TOWER— The city council took steps here on Monday to allow Lamppa Manufacturing to finally take possession of the new manufacturing facility built for the company by the Tower Economic Development …
TOWER— The city council took steps here on Monday to allow Lamppa Manufacturing to finally take possession of the new manufacturing facility built for the company by the Tower Economic Development Authority.
The council appointed a four-person committee to make what all parties hope is the final walk-through of the building on Thursday, Aug. 15, at which point the city may terminate its contract with Lenci Construction and make the building available for Lamppa Manufacturing to begin producing their world-class sauna stoves and wood furnaces at the new site, located onHwy. 135.
At Monday’s city council meeting, Lamppa plant manager Dale Horihan said the company is eager to make the move as soon as possible, preferably by Sept. 1, when the newly-revised lease is set to take effect.
“We don’t want to have production down for more than a day,” he said. “This is our busiest time of the year.”
While the city has agreed to some modifications of the building, including exchanging a fume extractor in the facility’s welding room for a different model, that work will take place after Lamppa Manufacturing moves in. According to Horihan, the company does have a couple of portable fume extractors that it can use temporarily while waiting for the new equipment to arrive and be installed. With Horihan’s help, TEDA will be overseeing that installation using remaining funding from the $1.8 million non-recourse loan provided for the project by the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation. TEDA had received a quote from Lenci for the work, but balked at the price tag of $115,000 plus the engineering costs. Based on quotes received by Horihan since then, it appears that the work can be done for far less. SEH engineer Matt Bolf reminded the city that the project does require following Minnesota wage guidelines for any contractors hired.
The council approved granting a certificate of occupancy for the building if the Aug. 15 walk-through is approved. The building will have a one-year warranty from the contractor.
Bolf also gave updates on other city projects. Final approval of the harbor plat is still being held up by an old annexation issue. City officials are working with the city attorney and the state agency involved to resolve the issue but noted that both Tower and Kugler Township will need to pass a joint resolution on a new map before the paperwork can be processed.
Bolf said the town home developers should get a draft Common Interest Community (CIC) plan to the city planning and zoning commission for review as soon as possible, to get that process started. The final CIC requires the completed plat map.
Final plans for the Pine Street reconstruction project have been submitted to MnDOT and St. Louis County for review. The city has a local match of $287,000 for that project, which is required before bids can be let. Bolf said the city was working with IRRR to secure funding for the local match. This project includes installing the infrastructure needed for the first phase of the town home project. That project has been stuck in neutral for years pending the city’s ability to complete the plat.
The city’s new grant writer and manager Nancy Larson reported on several projects, including the LCCMR harbor trail. The state has put any further work on hold until it completes a review of the mishandling of the first phase of a two-phase trail project connecting the harbor area to the Mesabi Trail. Larson said the hold is putting the second phase of the project in doubt, since it requires completion by June 30, 2020, and the city is already up against a tight deadline for completing design and bidding in time to begin work this fall. The first phase of the project, Larson explained, had been “red-flagged” by the LCCMR’s grant manager early on because the former clerk-treasurer had failed to provide timely project updates or submit reimbursement requests for work on the project. While Larson and Bolf have been working to resolve the issues relating to the first phase, additional planning for the second phase has been put on hold.
Staff from LCCMR were in Tower last week and toured the site and traveled up the East Two River. Rep. Rob Ecklund also came on the tour, Larson said.
In related news, Larson said the city can get an IRRR grant to demolish and remove the two abandoned mobile home halves that sit at the site of the proposed trailhead for the trail project. This was not part of the original phase two project. An IRRR grant could pay 75 percent of the cost. The council approved the application for the grant.
Larson is also working to obtain reimbursement totaling $100,000 due the city for work done at the airport in 2016. The former clerk-treasurer had never submitted a pay request for those funds.
Ambulance Super-visor Steve Altenburg presented a verbal proposal to the council asking them to fund the training costs for new paramedics who agree to stay on the department for at least three years.
Altenburg has been working on a plan to provide part-time Advanced Life Support (ALS) service to area patients, under a cooperative agreement with the Virginia Ambulance Service. He said he was about halfway through getting the information needed to complete the application process for part-time ALS. The department just sent out letters to area townships, tribal government, and the city itself, asking for a letter of support for the ALS application, he said, which is required for the application.
The ALS plan, proposed earlier, called for using paramedics from the Virginia Department to ride along on transfers of critical patients being taken to Duluth, and then having the city split the revenue from the run with Virginia. Insurance reimbursements for ALS service, which can only be provided by paramedics, is typically higher than for Basic Life Support, or BLS, typically provided by EMTs. Altenburg told the council the shift to part-time ALS would provide additional revenue for the department, as well as providing a higher level of care.
But Altenburg seemed to be asking the council to approve training and staffing local EMTs as paramedics, with a cost that was not clear. Altenburg told the council that the department has always paid for all the training and education for EMTs and EMRs, as long as they commit to remaining on the service for a full year.
Altenburg said the cost of paramedic training would be $10,000 - $12,000 per person for the classwork, the first year of which is mostly completed online, with in-person classes on some weekends.
Councilor Rachel Beldo asked if this would mean hiring full-time paramedics. Altenburg said they would only be part-time, which is why the department would be expected to pick up the training costs. Altenburg said that he and possibly two other current EMTs were interested in the training, as well as one paid-on-call staff member who has already completed the first year of the training at their own expense.
Beldo asked if the ambulance budget could support the training costs. Altenburg said that “over the two years, incrementally, yes.” He added that the Virginia Fire Chief Al Lewis will be helping him with financial projections.
Kringstad said the city is still not certain that Virginia will agree to the part-time ALS service plan. He also wondered why the Ambulance Commission had not discussed this issue.
Beldo wondered if the city shouldn’t wait until there is more information available. She asked for a draft agreement for the paramedic training, number of people the department would train, and estimated costs.
Altenburg said the deadline to sign up for the paramedic cost was before the next council meeting, so he was hoping for approval tonight.
“It’s unfortunate there is such a tight deadline,” Kringstad said.
“This would delay it for a year for our own staff,” Altenburg noted.
Altenburg had no information for the council on the costs of employing the paramedics once trained, the impact on the department’s overall training budget, or if the department would need to pay on-call paramedics a higher hourly rate than it currently pays for EMTs.
The council declined to take any action at this time.
In other ambulance news, the department had a record-setting month in July, with 68 runs. Year-to-date runs are at 312 through July, compared to 276 for the same period last year. The department has done 66 transfers so far this year, putting the department on pace to handle approximately 110 transfers for the year. That’s well below the 150 runs that Altenburg previously projected were necessary to fund the department’s shift to paid on-call last year.
Interim Clerk-Treasurer Ann Lamppa gave a financial report with data from January through the end of June. She has identified several funds (sick leave, fire department, streets, police car) where money was transferred out the past few years and will need to be restored for a total of a little over $95,000. And while the city’s bank account does show a positive balance of almost $200,000 today, she said, once all the outstanding bills approved Monday by the council are paid, the city’s balance will drop to around $23,000.
“I would like to have our new financial committee sit down with me and go through a month’s worth of bills to find places we can cut,” she said. Lamppa noted she had already found $6,000 in recurring out-of-town advertising bills for Hoodoo Point and the Fourth of July that she had canceled. She said the city needs to do a better job of inventory control, and she was working with city departments to make sure all spending was necessary.
Mayor Orlyn Kringstad said the city would be working on its preliminary budget for 2020 soon, and was looking at areas to cut back, and also looking at ways to increase revenue.
Kringstad noted that he had contacted the city’s website vendor, Tech Bytes, regarding the website’s outage over the weekend. He said the city had formed a website committee to look into improvements for the website and would likely be asking for proposals to create a new and improved website.
In other business the council:
• Hosted what would have been a very full house, with over 25 in attendance, at the Tower Civic Center. Coffee an’ was also served compliments of Marit Kringstad. The city council is holding the first meeting of the month at the civic center until further notice, and all other meetings at city hall.
• Heard from Jeff Hill, who asked why emails he had sent to the city were not being reviewed under the correspondence portion of the agenda. Lamppa noted that when the issue was something she could answer, it didn’t need to come to the council. Hill also complained that his request to be put on the agenda email list was being ignored, but council members pointed out that his email was part of the group email that it sent out to anyone requesting meeting agendas.
• Appointed Richard Hanson to the city’s employee relation committee, along with Kringstad and Mary Shedd. Councilor Rachel Beldo will step down. The committee will review the job description for the clerk-treasurer position. Once the job description is approved, the committee has permission to advertise for the opening.
• Approved the purchase of a laptop for use by the maintenance department, with a cost not to exceed $1,000. The city also approved submitting a claim for the loss of the clerk’s laptop and data, which can help cover the cost of the new laptop. The maintenance department is up in the clerk’s office every day, Lamppa reported. The laptop needs to be durable enough to use in the field and will have internet access in the field through the city’s data plan.
• Will have the city attorney review a 12-year old developer/purchase agreement for the old DNR forestry station land, which is now owned by the city, to see if it is still valid. The area was once looked at as a site for senior housing. Councilor Steve Abrahamson said the 12-year-old paperwork would no longer be valid. He noted that proposal had not moved forward because of the costs involved. Kringstad wondered if the city should divide the land into lots to sell for new housing.
• Approved hiring someone to clean at Tower City Hall for a total of three hours a week.
• Discussed updating the city’s charter and charter commission membership. Charter commission members need to be approved by the court, which has not been done in many years. The city will advertise for interested city residents. The charter commission only meets as needed. Membership is maintained until a person moves or resigns. Lamppa noted that her name is still on the charter, even though she resigned when she moved out of Tower several years ago.
• Discussed appointing a city representative to the Vermilion Trails Joint Powers Board. Shedd said she had heard from an interested community member who would like to volunteer. Dena Suihkonen asked why this wasn’t being advertised so other interested people might apply. Nancy Larson noted the joint powers board member needed to be a councilor or city hall representative (currently it is Terri Joki-Martin, the deputy clerk). There is also a working group which is separate from the joint powers board. The council tabled the issue.