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Council approves subsidy for ambulance service

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 5/12/22

TOWER— The city council here, on Monday, approved tapping other city accounts to help finance the Tower Area Ambulance Service, which has been struggling financially as a result of a spike in …

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Council approves subsidy for ambulance service

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TOWER— The city council here, on Monday, approved tapping other city accounts to help finance the Tower Area Ambulance Service, which has been struggling financially as a result of a spike in payroll costs. The council agreed to transfer $2,500 a month from its general fund or campground fund to the ambulance service’s operating account to help provide a financial cushion for the service, which has been struggling to make payroll since finally coming into compliance with state law regarding on-call scheduling.
Clerk-Treasurer Michael Schultz, in an agenda report to the council, noted that the ambulance service had been far out of compliance with a state statute, (144E.101, Subd. 3) that requires every service to maintain written on-call staffing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Until the summer of 2021, the city was not close to meeting this requirement,” noted Schultz in his report. “Since then, the city has fully implemented the paid on-call schedule and is nearing 100 percent coverage.”
Proper staffing has come at a cost, however, including a nearly $25,000 increase in labor costs for the first four months of the year. Paid on-call costs, which jumped from $28,213 during the same period last year to $53,265 this year, accounted for all of that increase. Other expenses were actually down slightly so far this year over the same period last year.
The service’s revenues have also declined as a result of fewer 911 calls as compared to last year’s record pace. Revenues were at $80,217 through April 30, compared to $93,342 during the same period last year.
According to Schultz, the city has not had to transfer any funds to cover the ambulance service expenses, at least to date, but Schultz said some kind of assistances will be needed over the next several months. “It will be difficult to keep the ambulance bank account in the positive without some sort of financial assistance,” Schultz noted. The council approved the ambulance service subsidy for the next six months, and will likely take another look at the issue later in the year.
In related business, the council agreed to have the city attorney work with the local AFSCME union to develop an employment contract for the ambulance director, a position that has not been unionized in the past. “This would be an agreement that will have to be created from scratch,” said Mayor Dave Setterberg. The director’s request to unionize came in a letter sent months ago, but there’s been little progress on the request, to date. The council, on Monday, approved a motion to have the city attorney and clerk-treasurer work with the union to lay out the framework of a possible agreement for council consideration.
In other action, the council approved a laundry list of financial account adjustments to zero out longstanding deficits in a number of city accounts. The city’s auditors have been pushing the city to clear up the deficits for more than a decade in some cases, but previous councils have made only limited progress. Setterberg noted that the city’s financial process is much cleaner and clearer than in the past, but the city continues to be “dinged” by the auditor over the past deficits.
“It would be nice to put the past behind us and get started on a new road,” said Setterberg.
Council member Joe Morin noted that the adjustments are really just on paper. “It doesn’t change what’s in any of the bank accounts,” he said. “It’s more perception than anything.”
In other action, the council:
• Agreed to establish a separate bank account for the Hoodoo Point Campground’s surcharge account. The campground has been assessing a surcharge on guests since at least 2004, and those funds were supposed to be earmarked for capital improvements at the campground, although it’s unclear whether those funds were actually spent for that purpose. The city council, in 2014, had approved a motion to create a separate bank account for the surcharge funds, but the account was never opened. The surcharge has amounted to around $20,000 annually.
Schultz noted that the separate account is not technically required, since the city is now allocating the money to the campground surcharge fund in its Banyon financial accounting program. Council member Kevin Norby motioned to establish the account and to place surcharge funds from 2020 and 2021, totaling about $42,000, into the account.
Setterberg said he didn’t favor creation of a new bank account and felt that it would require unnecessary paperwork to track. Schultz said any additional work would be minimal and that a bank account could provide more confidence that the funds would be there when needed for capital improvements.
• Heard from Schultz that the campground will now be charged for its sewer discharge. Since its connection to the municipal system, the city has not charged the campground for its discharges. Based on its calculated volumes, the city will charge the campground $1,717.13 for the past year.
• Heard an update on a proposed new AFSCME union contract for city workers, but tabled action on the contract until the council could schedule a closed session to discuss it.
• Approved a new contract for up to $7,500 with city grant writer and manager Nancy Larson.
“I think she’s a great asset who has brought a lot of money into the city,” said Morin.
• Authorized up to $500 in expenditures to support this year’s Tidy Up Tower spring clean-up. Morin suggested that the city focus its clean-up on more public spaces rather than backyards and that it stop accepting household trash that should be the responsibility of homeowners. City hall will work to establish dates for the effort.
• Approved issuing an RFP for the new city trailhead and Main Street extension near the harbor.
• Approved amending TEDA’s enabling resolution to allow for other area elected officials, besides members of the council, to serve on the board.
• Received their first police report under Police Chief Reing, who was in attendance at the meeting. Chief Reing said he wanted to maintain open communication with the city.
• Gave the second and final reading of the city’s new garage and storage ordinance.
• Sold the city’s former grader to Mike Forsman whose high bid of $6,277.16 exceeded the city’s minimum bid for the vehicle.
 Sold the city’s water and sewer line jetter to C&C Winger whose sole bid of $2,222.22 exceeded the minimum bid set for the equipment.

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