TOWER- A $3 million state bonding request would give the Tower-Breitung Wastewater Board (TBWB) the funding needed to upgrade the local water treatment plant to insure safe drinking water for the …
TOWER- A $3 million state bonding request would give the Tower-Breitung Wastewater Board (TBWB) the funding needed to upgrade the local water treatment plant to insure safe drinking water for the residents of Tower and Soudan.
“The project is ranked as the fourth most important in the state right now,” TBWB Supervisor Matt Tuchel told the city council here at Monday’s meeting. The bond funds would pay for the installation of a secondary water treatment plant, which is needed because surface water from the East Two River is seeping into the well system. Tests on the municipal water supply dating back to 2016 showed problems with byproducts of the additional water chlorination chemicals needed to ensure safe water, due to the organic compounds naturally found in the surface water.
“Our water is safe to drink,” Tuchel emphasized, “but we need to put in this redundant treatment system to make sure nothing is slipping through.”
The problem, Tuchel said, would be if any components in the existing treatment system failed.
On-site engineering is being done later this month to determine the best options for secondary treatment, which will include filtering out organics and additional water sterilization. The best system, Tuchel said, depends on the actual well water, so on-site testing is needed.
The bonding request jumped to nearly the top of the list for state bonding dollars earlier this year after the state released a new study looking for the presence of illness-causing viruses such as rotovirus, Cryptosporidium, and Giardia in public water supplies.
“We now know there are some viruses in our wells,” said Tuchel, “so now adding the secondary treatment system is considered a health issue.”
The current water treatment system would destroy bacteria and viruses in the water, but not the Cryptosporidium and Giardia. The secondary treatment system would destroy those pathogens.
Tuchel said state legislators will be in the area next week, and they will hear a presentation on the project. The city should hear later this year if the bonding request is approved. This money would come as a grant, and not have to be repaid. If approved, the treatment system would be installed next year.
Tuchel said the exact costs of the project will not be known until a final design is selected. He said TBWB hopes that state bonding dollars would cover about 75 percent of the overall cost. The rest would be a mix of other grant dollars and low-interest loans.
Tuchel also reported that the bond for the current water treatment plant was paid off this month. Users have been paying a $5.50 per month charge to pay off that debt, although Tuchel said the TBWB would like to keep that fee in place to help build up their capital reserve fund and help pay for engineering costs for the upcoming project. He said the board is bringing in a consultant to review billing practices in both Tower and Soudan for water and sewer. Currently customers in Tower pay around $70 per month for water/sewer service.
In conjunction with this project, Tuchel said the city needs to look at replacing its own main water line, which city officials believe dates back to 1949.
“If that one line failed,” Tuchel said, “Tower would be without water until it is fixed.”
The bonding request also includes an additional one million dollars for the water main project. While the water treatment plant is jointly-owned, each Tower and Breitung maintain the water lines and infrastructure within their own limits. Tuchel said if that bonding is approved, it would cover the actual cost of the main line replacement.
Tuchel said the city would be responsible for the engineering and design costs for the water main project. The city council agreed and passed a resolution in support of the project. Grant writer Nancy Larson said she would meet with the city engineers to look at other grant funding opportunities for the city’s portion of the project.
The council approved a preliminary levy increase of 10 percent for the upcoming year. The amount can be lowered, but not increased, when the city sets its final levy in December.
Interim Clerk-Treasurer Ann Lamppa said she had put a lot of time and effort into the preliminary budget and that, as a whole, “things are looking pretty good.”
“The city budget looks alright on paper,” she said. “Each of the funds balances out with revenue and expenditures.” Cash flow, however, continues to remain a major concern for the city.
Lamppa said if the council decided not to increase the levy, the budget would most likely be fine, but the council did need to look at upcoming capital improvement needs.
“Our dump truck is 25 years old, and we are being nickeled and dimed with repairs,” she said. The other issue that needs to be addressed is the Main Street lighting. The tall lights, which are about 25 yearsold, are in poor shape and the bases are rusting out.
A ten-percent increase in the levy would give the city about $36,000 in additional revenue, Lamppa said.
Larson said she would look into any options for grant dollars for the street lighting, because it is a safety issue.
Larson gave an update to the council on past, present, and future grant applications and projects. She noted that all the previous grant paperwork is mostly “cleaned up” at this point. She said the final paperwork on the LCCMR harbor area grant is ready for submission, and the city is waiting to hear whether or not the full grant amount will be awarded, based on their amended paperwork. The city is seeking an extension on the second phase of the project because of problems with implementation of the first phase of the project and the Legislature will have to sign off on any new deadline for that project. That decision likely won’t be made until next June, according to Larson. If the Legislature doesn’t agree, the city would lose the $600,000 that the LCCMR previously approved for the project.
“None of this is guaranteed,” she said. “But we are taking steps to show we have it under control and that improvements are being made going forward.”
Larson said they have also completed the paperwork needed for reimbursement on two airport grants, one for $123,686 and the second for $23,175 for projects in 2016 and 2017, for which the former city clerk-treasurer had never applied for reimbursement. Larson said she expected the city to receive the grant funds shortly.
As for new grant opportunities, the city is receiving IRRR funds for two residential demolition projects, and the city approved contractors for both projects. Larson said the city will hear in the next few weeks if they received a second Downtown Streetscapes grant, and that they had also applied for a Lake Country Power Operation RoundUp grant to replace the stove at the civic center.
Larson said the city had not submitted a CDBG grant application in six years. Prior to that, the city had been putting in applications almost every year, and often received grant funding from the program. Larson said that CDBG might be an option for helping with funding for the Pine Street project, as well as for sidewalk and handicap-accessibility improvements at the Scenic Rivers Clinic building.
Cell tower lease
The council gave Mayor Kringstad and Lamppa authority to negotiate with American Tower over payments for their lease of land on the hilltop north of the city where their cell phone tower is located, to determine the best deal for the city. The company sent a letter to the city with two options for future payment— a lump sum payment of $289,918 for a perpetual lease/easement for the land, or a one-time signing bonus of $5,000 plus payments of $1,246 per month with a two-percent annual increase, to last through 2079. This would total $2.228 million to the city over the next 60 years, or about $37,141 a year on average.
The city is currently receiving $2,016 per month for the lease.
Council members wondered what other area cities were doing, and also wanted to make sure any final agreement was reviewed by the city attorney. The final agreement will come back to the council for approval.
The Monday meeting was remarkably ordinary. The council is working to be more organized in how it handles the monthly reports. While reports from city commissions and departments were included in the meeting’s packet, the council will wait until the second meeting of the month (fourth Monday) to discuss them, giving council members time to read them thoroughly. Any issues that need to be addressed in a timely matter will be added to the regular agenda, said Interim Clerk-Treasurer Ann Lamppa.
The city engineer’s report and grant writer’s report will be discussed as part of the first meeting agenda, since these often have matters which need to be acted on.
This week’s council meeting was the most sparsely attended of the year, with about 15 in the audience. Marit Kringstad once again provided snacks and coffee in the civic center kitchen.
In other business, the council:
Awarded the contract for propane to low-bidder Edwards Propane at a price of 95.9 cents per gallon.
Rescinded the motion from the last meeting regarding the purchase of new tires for the loader and awarded the bid to Taconite Tire, whose bid was $116 higher than the other bid, but was for a 16-ply, rather than a 12-ply tire. Maintenance Supervisor Tom Gorsma said the 16-ply tire was heavier-duty.
Passed a resolution to participate in the CDBG loan program.
Noted the city does not currently have an Emergency Management Director, which is required.
Heard that the city boundary revision needed for the final harbor plat was approved by Sept. 3.