TOWER- Hoodoo Point Campground managers Julie Stellmach and Randy Pratt asked the Tower City Council, Monday, to consider a plan to install campground-wide wifi in an effort to keep up with …
TOWER- Hoodoo Point Campground managers Julie Stellmach and Randy Pratt asked the Tower City Council, Monday, to consider a plan to install campground-wide wifi in an effort to keep up with increasing demand from campground users for the service. The city’s internet provider, CTC, would provide the wifi service for an additional $220 a month over what they currently pay to have wifi at the campground store. That monthly charge would only apply for the six months the campground is open each year.
Installation cost would include the addition of some new electric outlets on the utility poles to power the system, with estimated cost of $4,500 in one-time fees, according to Pratt.
“Wifi would increase our nightly rentals,” Pratt said. “It would just take seven additional rentals a month to cover the cost of the wifi.”
The council asked Pratt to come back with written estimates for the project cost. The earliest the system could be installed would be in the early fall. The campground would need to commit to the system for three years.
The managers also talked about the need for some long-term improvements, to keep the campground up-to-date and competitive with other area campgrounds and RV sites.
They proposed a round of modest fee increases for next season, increasing the seasonal rate by $50/summer, and nightly rates by one or two dollars. Pratt said Hoodoo’s rates are currently on the low end of costs for area campgrounds.
“That would cover the monthly wifi expense,” they said.
But other improvements will be more costly. The bathrooms, they noted, are in need of upgrade. “McKinley Park just installed beautiful new bathrooms,” they said. Pratt said Breitung spent about $50,000 on their bathroom upgrades.
Electrical service to the RV sites also needs to be upgraded to handle the new, larger RVs. Even right now, Pratt said, the campground is having a rough time handling electrical loads with RVs that are running air conditioning on hot days.
“We turn away a lot of campers,” they said, “because we can’t do the Class A 45-footers.”
The cost of upgrading service to all the sites to 50-amp service could be several hundred thousand dollars, he predicted.
“We realize this isn’t going to happen overnight,” Pratt said. “But over the next five-to-ten years, we want to see advancement.” The two noted that if the city set aside the revenue from the increased rental rates, and also was able to increase the occupancy rate, this would help pay for the projects.
Pine Street project funding gap
The council reacted with irritation to a request by clerk-treasurer Linda Keith to approve moving forward with a bond or tax-abatement to cover a funding gap for the Pine Street project, that is slated to begin in July. The state approved a $420,00 grant for the project last year, but total costs are expected to exceed that amount by at least $180,000, plus legal fees for the bond, which will likely run $10,000-$20,000.
The necessity of a bond was a major and unwelcome surprise to the council members, none of whom were involved in the approval of the project last year. “We are sitting here with a gun to our heads,” said Mayor Orlyn Kringstad. “I am really irritated by this.”
Councilor Sheldon Majerle said the council had been spending “too damn much money that we didn’t have” and suggested holding off on the project.
But SEH Engineer Matt Bolf told councilors that a portion of the project is connected to the town home construction and he said the city was fortunate to be able to tie in that project with the rebuilding of Pine Street, so it was eligible for the grant. The project includes the reconstruction of Pine Street from Main Street to the Iron Ore Bar bridge; the relocation of Pine Street on the other side of the Iron Ore Bar bridge, and then utility and infrastructure work related to the town home development.
“We always knew it wouldn’t be 100-percent,” Bolf said. “The grant does not cover utility work.”
Bolf said the previous council had talked about borrowing from the Gundersen Trust, asking the IRRR for grant dollars, or getting a bond as options to fill the funding gap.
Bolf said the city needed to come up with the funding as soon as possible. St. Louis County is acting as the fiscal agent on the project, and the city must pre-pay its share before the project can begin.
“The previous council committed to the state to do this project in 2019,” Bolf said. “Nothing can happen with the town home project if this isn’t done.”
A $350,000 IRRR grant to the city that was initially given for infrastructure work for the town homes was reassigned for the Lamppa building project last year when the funding was set to expire at the end of December.
“Last year, IRRR officials told me there was another $350,000 that would be allocated for the town home infrastructure,” Mayor Orlyn Kringstad said.
Bolf said that option had been discussed, but “the paperwork never happened.”
Keith said she had spoken recently with staff at the IRRR, who told her that such a grant would not be possible at this time.
“They said we would have to reapply,” Keith said, “and would need to show sales on the town home units.”
The town home project has been stuck in neutral while the city has been unable to get the plat paperwork completed. Sales on the units cannot begin until the plat is formally approved.
The council approved beginning the process of securing bonding for the project, but noted they were not committing to borrowing yet.
“I am ill-prepared to make this decision,” said Councilor Rachel Beldo.
Councilor Mary Shedd questioned why the issue hadn’t been brought to the council sooner.
Kringstad said he would talk with IRRR officials, who had previously said that funding for the town home infrastructure was a possibility.
“Don’t let this happen again,” Kringstad said pointedly to Keith. “The [previous] council agreed to an ambulance we can’t afford, too.”
The council approved moving forward with the initial steps of securing bonding, working with the Fryberger firm in Duluth.
Airport Commission Chairman John Burgess expressed his frustration with Tower City Hall and the process for bids on an upcoming runway crack sealing project. Burgess was upset that the council was set to approve a bid before the airport commission members had reviewed them.
“This is not the way to run the city council,” Burgess said. “We need to recommend.”
Burgess said the airport commission would have held a special meeting, if they had been notified the bids were ready.
Keith said the bids needed to be approved by June 28, or the city would lose the funding.
The council tabled the bid and will wait for a recommendation from the airport commission. The bids can then be awarded at the June 24 council meeting.
Conflict of interest agreement
The council tabled signing a conflict of interest policy required by the state LCCMR grant for the harbor trail project. Keith said the document was required because of a potential conflict of interest posed by the mayor.
The grant provides funding for installation of public trails, walkways, and docking around the new harbor. It isn’t clear what conflict of interest the mayor could hold on the project, particularly since the contract on the project was awarded last year, prior to the mayor assuming office. And Kringstad divested himself from the Tower Harbor Shores project prior to becoming mayor.
Council members asked for time to review the document, which appears to simply require the city council to maintain an adequate conflict of interest policy, and to report any actual, potential, or perceived conflicts. Keith said the issue had come up as part of a DNR audit of the LCCMR trail funding but she was unable to provide the name of her DNR contact for Kringstad or anyone else to follow up.
In other business, the city council:
‰ Approved the request from the Tower-Soudan Lake Vermilion Events Board to use chairs from the civic center in the Harborpalooza music tent at the harbor on July 6. The city will also work with Minnesota Power to get electrical service in place. The meter box in that area had been pulled out, but Randy Semo, on behalf of the committee, said he had talked with city maintenance workers who thought a new meter could be reinstalled.
ﬁ Will have Main Street closed for the Fourth of July parade.
‰ Approved a one-day liquor license for the Tower Fire Department Relief Association Fourth of July’s beer tent.
‰ Approved the Fourth of July fireworks display.
‰ Approved city on- and off-sale liquor licenses and tobacco sale licenses.
‰ Approved pay estimates for work on the Lamppa building and Harbor Trail project.
‰ Approved raising water and sewer rates by $2 per month, effective in 2020, to help address shortfalls in the water and sewer funds.