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West End citizens gather for township meetings

Township elections and annual meetings were held Tuesday, March 12. Citizens from Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder gathered to vote and to discuss township business.

Lutsen, the only township with a contested election had the highest voter turnout. After the ballots were counted, it was announced that Carl Friesner had won the supervisor seat, defeating incumbent Rae Piepho.

Thirteen ballots were submitted with write-in votes for several different people for the position of Lutsen treasurer. The person with the highest number of votes was not at the annual meeting, so that individual will be contacted. If that person accepts the position, Lutsen will have a treasurer.

WTIP will share that information when it becomes available.

Tofte Supervisor Sarah Somnis was reelected, as was the incumbent treasurer, Dan Shirley. Shirley did not file for the office, but was elected by write-in. He agreed to continue to serve.

The Tofte township completed its agenda in about an hour, starting with a report on the Birch Grove Community Center, which the township owns. Later in the meeting, when the 2020 budget was set, the community center was briefly discussed again. Citizens were informed that the 2018 levy amount was $80,000, but 2018 expenses were $84,805. For that reason, the proposed 2020 levy is $85,000.

Tofte Supervisor Craig Horak told citizens that the township of Lutsen had tentatively agreed to contribute $7,000 toward operations of the West End community center.

Lutsen did just that at its meeting, with citizens approving a $7,000 addition to its budget in support of Birch Grove Community Center.

In other Tofte business, citizens heard a report on the housing project started, but stalled on township land behind Birch Grove Community Center. Citizens agreed to budget $15,000 for further exploration of the project to determine if the town should continue, or abandon its efforts.

In his report, Fire Chief Rich Nelson told the township that there were 28 fire calls in the past year. Chief Nelson also said the fire department had replaced all of its personal protective gear (or turn-out gear) to be in compliance with OSHA regulations. The cost was approximately $30,000.

EMS Chief Kim Jahnke reported that the Tofte-Schroeder Rescue Squad had responded to 53 calls in the last year, 10 of those vehicle accidents.

Both of the Schroeder candidates, Supervisor Tina McKeever and Treasurer Carla Menssen were reelected.

Schroeder, the township with the most roads, heard a report from Supervisor Rick Anderson about the 2018 road and bridge projects, such as gravel installation and brushing on Sugarloaf Road; repairs and gravel on Skou Road; resurfacing and repairs to Baragas Road and Schroeder Tote Road.

Supervisor Bruce Martinson pointed out that the 2018 road projects had reduced the township’s fund balance, but he and Anderson said the money had been well-spent. Anderson explained that the township had the opportunity to receive a grant for $43,000 toward the roadwork. However, accepting that money would have meant a great deal of construction to meet the road standards required by the grantee, a potential expense of up to $200,000. Because of that, the township decided to not accept the grant, but use its own funds for the work.

Anderson said the township has been setting the money aside for this, so the roadwork was completed without the need for an increase in the town levy.

Fire Chief Phil Bonin gave a report, which included the news that the fire department had a visit from OSHA, which resulted in a lot of paperwork, some penalties and the need to replace the department’s turnout gear. It will be an expense of about $30.000.

Chief Bonin said there were 12 fire calls last year. He also shared information on the Tofte-Schroeder Rescue Squad, stating that calls for rescue help were fairly evenly split between the two townships. He said that Tofte has established a search and rescue team and the Rescue Squad answers those calls as well. He said it is a lot of work for the six-person rescue squad team.

In some lighter news, nominations were opened for the Schroeder Citizen of the Year. Gale Ring, deputy town clerk, was selected as the 2019 recipient of the honor.

Making the rounds
The townships of Lutsen and Schroeder had special guest speakers on the subject of the county’s possible law enforcement center. In Schroeder, Bob Swanson and in Lutsen, Ben Peters, shared their concerns about the proposed expansion and renovation of the jail.

All three townships heard from Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority (EDA) Executive Director Mary Somnis, speaking about countywide EDA activities.

In an additional side note in Schroeder, Somnis said told the township, home to the shuttered Taconite Harbor plant and railroad, that a study of railways around the region was being conducted. She said the Taconite Harbor to Hoyt Lakes section of rail was not initially included in the study.

All three townships reviewed town budgets and gave tentative support, but tabled final approval until August. The tentative budget total for Tofte is $176, 622. Lutsen’s tentative budget is $193,295. And Schroeder’s tentative budget is $121,940.
Click the slideshow for photos of the folks at the town meetings.