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City Council mtg Feb 20 2024

YouTube link is at end of this post. Scroll below the actual video clip to read highlights and time markers.  The comments below are not posted on the YouTube clip.  The following comments and questions focus on fiscal conservatism (responsibility and accountability with public monies). Nothing shocking or “new” happened at the February 20th Council meeting, but there weren’t enough comments from Council and detail from Harold regarding the projects mentioned, especially since the Projects and HRA minutes provided more questions than answers. The Council meeting lasted less than 30 minutes, maybe a record? Are short meetings the goal for citizen-focused government?

HRA and Projects Committee. Is City Council not comfortable asking for more details, representing the taxpayers interests: money well spent and a needs for citizen- and resident- focused projects? Tonight the meeting should have lasted an hour, not under 30 minutes. Tonight was the time for elected officials and the City to consider costs and specs BEFORE applications and decisions are made. Per minutes submitted for Council packet tonight, many things were not addressed at HRA and Projects meetings. Appointed members on HRA and Projects Committee should have discussed all these things more deeply. They didn’t. That’s okay. But Council should have then voiced more questions and comments to be sent back to HRA and Projects for them to address and respond back to Council.

(1) For example, townhouses would house x amount of adults and kids vs. apartments housing x amount of (working) adults and kids? (2)  If you don’t have a job, you cannot apply for these workforce apartments?  Or stay? (3) What are the priorities and requirements for applicants?  (4) If the proposed Ordinance 375 addresses these questions and issues, why wasn’t something mentioned? This was the First Reading and was tied to the projects on tonight’s agenda. (5) What does the new proposed housing mean in terms of monthly rent? Apartment now vs. townhouse?  How much will be subsidized?  (6) What will the square footage be for apartments vs. townhouses? (7) What about parking?  Garages?

If the housing development has changed from townhouses to apartments, meaning changes in specifications, etc., would or should new bids be solicited? Did or will developers be submitting Plan A and Plan B bids, meaning a high bid for everything requested and an alternative less-cost bid?

There is a reason Ely finally found a developer after such a long frustrating wait . . . or a developer found Ely. Everything in real estate, construction and development circles around money . . . . leading to need for cost cutting for higher profits. Construction of apartments is different than building townhouses. There are probably few, hard-to-access, or no websites that reveal how developers cut costs. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) doesn’t seem to get that involved in major construction projects and housing or mall developments. I know BBB suggests some folks contact the MN Sec of State (licensing and regulations) to resolve issues.

We are assuming “DW Jones” mentioned in the minutes is the same as  D.W. Jones Management, Inc.    We are NOT saying DW Jones is a greedy, bad corporation. We are NOT saying they are doing anything illegal or unusual.  They are probably a great choice for this or any housing development.  But when so much money is involved, shouldn’t someone on City Council, City government, or serving on commissions, committees or boards ask more questions than those mentioned above?  Who does simple vetting like clicking on the BBB website (try it now)? Who taps into deeper feedback from those experienced in how businesses pare down costs as well as the long-term effect of those cut-cutting decisions?  This is also why a diversity of inquiry-minded, fiscally-responsible, and citizen-focused folks should be elected to office and appointed to commissions, etc. We have the same friends-of-friends groups sitting on commissions for 9-year terms, also too many are appointed to serve on more than one commission.

Additional costs for City for housing:  (1) Who is doing the “update” to the Maxfield Research study? No name of person or business was given by Howard. His use of “update,” meaning person or business, was (intentionally?) cryptic. (2) What is the cost for a new and/or updated feasibility study? Who is paying for this?  (3) Wouldn’t an apartment vs. townhouse development mean less land preparation costs? Who saves those dollars?? Are those $$ folded into the developer’s costs or profits?  Who profits with swaps of land?

Hotel, Senior Parking lot, Ott depot development:  What is the City subsidizing (in)directly?  Can the depot development be redesigned, so the City does not need to give away the public parking space on the south side of Miners Drive? Did someone ask?  Is there a correlation between the more real estate you have, the better your financial deals with government?  Is there a correlation between promises of big money for/with big real estate development and the neglect/sacrifice of small businesses and/or public facilities?  Why wasn’t the hotel parking issue openly dealt with AND settled before the renovation started or the agreement signed?

Side note:  It is surprising that there are so many empty store fronts on Sheridan and Chapman, businesses that need remodeling, residential living spaces in need of major repair, elevators that should be installed to make 2nd floor and basement level public gathering places accessible, etc.  Where are the City’s active plans or goals to promote smaller renovation/development projects to help out small business owners and organizations, based on the needs of who lives here now? 

Is accessibility not important, not in the Comprehensive plan, not profitable enough? Is it not the responsibility of City Council and City to promote more accessibility-related projects?  Funding exists.  Search the IRRRB website using “elevators for accessibility” or similar wording. Do people in casts, using canes/crutches, or in wheelchairs need to do handstands to make others more aware of accessiblility issues? Or should they just stay at home? 

We all know the City cannot be blamed for everything. For example, entrances and multiple floors of public businesses do not have to be accessible. Remodeling of entrances or installing of elevators interferes with sales and customer service. Another example, the Senior Center suddenly appeared at Council, needing more funding than originally requested and approved for. The City couldn’t just give them more $$ right then and there. Council and Harold suggested they attend the next Projects Committee meeting with more detailed info about their needs and projects, so the City could help them. The City and Council truly cared. No show per Projects minutes.

YouTube link = https://youtu.be/POLrSDzaWVO

https://youtu.be/P0LrSDzaWV0

 

City Council Mtg Feb 6 2024 – Wolf Center & Lodging Tax

Regular Ely City Council meeting held on Tuesday, February 6, 2024. Highlights:

Time marker 3:10 – 18:10 International Wolf Center presentation by Grant Spickelmier and Krista Woerheide. Highlighted projects and education events in 2023. They wanted City of Ely to support their 2024 funding requests from the State for $2,150,000.

Time marker 15:00 – 52:00 Ely Area Tourism Bureau update/2023 recap by Cindy Smyka. Explained new partnership agreement with USDA Forest Service. Details on promotional websites, podcasts, etc.

Time marker 39:40 Smyka provides Interesting details about Lodging Tax Chart showing previous years through 3rd quarter of 2023, including some Lake County metrics. Lodging taxes for Ely don’t all get returned back to Ely.

1:02:02 time marker – Council Member Al Forsman reported on Ambulance Joint Powers Board meeting held on Jan. 29th. There are billing issues from previous billing service. He gave short recap of comments made by Patti Banks (CEO, EBCH).

1:05:45 Mayor Heidi commented. Next Joint Powers Board meeting is Feb 26, 4 pm, in Winton.

Time marker 1:20:00 short discussion about St. Louis County Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Citizen Advisory Committee and open positions. See page 42 in Feb. 6th Council packet on City website www.ely.mn.us/2024-meetings

YouTube link:

Scroll down YouTube to read highlights with time markers

Recording Ambulance JP Board mtg Jan 29 2024

Board meeting of Ely Area Ambulance Service (EEAS) Joint Powers held in Winton, MN, on Monday Jan. 29, 2024. The assumption seems to be the hospital will take back ambulance services.

The agenda packet included: a) 3 pages of Dec. 11, 2023 Board meeting minutes that were approved. b) 3-page financial update since last meeting. c) 4-page Ely Fire/First Responders’ Building & Ambulance Storage Building Project Environmental Report. d) 3-page proposal from TKDA for architectural services “to continue assisting with project beyond the USDA report assistance and develop construction design drawings and specifications for this project.”

10:35 – 16:05 time marker – In contrast to the Board just focusing on money and buildings, Patti Banks, CEO, EBCH, read a carefully crafted public statement from the hospital regarding ambulance service. She hoped to clarify the hospital’s position. EBCH is attending meetings to collaborate. Hopefully that EBCH letter will be included in the Board’s minutes and shared with the community. Listen carefully to what was read.

Later on, Patti Banks recommended the Board not just ask for dollars. What are their expectations and goals for how the money is spent? You need to do more than just talk about dollars to find innovative solutions for changes. She asked the Board for input that she could then pass on to those conducting their research (SafeTech Solutions), so their recommendations for the project could reflect regional expectations and goals. The hospital study received final info from EEAS last week. Based on the study info, conversations, etc. received from the Joint Powers group, SafeTech Solutions will determine the scope the project as the hospital moves forward. There are at least 3 different viable solutions for innovative approaches to EMS in our region. EAAS needs to make decisions how to proceed with their finances & operations.16:05-19:19 Comments & discussion.

19:20 – 21:24 Patti Banks responded: How communication has been going . . . very little . . .not consistent . . . mostly public forum . . . [we are] continuing to finance a system that is broken . . . This MN legislative session is a policy year, not a budget year . . . If we aren’t going to work together, we won’t be able to impact policy . . . 21:24 Comments & discussion.

23:00 – 24:28 Patti Banks responds to question about the hospital study results. Potential solutions:
(1) A regional model. (2) One model would depend upon who holds the license for ambulance service. (3) The other solution is to do nothing which we seem to be consistently headed towards.
Status quo. 24:28 Board comments.

27:14 Patti Banks: SafeTech waiting to hear from hospital after this meeting. She wants to bring proposals to next meeting. Board discussions followed.

30:35 – Patti Banks challenged the Ambulance Service Board to actually tell what the Board expects from outcomes and goals rather than just more funding. Who gets the money? Where does it go? What are you going to do with that money? . . . What happens when you get an answer you don’t want to hear? . . . She wants innovative solutions that impact change. 33:48 Clarified what she will bring at the next meeting (scenarios only based on the study results).

24:51 – Mayor Heidi Omerza thinks legislators would like to hear a viable solution…Maybe they would fund a pilot program. Hint: contact legislators.
25:40 Patti Banks: our solution doesn’t have to be perfect. Legislature could look to model [what we do] in other rural communities, even nation-wide… We need crucial conversations together. . . We have to control and impact the change where we can . . . be innovative vs. spinning wheels.

34:44 Proposed building projects presented by Harold Langowski. Discussion with Board.
Funds from USDA are NOT awarded up front.

41:18 – 49:55 Larry Polyner from audience voiced his concerns about location and need for the construction of the proposed fire/first responders’ buildings. He was also concerned about going ahead before the release of EBCH’s research and decisions for EBCH future action are not known. Board discussion followed. Note: Larry Polymer spoke at Ely Special Hearing on Jan. 16, 2024.

50:30 – 53:10 Nice discussion about conflict of interest re: Town of Morse having same person on Joint Powers Board and Ambulance Board. This discussion proves it was/is safe for these Board members to say to the group and the public, “I’m uncomfortable.”

The next meeting of the Ambulance Joint Powers Board is scheduled for February 26, 2024.

Watch another recording on this website: Ely Special Council meeting to provide emergency funding for EMS payroll, 12/13/243

Watch another recording on this website: Special Ely Public Hearing (informational) on these building projects, 01/16/2024

Recording City Council mtg Jan 16 2024

Regularly scheduled Ely City Council meeting on Jan. 16, 2024. Agenda and packet available on City website: www.ely.mn.us/2024-meetings

Mayor’s Report: (1) Recognition of Mike Popesh’s 43 years of service to City of Ely. (2) Council Members representation on committees, commissions, and boards.

Project Committee reports, recommendations, and resolutions passed by Council. HRA partnering with MN Housing Partnership. Pocket Park. Tomahawk Trail. Snowmobile Trails. Mountain Bike Trails. Federal Recreation Trail.

Fire Chief: 15 medicals, 0 fire calls. Library Director: program updates. Police Chief: (1) 5 dog tag license applications. (2) Bonus (canoe) agreement. City Attorney: Purchase agreements for Spauling properties.

New Business: Misc. items including (1) Authorizing temporary deputy clerk for election purposes. (2) Establishing Abstentee Ballot Board. (3) (Re-)appointment of open seats on committees, boards, and commissions.

Recording Public Info Hearing on Fire & Ambulance Bldgs Jan 16 2024

City of Ely, MN, required informational hearing 5-5:30 pm. See City website for packet documents, including drawings: www.ely.mn.us/2024-meetings

These are preliminary plans. The City wants project ready for bidding in next few months, so construction can start this summer 2024. Harold Langowski, Ely Clerk/Treasurer, provided details of locations and building improvements, using the overhead screen. Garage will be fully heated ($$). Current and new housing planned for this area.

Listen for additional construction, additional building remodeling, fence relocation, and street(s) redesign planned AFTER the fire apparatus building and ambulance garage are built. These additional materials and labor costs are probably not included in proposal presented tonight. It is not known if or when a detailed list will be presented, along with an indication who will be responsible for funding.

1 resident questioned the need for new garage and facilities. He felt we could use current buildings (with some remodeling) for equipment/machine storage. Staff didn’t need new facilities to meet: use existing rooms. He also questioned going ahead without knowing if EBCH will take ambulance services back. A Joint Powers Ambulance meeting will be held Jan 22 at 4 pm at Winton Community Center.

1 other resident praised the plans and work that went into the proposal presented tonight. The buildings are necessary.

Recording City Council mtg Jan 2 2045

Time markings and topics below are not always chronological.

Ely, MN City Council meeting – first regular scheduled meeting meeting for 2024. .
Agendas & packets for 2024 Council meetings — https://www.ely.mn.us/2024-meetings
2023 Council meeting agendas & packets – https://www.ely.mn.us/2023-meetings

49:25 Changes for dog licenses: forms for lifetime and annual dog licenses are now available through the City Police Department and can be mailed in. Forms will no longer be processed at Ely (Drivers) License Office on Chapman. 2024 tags will be mailed or delivered when they arrive. The forms should eventually be available online. Until posted online, email Police Department or call 218-365-3222 elypd@ely.mn.us

2024 Ely City fee schedule https://www.ely.mn.us/vertical/sites/%7B487F0A5E-BE52-4CAD-977F-7436EDEE4F85%7D/uploads/2023_City_of_Ely_Fee_Schedule(1).pdf

51:50 The City provides low 2% interest rate loans to homeowners for improvements which are approved by Council. Information and applications are available online: https://www.ely.mn.us/city-loan

2:55 Council Members need to review 2023 Committee assignments and request any changes before next Council meeting (page 7 in packet).

26:50 Park & Rec updates , including North Country Trails.

31:50 Council approves P&Z motion to meet twice monthly on 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month. P&Z minutes of Dec. 20, 2023 in Council packet were not reviewed or approved by P&Z. The minutes use “resend.” The P&Z discussions indicate their intention to “rescind” (take back or withdraw their original motion). See actual P&Z discussions at beginning and end of their Dec. 20, 2023 meeting. YouTube link: https://youtu.be/m0BWdHAn5SE

42:30 Fire Chief updates
46:15 Library updates

Note: The Planning Unit Development (PUD) mentioned during Request to Appear (presentation on fiscal responsibility and accountability, starting time marker 8:48) was in the Nov. 15, 2023 Planning and Zoning packet (pages 6-37). See Section 1105.01 (Public Benefit) on page 6: “Preservation and enhancement of natural systems and resources, topography, vegetation, and other natural features.” The regularly scheduled P&Z meeting was held shortly after the Public Hearing that same night was canceled re: campground expansion on Miners Lake in residential area. YouTube recording of this P&Z meeting (Part B focuses on PUD prepared by City for P&Z to use to “get around” problems) = https://youtu.be/dn3Z5JCFpcU

Note: For the past months, the Ely Park & Recreation Commission has held discussions and presentations on “preservation and enhancement of natural systems and resources,” also in terms of zoning and including Miners Lake, which have not officially been passed on by City to P&Z or Council. See Park & Rec YouTube recordings from Nov. 20, 2023 https://youtu.be/Jo5rZ1nC0qg and Dec 18, 2023 https://youtu.be/n7Vm-IYJdVs

Recording Planning & Zoning Dec 20 2023

The meeting lasted over 2 hours. Please refer to the approximate time markers for topics. When topics were brought up again during a discussion of a different agenda item, usually there is a 2nd time marker. Not all references to the proposed Miners Lake campground are time marked.

Some of the Commissioners were unclear or disagreeing as to what City Council, City Attorney, DNR, etc. said or wanted re: re-zoning or Miners Lake, not just those who were unable to attend the Study Session(s). Recordings of the last joint Study Session (P&Z with Council) as well as recent P&Z and Council meetings are available on this website. All Council meetings and Study Sessions were re(broadcast) by Midco, so Commissioners and others should have been able to watch live or record those meetings.

Recording City Council Dec 19 2023 mtg

Read details below YouTube video for time markers and topics. https://youtu.be/K3nmGA1YWfM

Ely Girls High School Volleyball Proclamation and Recognition

Ely Echo open seat notices

Published on Sat., Dec. 16th. HRA application is due during school break: Wed., Dec 27th. Other applications are due Fri., Jan. 5th;

Published in Ely Echo (Sports Section 2) on Sat., Dec. 16th.

On left, HRA application is due during school break: Wed., Dec 27th.

On right, other applications are due Fri., Jan. 5th. Nothing is posted on Ely’s official website: www.ely.mn.us

Recording Park & Rec mtg Dec 18 2023

Time marker 30:35 – 49:00: Discussion on P1, P2 and O Zones. P1 and P2 = public uses (plural).

O = open, no designation, nobody managing, can be re-zoned, not protected as natural area.

31:00+ mins and again 36:50+ mins Bill Teft speaks about zoning. He will come back with more specific research. 

49:00-51:00 mins Tabled discussion on Park & Rec FT position. 

What a joy to see Ely’s leadership in action!    Watch YouTube: https://youtu.be/n7Vm-IYJdVs 

Video time marker 1:50 – 30:13 minutes: Ozzie Reif with Steve Piragis updated Park & Rec on North County National Scenic Trail. Ely’s main street Sheridan to be part of Trail, so hikers will be downtown and have access to businesses. Many, many other benefits and promotions for Ely area. Ozzie+ will work on writing Memorandum of Understanding.

Time marker 51:00-1:07:00 : Julie Hignell updates on Loaner Boats at Semers. They submitted No Child Left Inside grant proposal. Will know in March if $$ granted. She talked about things they will do whether grant received or not. Lots of exciting plans for service projects, classes, bike repair space and other kid/adult/family outdoor activities. 

Not on agenda but “urgent.” New responsibility for Park & Rec to get public feedback on projects?

Time marker 1:07:00 -1:40:25: Adam Bisbee, Council Rep on Park & Rec, says he received email from City re feedback from Miners Lake residents re cutting down of trees, etc. A copy of City email sent about a week ago was not in tonight’s packet (not everyone received?). Not all Commissioners have the same understanding as to what they were to decide tonight. Park & Rec Commission was responsible for obtaining feedback?

Watch dynamic discussion: who is concerned about notification to citizens, who wants the City to just go ahead now, and who struggles with trying to best serve both interests of City and citizens. There is apparently no City policy or procedure in place as to how Park & Rec Commission should notify or give appropriate turnaround time for citizen input. (Is it really okay for notice to be posted during Christmas + New Years school break and response due before break is over?). There was no advance notice or explanation that Park & Rec Commission is suddenly now responsible for determining public has been given adequate notice? Plans for construction were formulated this last summer (and approved by Council on ??). There’s apparently no variance, no CUP needed. Some things are safety related. Miners Lake residents and Ely citizens were not respected when Planning & Zoning tried to put a huge RV campground in residential area this fall. 


Watch how these Commissioners sincerely struggle tonight and what they decide to do. Confusion until end (adjournment 1:40:25): “Let the feedback decide.”


Note: Huge TV screen on back wall of Council Chambers has been playing Local Access Programming all night. 1:35:14 = Covid safety tips and later 1:40:25+ more public safety ads. Who is watching screen during meeting? Why is TV on? Save money: turn off.