Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Greenwood officials: Ecklund won’t push hospital district expansion

Jodi Summit
Posted 10/12/17

GREENWOOD TWP- Many Greenwood Township residents had hoped to let Rep. Rob Ecklund know that they are not happy with the idea of being forced to join the Cook-Orr Healthcare District, but when …

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Greenwood officials: Ecklund won’t push hospital district expansion

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GREENWOOD TWP- Many Greenwood Township residents had hoped to let Rep. Rob Ecklund know that they are not happy with the idea of being forced to join the Cook-Orr Healthcare District, but when Ecklund had to cancel his visit to Greenwood at the last minute, they still filled the town hall for Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting.

About 50 residents listened as Chairman John Bassing gave a brief review of the issue, and relayed the message from Ecklund who wrote, “I do not intend to introduce legislation forcing townships into a hospital district.” He added that he does intend to explore options for the residents in Kabetogama Township, “since they pay into the district but use the services of Rainy Lake Medical Center.”

The town board passed a motion to send a letter to Sen. Tom Bakk, asking his position on the issue of forcibly annexing a township into the taxing district.

Township residents have been worried that there will be a legislative attempt to force the township into the tax district. Members of the Cook-Orr Healthcare District have asked legislators to find a legislative solution to the problem of annexing area townships they claim were part of the original district. Kabetogama Township has been seeking a legislative attempt to get themselves removed from the district. That area was an unorganized township when the district was formed, and St. Louis County made them part of the district. Once Kabetogama became a township, it was automatically made a member.

Greenwood and other area township officials have noted there is no documentation that Greenwood, Vermilion Lake, and three other townships were part of the original district, and the maps used in the enabling legislation do not show them as part of the district. Members of the original district all voted to join. Research done by the township shows the first attempt at asking Greenwood to join the district was in 1999, during the construction of Highway 115, which created a more convenient link between the township and Cook.

Lee Peterson wrote to the board saying they need to guard against a “legislative trick.”

Bassing, who just attended a township legal seminar, noted that the issue was discussed, and they were told once part of such a tax district, it would be basically impossible to be removed. State law says that all the other members of the district must approve any withdrawal, but doing so would increase the taxes on their own township or city’s residents. State law also currently gives town boards the authority to join such a district, as well as giving the township residents the opportunity to call for a referendum to approve or deny the action.

Calculations based on information from St. Louis County show that at present taxing rates, Greenwood residents would be assessed approximately $470,000 per year if part of the healthcare district, an amount that exceeds the township’s own local tax levy.

Resident Rick Stoehr asked township residents to think about reconsidering their opposition to the district. He talked about his recent experience at the Cook Hospital, which correctly diagnosed an atypical heart attack and had him transported to Duluth before he experienced any permanent damage. He noted the area has a lack of ambulances able to do transfers. In his case, he said, he waited three hours but no ambulance was available to do a transfer to Duluth. At that point, he required a very costly helicopter transfer, something he wasn’t sure will be covered by his insurance.

“If there was some way we could work with the hospital board,” Stoehr said. “Look around, I don’t see many people under the age of 65 in this room. Standing in my shoes, the hospital levy looks like a good deal if it would upgrade their ambulance service.”

Greenwood Township residents were surveyed on the question, as part of the recent comprehensive plan, and the vast majority of residents (481-84) were not in favor of joining the district. St. Louis County estimated the cost for township residents would be approximately $100 per $100,000 in property value, per year.

Other business

In other business the town board:

‰ Took no action on a request to have a potable water supply at the pavilion. The board noted the township well’s water supply was limited, and options would include either digging in a new line from the town hall under the existing blacktop, or drilling a new well. The pavilion does have water supplied via a hose during the summer, but the water is not drinkable.

‰ Heard that the recreation committee is holding a fundraiser on Monday, Oct. 30 at 5 p.m. at the Vermilion Club, with pizza and many terrific auction items available. The committee is organizing a 40th anniversary township celebration for Aug. 18, 2018, and is looking for ideas for entertainment, and bits of township history for a planned booklet. The new playground equipment has arrived and is being stored indoors until it can be assembled.

‰ Received one bid for snowplowing from Vermilion Snow Management/T.J. Kladivo for plowing and snow shoveling services for $100 per hour. The board accepted the bid, noting that T.J. Kladivo supplied snow removal services last winter and did a good job.

‰ Approved applying for a state grant that will pay half the cost of an updated voting machine. The DS200 machine will cost $6,000, and the township will be required to pay half the cost.

‰ Approved repairs and annual maintenance to the fire department’s airboat at a cost of approximately $1,500.

‰ Approved the purchase of two sets of turnout gear for two new fire department members who have completed their required training. The board also approved two new department members, a couple who live on Echo Point.

‰ Approved changes to the fire department personnel and operating policies relating to Emergency Medical Responders. The newly-adopted policies were written for fire fighters, but it was noted that EMRs have different training requirements.

‰ Again discussed the issue of vehicle logs for fire department equipment. The board approved use of an updated run report, which will include vehicle/maintenance data. The motion passed 4-1, with Bassing voting against because he hadn’t reviewed the new form. It was noted that the board had passed a motion last April requiring the use of vehicle logs, which the fire department has yet to implement.

‰ Noted the township has a new email address, due to ongoing issues with Frontier email. The new email is greenwoodtwn@ outlook.com.

‰ Will post job openings for fire department administrative assistant and assistant chief. The two positions were filled last May on an interim basis, but others in the department will be given the opportunity to apply if desired. According to the newly-adopted township personnel policies, positions must be posted for a period of 30 days at the town hall before hiring decisions are made.

‰ Heard from Supervisor Larry Tahija who said the Tower Area Ambulance Association is looking at changing its funding formula to move from a per capita annual payment to a per parcel annual payment to increase the amount of available annual funding from member townships. The department is hoping to purchase a third ambulance, to be used mainly for transfers. The department would also need additional storage space for a third ambulance, since the current hall is full.

‰ Discussed establishing some sort of billing system for non-emergency fire boat calls. Chief Fazio was asked to find if other area departments have similar policies. The boat is sometimes paged out by 911-dispatch, and is asked to assist boaters in non-emergency situations. The board noted there are township businesses that can offer such services. “This is an expense to the township,” said Supervisor Mike Ralston.

‰ Heard that the township has received a $15,000 annual donation from the Bois Forte Band for fire protection services.

‰ Fazio reported that two department members participated in the live burn training in Soudan last weekend, and that several other department members brought the fire boat to McKinley Park, where it was successfully able to provide enough water to the tenders that were used to fight the two training structure fires. Fire boat one is being taken out of the lake shortly, and fire boat two will be moved to Gruben’s Marina until closer to freeze-up. Fire boat two is smaller, and easier to get in and out of the lake.

‰ Noted that progress was being made on determining the route for the Lake Vermilion Trail section in Greenwood.

‰ DeLuca noted concerns that a “non-professional” had been brought in as a volunteer to help with a computer issue. He asked that only town board approved vendors be allowed to work on township computers because of confidentiality and liability issues. The board voted, 4-1 with Bassing voting against, to only have previously-approved computer vendors help with issues on the township computers. Clerk Sue Drobac noted that the problem involved had to do with trouble-shooting email issues, and that she was present the entire time, and there were no issues with confidentiality. Bassing noted that the town board did not have the authority to supervise how the clerk does her job. DeLuca said he only wanted someone who was insured working on the computers.

‰ Heard a complaint from fire department member Jeff Maus about the conduct of Supervisor DeLuca regarding the open meeting law, and also DeLuca’s behavior towards the clerk. “There is no place for bullying here,” Maus said.

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Shaking my head

The meeting proved that the problems are not entirely resolved in Greenwood Township. There was an incident this summer when the fire boat could not be used because the key had been left in the 'on' position. The battery was dead. Who did it? Don't know, as the fire department had refused to follow a directive from it's employers- the board, and kept a mileage and user log. That is insubordination. It should not have been tolerated. As usual, the board caved to the all powerful paid on call members. The word volunteer should be removed from their job description. They refuse to even change batteries in their own equipment, they hired it out. Time to have their 'business' meeting, changed to a hands on maintenance meeting. As long as they are getting paid, they should be doing their own equipment maintenance, unless it's a major repair. The board needs to get a spine.

Saturday, October 14, 2017