the argument this newspaper has been making for more than a year. Under previous ambulance directors, the service routinely socked away $100,000 annual surpluses, which is the main reason the department has such a large fund balance on paper. In 2018, however, expect the surplus will be much-diminished, even though the paid on-call service was only in place for nine months.

A full-year under the new system could well put the service into the red, particularly since the number of transfers appear to be running well below the ambulance director’s assumptions, at least so far.

It’s no wonder that the director has been rattling the tin cup at every neighboring township in recent months, hoping to convince town boards to back a doubling of the ambulance subsidy over the next three years. The department’s own financial projection showed that the revenues the increased subsidy would generate far exceeded the cost of ambulance replacement over the next several years, yielding a growing surplus. If that fund was truly in a lock-box, that could be justified, but the city clerk-treasurer has yet to show anyone that the township funds aren’t simply being used to cash flow city operations. Until the city provides some financial transparency, township officials would be wise to remain skeptical of any increase in the subsidy.

Transparency is also in order when it comes to the city’s ongoing efforts to sell land. Over the past three years, the city has sold a total of 244 acres of land and it has much more than that currently listed with local realtors. Where is the money from such land sales going? If land is being sold to make new investments in the city, that’s one thing. But if city assets are being sold off simply to fund basic operations, that’s hardly sustainable financial management. The council should certainly seek an accounting of the $213,500 generated from land sales over the past four years and have a discussion about whether future land sales make sense.

But first the city council and the residents of Tower need to understand the extent of the problem. And that can only come from continuing to peel back the onion. Fortunately, new members of the city council are asking the right questions. Now, we just need some answers.

Comments

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Lee Peterson

The City of Tower web site does not include a Tower Ambulance Commission listed under the headers: "City Commissions & Departments" or under "City Departments". Strange, huh?

Supposedly there is $885,000 in the ambulance fund. But, it looks like nobody knows for sure. Money may have been diverted to other toys in the City? Quite the slush fund.

Put a hold on the new ambulance. Townships need to pay what they have been paying until this gets sorted out. Probably shut down the rented house and get back to the regular business of running an ambulance service. Let the IRRRRRB and City taxpayers pay for the toys being built in the City. If the ambulance fund has actually been raided, the City needs to restore the money. Are the elected officials bonded in case of this?

People from the townships need to attend the City Council meeting at 5:30PM on Monday April 7th at the Tower Civic Center. I hope there is a complete, honest financial sheet available there.

Monday, April 1
John Bassing

Where is the openness and transparency that we should see in the ambulance commission. Looking at Tower’s website one wouldn’t even know there was an ambulance commission. Tower is not the only entity that contributes to this fund all the surrounding Townships also contribute. If the ambulance fund is stand alone that’s fine but if Tower uses it as a slush fund and all that’s left is a box of IOU’s then there is a problem. This is important as the township’s must decide on the nearly double increase the commission is asking for. WHERE IS THE MONEY!!

Monday, April 1
Jeff Hill

Well Said Mr. Peterson-When it is all said done people will be shocked-

My Best Advise For the Accused would be to Lawyer Up. And start working on being HONEST with all- Why? Quite Simple, Clerk/admin/Zoning Adm "You are unable to perform your every day duties as outlined in Your Employment Agreement." So This leaves us The Council no Choice but to put you on Paid Medical Leave of Absence- Until we can sort out this Dilemma You created.

We further order a complete rule 25 hearing, and complete report on your present Physiological and Physical status.

Why? Because Normal people do not do the things you do. There will be no further discussion on this Issue. Would someone please make the motion.? and see if we can get support, Which they will, Now call for public input. The End-

( I am not attorney and do not provide legal advice, only make suggestions to make life easier.) We want our Town Back. Peace

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Jeff Hill

218-410-9810

Monday, April 1