TOWER—Dena Suihkonen will no longer serve as interim ambulance director in Tower. The council voted unanimously on Monday to name Suihkonen as the permanent head of the city’s emergency …
TOWER—Dena Suihkonen will no longer serve as interim ambulance director in Tower. The council voted unanimously on Monday to name Suihkonen as the permanent head of the city’s emergency medical services, selecting the longtime EMT and veteran of the Tower Area Ambulance Service over another experienced applicant, Teresa Lanyk, of Soudan.
A four-person hiring committee had interviewed both finalists before recommending Suihkonen. Rachel Beldo, who served on the committee, said she felt the process had been fair and that the recommendation had been made by consensus.
Council member Mary Shedd, who had assembled the hiring committee, lauded their efforts.
“I want to thank them for doing a really good job. I think both candidates were really strong,” she said.
Suihkonen has served as an EMT on the TAAS for the past ten years and has served as an assistant ambulance director for most of the past eight years. She assumed the director position on an interim basis in March after the dismissal of then-director Steve Altenburg.
In other business, the council approved the low base bid of $445,000 from Lenci Enterprises for the construction of a 40x40 foot heated storage garage at the Tower Airport to store maintenance equipment. The city had been holding off on the project, out of concern for funding the five-percent local match on the project. But with passage of the CARES Act to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Aviation Administration was given the green light to provide full funding for many of the airport projects already in the pipeline, including Tower’s.
The council didn’t approve the bid without questions, however, including the soft costs associated with SEH engineering. Those costs include $60,000 for design and an additional $60,000 for project administration. At a total cost of $585,862, the storage facility will cost approximately $365 per square foot to design and build.
According to SEH engineer Matt Bolf, the contractor will have until September 2021 to complete the job but has indicated they intend to begin work immediately in hopes of completing the project yet this year.
While the project won’t cost the city any money, Clerk-Treasurer Victoria Ranua said she expects it could create cash flow challenges depending on the timing of the work. “I think it can be managed, however, primarily through good communication,” she said.
Council member Dave Setterberg questioned whether the expenditure had been budgeted. Ranua confirmed that the project had not been included in the city’s 2020 budget, but she noted that a budget adjustment was up later on the council agenda. The city’s previous failure to budget for large project expenditures was among the concerns raised in the city’s recent audit, and Setterberg said he wanted to avoid that issue going forward.
In other action, the council:
• Accepted a recommendation from the Tower Economic Development Authority to undertake a more systematic and sustained approach to dealing with blighted properties in the city. TEDA Executive Director Marshall Helmberger discussed how the city’s inconsistent enforcement of blight violations was hampering TEDA’s ability to restore the city’s housing stock, and to transition blighted commercial property to new owners willing to make improvements. Helmberger said the enforcement effort should begin with an educational approach in hopes of obtaining voluntary compliance first. The city’s blight ordinance, however, does allow for stiff penalties if property owners don’t take steps to address concerns identified.
Mayor Orlyn Kringstad said addressing blight has been one of his top issues and he volunteered to serve on a working group to take up the issue. Other expected members of the committee include Shedd, Helmberger, and Ranua.
• Approved a 30-year lease agreement with the Prospector ATV Trail group for access across city-owned land with minor language changes.
• Approved the spending of $5,000 toward roof repairs at the Vermilion Country School. TEDA director Helmberger had made the request on behalf of the economic development authority, which owns and manages the building under a lease agreement with the grades 7-12 charter school. Helmberger, in comments to the council, noted that the city had taken net proceeds of approximately $210,000 over and above the debt service on renovations over the past several years, without any significant reinvestment in the facility. The building’s roof has been leaking for years due to ice damming, but the city never took steps to address the problem until now.
The $5,000 will cover just under half the estimated cost of the roof repair, with TEDA expected to cover the rest of the expense from the revenues generated by the school lease.
Ranua noted that the expense was not in the city’s budget, but she promised to find it in savings from other portions of the budget. “The amount of deferred maintenance at [the school building] is just astoundingly sad to see,” she said.
• Appointed Mary Shedd to serve as zoning administrator until the reorganization next January. Shedd had been serving in an interim capacity since late 2019. But when no one else applied for the post after recent advertisements for the unpaid position, Shedd agreed to continue through the rest of the year.
• Appointed Rick Worringer as the airport zoning administrator.
• Approved a resolution stating continued support for the county public works facility in Tower. The sale of adjacent county-owned property to TEDA was contingent on approval of the resolution, which was approved under the consent agenda.
• Had further discussion on the city’s audit with Devin Ceglar of Walker, Giroux, and Hahne. The council also established a working group to examine and recommend ways to address issues of concern raised in the audit’s management letter.