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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Residents delay setting levy, show support for ambulance levy

Stephanie Ukkola
Posted 3/27/24

SOUDAN- Amber Zak and Erin Peitso are new members of Breitung Township government following their election as town clerk and supervisor respectively in the township elections held March 12. Both Zak …

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Residents delay setting levy, show support for ambulance levy


SOUDAN- Amber Zak and Erin Peitso are new members of Breitung Township government following their election as town clerk and supervisor respectively in the township elections held March 12. Both Zak and Peitso received 53 votes apiece, with a scattering of write-in votes for others.
Zak jumped into her new job as clerk moments after her election, filling in as minute-taker for outgoing clerk Dianna Sunsdahl, who was out sick for the annual meeting, which began after the election tally.
Fourteen Breitung residents turned out for the annual meeting, plus Chief of Police Dan Reing. Supervisor Matt Tuchel, who was on vacation, was absent.
The attendees at the annual meeting voted to wait to set the levy at a reconvened session to be held Aug. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Breitung Community Center. Chairman Tim Tomsich recommended the delay because of a large amount of unknown project costs that should be clearer by summer. Those projects include the Thompson Farm Road relocation, Center St., and Echo Point Road projects, and the ambulance subsidy.
Previously the ambulance subsidy was $15 per resident, but residents voted to increase that to $30 per resident for one year at last year’s annual meeting. Considering the ambulance’s financial struggles, coupled with Greenwood Township’s refusal to provide any support for the ambulance service, the funding will likely have to stay at $30 per resident, possibly higher. “In my opinion, they’re just cheap. There are no other words, unfortunately,” said Supervisor Chuck Tekautz, referring to Greenwood Township. The electors were clear they were in support of doing whatever it takes to keep the local ambulance service. Resident Tony Sikora called the subsidy of $30/person a “bargain” for the life-saving service.
The electors cleared the way for the Thompson Farm Rd. relocation/gravel pit expansion by passing a motion to “vacate the existing Thompson Farm Rd. and open a new access as depicted by the engineers drawing, contingent upon funding through the LRIP (local road improvement plan).” The project will also benefit the community by providing a safer access from Hwy. 169, creating a safe connection trail to the new State Park ATV Campground, and supporting economic development and congestion relief. The estimated cost for the project is $633,200 and the town board has asked MNDOT to fund the project in its entirety. A decision will be made March 29.
The electors set a special hearing to discuss the Thompson Farm Rd. project for Tuesday, June 18 at 6 p.m. at the Breitung Town Hall.
In his report, Chief of Police Dan Reing noted there were 1,142 calls for service, down from 1,165 last year. That included 363 traffic stops, 262 business checks, 76 traffic citations, 59 residential checks, 42 outside agency assistance, 38 community engagements, 37 medical calls, 32 disturbances, 28 general calls, 25 public assistance, 25 animal calls, 23 traffic accidents, 23 informational calls, 20 arrests, 19 motorist assistance, 17 civil cases, 15 parking complaints, 13 welfare checks, 13 blight complaints, 12 ATV complaints, 12 hazard checks, 12 DWI-specific arrests, 11 suspicious activity, 10 thefts, nine firearm permits, nine mental health crisis, six burglaries, six assaults, six civil paper service, six drug calls, six criminal damage to property, six 911 disconnects, five non-traffic citations, five fire calls, three deaths, one tobacco check, one alarm, and one fraud.
Most types of crime held steady or dropped over the past few years. The types of calls that had increased in volume include traffic citations (from 44 to 76), community engagements (from 24 to 38), drug calls (from one to six), disturbances (from 20 to 32), animal (from 18 to 25), and traffic accidents (from 15 to 23).
The department’s several community engagements included their Tacos with Cops fundraiser, Tower-Soudan Early Childhood Big Truck Night, Kids Cops and Cars, Northwoods Elementary Books and Bagels, Tower Cafe Community Breakfast, and teaching the G.R.E.A.T. program at Vermilion Country School, Tower-Soudan Elementary, and North Woods. The department employs Chief Dan Reing, officers Issac Karolczak, Jim Battin, James Vukad, and Brad Roy.
Tim Tomsich presented his chairman’s report, highlighting the town’s accomplishment’s over the past year. According to Tomsich:
• The bike trail reconstruction from Soudan Store to McKinley Park is near completion and funding was received from IRRR of $202,500 and $150,000 from the DNR. Matching funds from McKinley Park Campground also paid for the project.
• Road construction is still underway for black topping Spring Rd., sewer work on Poplar St., and rebuilding a section of Church St. where it connects to Hwy. 169. Funding for these projects was received from IRRR in the amount of $200,00 and CBDG with an additional $90,000 grant.
• A contract to reduce inflow and infiltration was awarded, including work on First Ave. and Church St. with funding from IRRR and CBDG.
• A contract for upgrades to Stuntz Bay Rd. was awarded with construction to start this year.
• Grant funding for improvements to the recreation area and additional water, sewer and roadwork are prepared and some are already under review by various agencies.
Tomsich also mentioned ongoing work on the ambulance commission, a year-long extension of the police contract with Tower, a three-year contract with the union representing township maintenance employees, demolition of the old playground and purchase of a new playground at McKinley Park Campground with grant funding from the county, wrapping up of the manhole replacement project and thanks to employees and volunteers for their service to the citizens of Breitung.
Maintenance Director Tom Gorsma was present to report on the township’s maintenance. He said the gentle winter has allowed the township to save money on plowing, sanding, and rink maintenance.
Fire Chief Trevor Banks was not present but prepared a report of the department’s 2023 activities. The department received 26 emergency calls, up from 22 in the previous year. Mutual aid was provided nine times and received four times. The calls included five hazardous conditions, four auto accidents, four public service calls, three structure fires, three calls that were canceled en route, and one each of a power line incident, snowmobile accident, unauthorized burning, auto extraction, vehicle fire, uncontrolled permit burn, and a water rescue.
The department has a membership of 16. There was one retirement and two resignations. The department contributed 90 man-hours for fire department and community events, and 166 man-hours for emergency calls. The department received a DNR 50/50 grant to purchase several sets of Wildland Fire PPE. They participated in the 4th of July parade, the Breitung community picnic, and Big Truck Night.
McKinley Park Campground Manager Susie Chiabotti prepared the campground’s annual report. She noted that rate increases and increased monthly campers contributed to an increase in revenue, to $189,918 in 2023 compared to $174,039 the year befores. This past year the campground had high-speed internet and wifi installed. The playground was removed and new playground, dock decking, picnic tables and a roof for the store are scheduled to be installed this summer. Chiabotti encouraged residents to come enjoy the beach this summer.

The electors reviewed funding requests. They approved $3,000 for the Tower Cemetery, $2,000 for the 4th of July Community Picnic, $500 to Tower-Soudan Historical Society, $300 to Joint Powers Recreation Board, $300 for Big Truck Night, and $200 for Old Settlers. The electors denied a request for Iron Range Youth in Action and will review a request at the Aug. 13 continuation of the meeting for Northwoods Partners after gathering more information.

The township reported that at the end of the year it had $338,571 in liabilities, a loan for the community center building; $278,044 in reserve funds, savings for things like equipment replacement, sick days, pensions and matching funds; $331,346 for operating funds; and $140,000 in savings certificates.