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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Tower Ambulance Service having a busy year

Needs to replace outdated secondary ambulance

Jodi Summit
Posted 10/6/21

TOWER- With the Tower Area Ambulance Service on track to have a “normal” year, members of the Tower Area Ambulance Commission (TAAC) got their quarterly update on the service’s …

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Tower Ambulance Service having a busy year

Needs to replace outdated secondary ambulance

Posted

TOWER- With the Tower Area Ambulance Service on track to have a “normal” year, members of the Tower Area Ambulance Commission (TAAC) got their quarterly update on the service’s financials, status of the ambulance replacement fund, and an update on the two Tower ambulances.
The service responded to a total of 401 calls from January through September. Ambulance Supervisor Dena Suihkonen explained if the pace of calls continues at the current pace, the service will be close to 550 calls for the year. In 2019 calls totaled 548, and in 2020 there were only 441 calls, a trend seen across the state due to the pandemic.
“This is bringing us back to a normal year,” said Suihkonen.
Suihkonen said they are closer to providing 24/7 on-call service than ever before, with 72-percent coverage with on-call personnel. There are currently 16 EMTs and 14 EMRs on the service.
Suihkonen said some members of the Tower City Council are working with the service to use the information from the Minnesota Emergency Services Regulatory Board (EMSRB) report submitted in August to find ways to improve the care provided as well as the financial stability of the service.
But the biggest issue facing the service is the need to purchase another ambulance. The serviceʼs older ambulance is in only fair condition, and is more difficult for ambulance staff to use, harder to load and unload patients from, and does not have the higher quality medical equipment now offered on the new ambulance.
The ambulance commission consists of representatives from the area townships, along with the city of Tower, who are in the ambulance service area. Area townships and the city each contribute $15 per capita per year to help fund the purchase of new ambulances. While the ambulance purchases were historically done on a predetermined schedule, rising ambulance costs and the falling value of used ambulances (the city historically sold their old ambulances to help fund the purchase of new rigs), has meant the funds being raised are not enough to keep up with the cost of replacement of the rigs on a regular basis.
“We need your help, just like you need our help,” said Suihkonen.
Over the past few years, the commission has struggled with its mission, and whether to focus solely on funding new ambulances, or to give more general oversight to the running of the ambulance service itself.
Eagles Nest TAAC representative Larry McCray noted that his township is “not in the ambulance business.”
“I am not here to tell Tower how to run their business,” he said. “There are smart people here in the city that can figure out how to make the ambulance profitable.”
“You have called for donations,” McCray said, “and that is what you are getting.”
But others appeared to want to be more of a supportive partner to the service.
“We are lucky to have an ambulance,” said Breitung representative Chuck Tekautz. “The service is improving, and your input is important.”
Tekautz noted that Tower is not in the ambulance business, per se, but is a municipality that has an ambulance to serve its residents.
“They can’t do it themselves,” he said.
McCray complimented the current leadership of the ambulance service and noted an article “in a paper that would be good for wrapping fish,” which claimed the service was better under its former leadership.
“That article was a total crock,” he said. “We are getting a better day today, compliments to Dena [Suihkonen].”
Tekautz said it was important for the commission to help generate ideas and opinions on the service in general.
“We do value your opinions,” said Tower representative Kevin Norby.
Lee Peterson, a frequent critic of the ambulance service from Greenwood Township, said that Greenwood was not in the interest of running an ambulance service either.
“Tower owns the ambulance service,” Peterson said. “This group doesn’t.”
Looking at solutions
McCray said he would like to see the commission able to get back on a regular ambulance purchasing schedule once again.
“We will have about $101,000 in the subsidy account at the end of this year,” he said. “And if everything stays the same, $146,000 at the end of 2022 plus the city’s transfer mileage payments.”
“The commission missed two intervals of purchasing,” McCray said. “And there was some smoke and mirrors with money previous to this administration.”
McCray said what was in the past should stay in the past.
“We can’t get blood out of a turnip,” he said.
Tower Councilor David Setterberg, who attended the meeting, said there would be an update on the past ambulance fund issues at the Oct. 14 council meeting.
“I don’t believe the money was ever there,” he said. “That money wasn’t cash.”
McCray asked the commission to consider asking for a one-time extra payment in 2023, effectively paying a double subsidy payment that year.
“As a one-time venture,” he said, “we could talk to our boards, and raise this money so we can order a new unit in 2022.”
“This would get us back on track,” McCray said.
Tekautz agreed.
“It would put Tower back on track for ambulances,” he said.
Greenwood representative Carmen DeLuca said their township residents have resisted calls from the town board to increase their township levy.
“If you want more money, you had better find it yourself,” DeLuca said.
2021 contract
The townships are still waiting for the final version of the 2021 subsidy contract. The city council will be approving the final version at their Oct. 14 meeting.
Norby said the city’s attorney had noted that language inserted at the request of the Greenwood Township attorney was too “one-sided” and the city would be looking to make that indemnification language more balanced for the 2022 contract.
The ambulance commission will meet again on Monday, Nov. 7.

Comments

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  • Lee Peterson

    "Tekautz noted that Tower is not in the ambulance business, per se, but is a municipality that has an ambulance service to serve its residents."

    That statement is incorrect and is very misleading. The City of Tower owns the Tower Area Ambulance Service (TAAS). The City owns the business, the ambulances and all of the equipment, including the building. The City currently holds the Minnesota Ambulance Service license #244. It is the City's choice to be in the ambulance business. The State is divided into ambulance districts, governed by the MN Emergency Medical Service Regulatory Board.

    Thursday, October 7 Report this

  • Lee Peterson

    "Tower Councilor David Setterberg, who attended the meeting, said there would be an update on the past ambulance fund issues at the Oct. 14 council meeting."

    “I don’t believe the money was ever there,” he said. “That money wasn’t cash.”

    If what acting Mayor Setterberg said above is true, then there will certainly need to be many retractions and corrections to previous annual audits and the accompanying "MANAGEMENT LETTERS" done by Walker, Girouix & Hahne that were repeatedly approved and paid for by the City Council.

    For example, on page 39 of the 2020 City Audit that was approved and paid for by the Council, it is stated that the "Ambulance Special Revenue" fund is "Due From Other Funds $737,648". (that fund is money that the ambulances made on runs) Interestingly, on the same page, the Audit says that the "Historic Harbor Renovation Capital Projects" fund has $623,019 "Due To Other Funds".

    Timberjay reporting on the 2017 City Audit includes this:

    "Auditor cites growing deficits

    Other issues raised in annual financial report

    Posted Wednesday, June 13, 2018 5:46 pm

    Marshall Helmberger

    TOWER— The city’s auditor offered a mixed report on the city of Tower’s 2017 finances on Monday. While noting that the financial information was complete enough to allow for an unmodified opinion, Greg Knutson of Walker, Giroux, and Hahne, cited growing deficits in several city accounts and flagged investments in the Gunderson Trust that are not authorized by state law.

    The city also lost nearly $50,000 in its water and sewer fund, as revenues failed to keep pace with expenditures.

    At the same time, the city’s general fund balance dipped by $81,000, to $805,004. Virtually all of that fund balance was the result of the accumulated $810,000 in the city’s ambulance account. “The ambulance is basically carrying the general fund,” said Knutson."

    Is Councilor Setterberg going to claim that no Ambulance funds were diverted to the costly Harbor Project and other deficit funds within the City? If true, that would make the Audits and accompanying "MANAGEMENT LETTERS" look pretty bad, all the way back to 2015.I think it's safe to say that money was diverted out of the Ambulance Fund.

    Friday, October 8 Report this

  • jbassing@frontiernet.net

    The Tower city council said two items would come up for the 2022 contract and those would be the city’s contribution of 1.66/ mile for transfers and the indemnification clause. The township’s contribution is basically a gift with no requirements for it’s payment. If the City of Tower wants to be in the transfer business they can just leave out the township’s who desire emergency service. Transfer miles wear out and depreciate the ambulances that are needed for emergencies. 1.66/ mile is more than reasonable for the city.

    Saturday, October 16 Report this