At its regular monthly meeting on Monday evening, Dec. 3, the Lanesboro City Council heard Ambulance Director Dave Haugen's annual report. Haugen reviewed the year, identified potential challenges, and requested approval for changes in the service's organizational structure.

Haugen reported the year-end numbers as 81 calls, which is up from 69 last year. Of that total, 29 were traumas and 52 were medical related; 31 calls were out-of-town. The busiest hours for calls are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The director pointed out that the most urgent challenge is the need for additional staff. He emphasized that the current crew is handling more calls with fewer members, and in March 2013, the total number of EMTs will be down to nine; in the past, there have been as many as 18 to 22 active and qualified EMTs. Haugen called the diminished staff situation as "scary."

He emphasized the challenge of doing the job with fewer people, adding that there is also more mandatory documentation and training required by the State of Minnesota. For the more serious calls, there is a required Q&A session with the hospital and doctors. He said that if the total count of active EMTs gets any lower, Lanesboro would have to downgrade to the status of "first responder," which means it can go to calls, but can't transport patients. This would drastically increase the time required to get patients to hospitals because EMTs would have to come from other towns.

The result is that EMT management is stepping up its recruiting activities. It has planned an EMT informational meeting for Jan. 5 at 10 a.m. at the Lanesboro Fire Hall on West Coffee Street in downtown Lanesboro. (See letter to the community elsewhere on this page, read into the meeting by EMT Colleen Lamon.)

That meeting will be an opportunity for anyone potentially interested in volunteering to hear what the ambulance crew is about and what its members do, the requirements, the training, and schedules. It will include an ample question-and-answer opportunity. Haugen asked for a council member to become a liaison for the EMT service.

He also reported the crew would like to change its leadership structure. It currently operates with a director and three squad leaders, and is requesting approval for a change to a director and an assistant director. It was noted this would spread out the tasks and the challenges and be a more efficient way of managing the service.

Haugen said, "Thanks for stepping up," and extended appreciation for the dedication and service of two EMTs who retired earlier this year, Roger Jorgenson and Frank Wright, and named the four who will be retiring by March: Brock Johnson, Vern Riddle, Sandy Kiel, and Pat Schmidt.

City Administrator Bobbi Vickerman said the city is working with other cities to identify levels of director's pay and rates for calls. Council member Joe O'Connor asked about volunteers who live outside of "radio range," using as an example someone who lives on the other side of Whalan. Haugen responded that it would depend on a reasonable response time. Mayor Steve Rahn asked what are the required training hours; Haugen responded that the initial training is now at 160 hours, with 32 hours required for refresher every two years plus the monthly consortium training meetings.

Mayor Rahn also suggested scheduling a meeting with Greg Davids and Jeremy Miller, along with other EMT services, to point out that the increased requirements "the bureaucracy" is making will cause ambulance services such as this one to discontinue.

Council member Ceil Allen added appreciation for the efforts of all of the EMTs, and summarized that Haugen had asked for a change in the EMT organizational structure, the City to "get the letter out," a Council liaison, and to make efforts to inform the legislators of the growing regulatory problem. The council voted to approve all the requests. Mayor Rahn will be the EMT liaison.

Truth in Taxation hearing

Mayor Rahn temporarily recessed the regular meeting and opened the scheduled public hearing on Truth in Taxation. The purpose of this was to "give the public the opportunity to speak in regards to the budget and levy."

Commercial property owner Rich Horihan expressed his frustration with the taxes being levied on his Lanesboro property. His concerns included the property value having been raised by a large percentage, and that commercial properties are carrying more of the burden for residential properties. He also felt it was taxation without representation, because "I can't vote" in the city even though he is paying a large amount of taxes - up 34 percent for next year - on the property.

Rick Lamon, also a Lanesboro commercial property owner, reinforced some of the frustration, saying that "we have to pay attention to the breaking points" of doing business in the city. He said his family is trying to work out future continuity for the family business, and taxes are a big part of the difficulty. He added, "My reason for being here (at the meeting) is that it is a struggle out there!"

Council member Tom Dybing provided background information on the complexity of property taxes, stating that the State of Minnesota has 55 different property classifications, while the average is 5 to 6. That, along with several taxing bodies, i.e., school, city, and county, all adding a levy, make it very complicated.

The Truth in Taxation meeting closed, and the council re-convened its regular meeting.

Committee reports

Ceil Allen reported from the Library Board that the Book Fair netted $520.75 for the library. Mayor Rahn thanked Allen for her years of service both on the council and the Library Board, pointing out the letter from the Library Board officially commending Allen for all of her dedication and work on its behalf.

O'Connor said that the Utilities Commission at its November meeting worked on 2013 budget issues, and reviewed current projects. He said there is no change in the status of the dam because the water quality study is ongoing. They are "still talking" about emissions from the generators, and it is expected that the city will be able to keep both generators to be used in emergencies. Both will be equipped with non-reset-able hour meters.

The commission requested, and the council approved, that the January meeting will be a joint council/public utilities meeting with a review and update of the capital improvement plans.

City Administrator/Clerk Bobbie Jo Vickerman reported from the Park Board that Brock Johnson is leaving the board. Also it is focusing on internal improvement projects for the winter, and that the "kitchen worked perfectly on Saturday with dinner for 200-plus people."

She also reported from the EDA that the 1998 UM Initiative meeting was interesting, and there was a tie-in to sustainability. It also looked at the usefulness of surveys of downtown businesses.

Allen reported from the Chamber that John Davis had informed it of another $25,000 grant LAC had received. Dave Herrenstein had talked to the Council about next year's schedule, one item of which is a Minnesota Historical Preservation conference to be held in Lanesboro in September. The Chamber board will hold its annual board retreat in January, and its annual meeting will be Jan. 16, 7 p.m. All council members were encouraged to attend.

Other business

According to Vickerman, the council approved the month's bills. The 2013 budget had been proposed at a 4 percent increase. After discussion and before it was approved, it was changed to a 0 percent increase, making it essentially the same as 2012.

The city office will be closed at noon on Dec. 24, and all day Dec. 25, and again at noon on Dec. 31 and all day on Jan. 1.

The pre-audit for 2012 was scheduled for Jan. 8 and 9, with the final being completed in March. The HRA insurance services contract was renewed for city employees. The council voted to accept the $300,000 grant for the dam.

The Council approved leadership training for Vickerman, and the free use of the gymnasium for the joint Lions' Club/Fire Department carnival this Saturday. Vickerman and Deputy Administrator Michelle Peterson donate their time to help out.

Christmas decorations for the downtown area were discussed; some businesses had said they felt "left out" because there were none on their streets. Because the snowflakes are already showing wear, the Chamber is still looking at options for the entire area. Due to financial restrictions, the council is not able to purchase the items.

Liquor licenses for the Lanesboro Art Center for 2013 were approved, along with a "Resolution for a Cooperative Snow Removal on Highway 250 within the City of Lanesboro." The intent is to recognize that this snow removal is a shared responsibility, and provides for the city to be reimbursed for snow removal and the rates for this reimbursement when it occurs.

The council again referred to the thank-you letter received from the Library Board in recognition of Ceil Allen's service on its behalf, and requested that Allen be a "person with business before the Council" on the agenda of its January meeting.

It also acknowledged a letter of thanks from the Lanesboro Arts Center for its support of the highly successful Swingsation. According to the letter signed by John Davis, executive director of LAC, the event raised more than $24,000 for LAC programming.