ELY— Two northeastern Minnesota legislators-elect were offered a lengthy to-do list at the Community Economic Development Joint Powers Board’s annual meeting held here on Monday. …
ELY— Two northeastern Minnesota legislators-elect were offered a lengthy to-do list at the Community Economic Development Joint Powers Board’s annual meeting held here on Monday.
It’s a yearly event that’s traditionally been an opportunity for Ely area elected officials to discuss their needs and the upcoming legislative session with area lawmakers.
Unlike last year’s meeting with its controversial resolution in support of the proposed Twin Metals Minnesota copper nickel mining project, this year’s meeting included an airing of local issues and concerns for the ears of Rep.-elect Roger Skraba and Sen.-elect Grant Hauschild, the two new rookie legislators who will be sworn in after the first of the year.
The agenda for the meeting covered the issues of concern for Ely, Morse, Winton and ISD 696.
Bob Berrini, representing Morse Township, offered his thoughts on the failure of the Legislature last year to eliminate the state’s tax on Social Security benefits. “I’m talking about the surplus,” Berrini remarked, “We’re gonna have around $18 billion, so I think we should get a break on our Social Security tax and I don’t think we should get two percent this year and five percent next year.”
Berrini also raised concerns over the decline in the deer population, handing out a copy of a newspaper article listing deer harvest statistics from the last five seasons. He was not shy in his opinion on the cause of the decline of local deer: wolves. “It’s a big deal for this year’s (deer) harvests here, in the six different (DPA) areas where you have too many wolves,” he said. “It’s killing us.”
Berrini also said he’s worried the region does not have enough ambulances to respond to emergency calls in more remote areas and he’d like to see the Legislature do something about it. His remarks spurred a discussion about the challenges for improving funding for EMS services in northeast Minnesota.
Speaking for the school district, Tom Omerza discussed how the pandemic and its impact on the economy contributed to the cost overruns on the district’s 21st century facilities project. “We started the school facility project prior to what happened with the economy and material costs,” Omerza explained. “We ended up getting not enough funding for what we told the community we’re going to do.”
Omerza added that the increase in the cost of materials brought on by the pandemic was not a problem exclusive to the Ely School, but that it affected several different school districts around the state.
Marlene Zorman, the mayor-elect for Winton, spoke about the city’s water tower project. “Two years ago, our water tower froze, and consequently, things froze up all the way down the line, water lines broke and we were without water for a week and a half. (That’s when) we all realized that nothing’s been done here for a long time.”
Zorman explained that Winton received a community development block grant to help fix the problems that Winton faces in updating their water system and said that they will need more funding. She also discussed one of Winton’s largest impediments to paying for the needed work, “We have 95 paying water customers in Winton … we’re talking big bucks (to fix the water system) but very few people. We do need help.”
Skraba and Hauschild both remarked that they would pursue actions in the upcoming session of the legislature to address the joint powers board members’ concerns.
The joint powers board consists of dues- paying members, city of Ely, city of Winton, Morse Township, Fall Lake Township, and ISD 696. Non-voting members include Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital, Vermilion Community College and the Ely Chamber of Commerce. Private citizens as well as representatives from Senator Klobuchar’s office, other taxing districts and community organizations were also present.