ELY- The Ely City Council careened across a wide variety of topics on Tuesday evening, including the retention of police officers with free canoes, cutting back on short-term rentals, and dealing …
ELY- The Ely City Council careened across a wide variety of topics on Tuesday evening, including the retention of police officers with free canoes, cutting back on short-term rentals, and dealing with nuisance beavers threatening Ely’s water supply. The two-hour meeting time also included Ely’s Truth in Taxation meeting on the city’s budget.
Police recruitment and retention
Given the loss of three police officers since the beginning of the summer, the city council directed Ely Police Chief Chad Houde at its Nov. 21 meeting to develop a recruitment and retention plan for patrol officers. The council had asked that Houde present his plan at the first meeting in December.
The proposed plan, suggested by Assistant Police Chief Mike Lorenz, would include outfitting every full-time employee of the department, including its clerical staff, but excluding the Police Chief, with a Kevlar canoe along with paddles and life preservers, at a cost of $3,800 per person.
As further steps to sell the Ely lifestyle to patrol officers, Houde worked with the Ely Area Tourism Bureau to develop a new police badge that reflects the region’s outdoor experience. He is also working with videographers in the city to create a marketing video to attract public safety personnel to the city.
Houde asked for $30,000 for the program, suggesting that the money be taken from the $140,427 that Ely received as its portion of the $300 million in public safety funding which the Minnesota Legislature passed in 2023. These dedicated funds can only be used for narrowly defined public safety initiatives, including for retention and pay.
“How can we stand out and retain our employees? We wanted something that would emphasize and sell Ely’s outdoor lifestyle,” Houde told the council. He described the problems of recruiting and retaining officers in rural Minnesota, especially when larger communities can lure away the dwindling number of qualified applicants with higher pay and better benefits.
Council member Adam Bisbee questioned if the plan was enough and whether it should be developed further. The council voted to approve the department’s plan 5-1, with Bisbee as the dissenting vote. Council member Angela Campbell was absent.
Those pesky beavers
The city council approved a recommendation of the Ely Utilities Commission to pay Shane Stevens, “The Beaver Guy,” $1,910 for nuisance beaver control.
“This used to not be a problem back when people were still trapping beavers for their fur,” said Ely Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski. “Beavers have been busy building dams…and we have 25,000 feet of water line from Burntside Lake that supplies Ely with our water.” Langowski explained that those dams are endangering the city’s water supply, especially where the water line crosses open water. Beaver nuisance services are necessary to protect the water supply. “Hopefully this will buy us some time,” Langowski said. The city is seeking funding to update and bury its water supply line, which will make it safe from beavers in the future.
City council member Adam Bisbee opened a discussion on reducing the number of short-term rental licenses. The current limit is 35 for residential and shoreline mixed-use zoning categories. There is not limit on short-term rentals in commercially zoned areas.
“Should we reduce the number of short-term rentals because of the need for long-term housing?” Bisbee asked his fellow council members, noting that the city currently has issued 21 licenses.
City council member Paul Kess was amenable to the proposal, noting, “The marketplace has taken care of this in favor of lowering the number of licenses.
Langowski added, “There were as many as 31 at one time. I suggest we give the public notice (about reducing the number of licenses) to give those with rentals time to react.” Mayor Heidi Omerza agreed. “We need to hear from the public,” she said.
Kess made a motion, which the council approved, to direct the clerk-treasurer to publish the council’s intentions to reduce the number of short-term rental licenses to 25 at a council meeting in January.
A future recovery house
The city council heard a presentation by Well Being Development on their community-based recovery program project. They also announced that they will hold a public forum on the project, which involves providing housing in the form of a dedicated residence specifically for Elyites coming out of treatment for substance use disorders, to help them transition back into the community. The event will be at the Ely Senior Center on Tuesday, Dec. 12, staring at 5:30 p.m.
Well Being Development is actively seeking community input on the project, and the planned forum is only one of many such meetings that the nonprofit will be holding in the future.
Well Being Development’s Deanna Swenson explained that the organization had identified transitional housing for people coming out of treatment as a critical need for the Ely community. “This will be for people who live here or have connections to Ely … It will only be for those who have completed treatment,” and need a supportive environment while transitioning back into the community.
Truth in Taxation
The city council put its regular meeting into temporary recess at 6 p.m. in order to hold its Truth in Taxation meeting-within-a-meeting, which lasted until 6:20 p.m. The presentation was given by Langowski.
The city is planning to levy $2,158,100 in 2024, an increase of $61,600, or 2.94 percent, from 2023. Operational expenditures are budgeted to increase to $5,737,500, which is an increase of $290,900, or 5.34 percent from 2023.
The city will receive $288,310 in fiscal disparities for 2024, which is a modest increase of $20,044, or 7.47 percent, from this year. The increase will help offset some of the rising property assessments for 2024. “This is a significant improvement compared to 2023,” Langowski explained.
Concerning property assessments for taxes, the taxable market value for Ely increased by $35,382,941, for a total of $233,110,704, which is a 17.89 percent increase compared to 2023. “This is a big number,” said Langowski, remarking that in all the years he has worked for the city, “It’s never been that much of an increase (before).”
The complete package of taxation, revenue and expenditure increases and cuts is available on the city’s website at ely.mn.us/2023-meetings.
In other action, the city council:
• Witnessed the swearing in of Courtney Olson as an Ely Police Department Officer. The swearing-in ceremony was originally the first item on the meeting agenda, but Officer Olson made her first arrest before the meeting and was delivering the arrestee to jail, so the ceremony was delayed until she returned.
• Approved the EUC recommendation to direct City Attorney Kelly Klun to review the contract with Boss Agricultural Inc. for hauling liquid biosolids that would allow a 90-day notice to cancel the contract.
• Approved the EUC recommendation to pay both invoices to AMPTEK: $1,370 for the sludge press connection at the wastewater treatment facility and $5,585 for the flow meter wiring at the water treatment plant.
• Approved the EUC recommendation to pay AE2S $10,819 for the wastewater plant improvements project.
• Approved the EUC recommendation to pay Rice Lake Construction Group $275,550 for the wastewater plant improvements project.
• Approved the recommendation from Telecommunications Advisory Board (TAB) to approve the purchase of a new video board for a cost not to exceed $7,000. Langowski explained that the equipment selected “exceeds our expectations.” The new equipment will facilitate the city’s transition from analog to high-definition video, which should occur in early 2024. He also remarked that funding for TAB and its video equipment is “no burden to the taxpayers,” because it is through the franchise fee that Midco charges its customers for TV channels.
• Accepted Pam Ranson’s resignation from the Gardner Trust Board.
• Approved the following claims for payment: Dec. 5 City and EUC claims for $236,069, and Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails 2024 Membership dues for $165.
• Approved sending a letter of support from the city for St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Jugovich to be on the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources Board (LCCMR). This board is a potential source of funding from the state, but Ely has historically only received money for one project many years ago. “We need someone from here on this board,” Mayor Omerza stated. Jugovich is from the Ely area.”
• Approved Resolution 2023-032, designating the polling precinct location for the city. This location is traditionally the Ely Senior Center, Langowski explained, noting that a presidential primary is coming up soon.
• Approved advertising for open city committee seats with term limits which will be expiring or coming due by Jan. 31, 2024.
• Approved 2024 tobacco license renewal applications, pending the receipt of all
required documentation and payment for 2024.
• Approved the League of Minnesota Cities liability coverage waiver form on a “does not waive” basis. Langowski explained that, “The city does not waive the tort liability limits set by state statute.”
• Approved a request by Anthony Bermel to cut some small dead cedar trees along Fifth Ave. W., which are currently in danger of falling into the right of way. The council added a stipulation the Bermel waive any liability claims against the city for this activity.
• The meeting ended with a closed session so the City Council could discuss employment matters, specifically “strategy for Ely supervisors of other than essential employees.”