GREENWOOD TWP- The town board here agreed last week to forward a long list of comments and suggestions regarding the Tower Area Ambulance Service subsidy contract to the city of Tower. The town board …
GREENWOOD TWP- The town board here agreed last week to forward a long list of comments and suggestions regarding the Tower Area Ambulance Service subsidy contract to the city of Tower. The town board developed its comments with assistance from their township attorney, Mike Couri.
As with other area townships, Greenwood has yet to agree to a new subsidy contract with the TAAS covering 2020. While the ambulance service is owned and operated by the city of Tower, area townships and Fortune Bay Resort Casino have paid into a fund that helps cover the cost of replacing ambulances.
“I’m not opposed to continuing at the $15 rate for the first half of the year,” said Supervisor Mike Ralston, noting this would give the township more time to conduct “due diligence.”
TAAS is asking the townships to double the per-capita subsidy rate from the current $15 per person to almost $30 per person by 2022.
Attorney Couri, in a letter to the town board, said that such an increase is very unusual in this type of emergency service contract.
“I would suggest that the township ask for the revenue and expenditure report for the ambulance service over the prior three years in an effort to figure out why the costs are increasing so dramatically, and what, if anything, can be done to lower the costs in the proposed contract.”
Couri had plenty of questions about the language in the draft contract the city had sent to the township. He said the township should have information on what percentage of runs originate in which township, along with Fortune Bay, and should have some mechanism to assess proportionally more costs to the areas with the highest ambulance usage.
“Nothing in this agreement ties the fees to the city’s actual costs,” he wrote, “nor does it require the city to pay anything towards this service.”
Couri said the $18.75 that the city pledges to the subsidy fund for each transfer “is way too little to cover this service and essentially will require the townships, casino, and city to heavily subsidize each run.” Couri said the ambulance service should be charging a high enough rate for these transfers to cover ambulance maintenance, fuel, and staffing.
Greenwood resident Lee Peterson, who has been following the ambulance issue carefully, said that the TAAS representative from Eagles Nest, Larry McCray, estimated that $4 per mile should be put back into the ambulance subsidy fund for all transfer miles.
“The average mileage per transfer is 300 miles,” Peterson said.
Couri also told the township they need to see a ten-year capital improvement plan which details future ambulance purchases, expected costs, and how they will be funded.
Ralston also agreed with the note from Couri that the contract should include language holding the townships harmless in case of any negligence by the ambulance service.
The Tower Area Ambulance Commission, which usually meets quarterly, is holding a special meeting on Monday, March 2, where they will review a new contract that is being drawn up by the city. The Tower City Council will then review feedback on the revised contract at their March 9 meeting.
The town board spent no time discussing a preliminary 2021 budget, which historically the town board has done before going to township voters with a levy request at the annual meeting. This year's annual meeting is on March 10 at 8:15 p.m. Township elections will be held that day, with polls open from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.
The board did spend a little time discussing their levy request, noting the township still has a healthy fund balance ($633,241 at the end of January), but is looking at some additional expenses in the upcoming year. The township, during their annual meeting last year, set the levy at $150,000 for 2020.
“I think we should increase the levy,” said township board chair Carmen DeLuca. “We want broadband. It is going to cost money.”
Both John and Joanne Bassing, who are on the local broadband committee, said it wasn’t certain that the township would be required to put up local money, and if needed, the township could bond in the future.
“I don’t agree to putting it in the levy and just having it sit there,” John Bassing said.
“People want broadband and are willing to do it,” said DeLuca.
Ralston said he felt the township should ask for a $250,000 levy for 2021.
“We have a big township,” Ralston said, “I think we are going to have to fund as much as half a project.”
DeLuca noted that Morse Township, outside of Ely, is putting in $100,000 in local funding for their broadband project.
Joanne Bassing said the feasibility study, which will get underway this spring, will give more information on potential costs of installing broadband services through the area.
The board unanimously passed a motion to recommend setting the levy for 2021 at $250,000.
Open meeting law
The board did pass a motion, in response to an advisory opinion issued by state Department of Administration, stating that the township’s minutes and records of votes were available for public viewing during regular office hours to all. The town board had previously enacted a motion limiting access to such records to township resident Jeff Maus, but the Commissioner of Administration determined that action violated the state’s Open Meeting Law. Maus had requested the advisory opinion late last year after the town board moved to restrict his access to records.
Township Clerk Sue Drobac expressed her concern over the surveillance cameras that the town board had recently had installed inside her office.
“I don’t think it needs to be on all the time,” she said. “I don’t like being spied on. The security should be for when I am not here.”
Drobac also noted that township officials do not currently have any access to what is being recorded on the cameras both inside the office and outside the building.
“We need to determine who gets access,” said Ralston. “Right now, only the installer has access.”
DeLuca had the clerk read a letter by Couri, sent at the request of the board, regarding attorney-client privilege as it relates to board members’ private discussions with the attorney on ongoing litigation.
There is no statute that prohibits town board members from publicly discussing attorney-client privileged communications, but it is accepted as a common law doctrine.
Couri said that individual town board members can put the township at financial or legal risk by relating privileged information to a private party. He noted that these confidential discussions are not admissible in court. But if a town board member chooses to share such information, it is no longer considered privileged. If the town board as a whole is meeting, the ability to exclude the public from discussion is governed by the state’s open meeting law.
In other business, the board:
Voted to post the open fire chief position for 30 days at the town hall, per fire department policies.
Approved spending about $1,000 to have Fisher Printing create and mail out postcards to all township property owners with information on completing the two online surveys about potential interest in broadband services.