Morse waiting for Fall Lake fire payment

by Tom Coombe

Morse Township will pursue a written agreement with Fall Lake for the operation of their joint fire department.<BR><BR>But in the meantime, Morse will continue to cover all expenses associated with operating the department, much to the chagrin of at least one township supervisor.<BR><BR>At Tuesday’s town board meeting, supervisor Jack Willis was on the losing end of several 2-1 votes - all dealing with fire department expenses or operations.<BR><BR>Willis, who was outvoted by supervisors Len Cersine and Terry Soderberg, contends that Morse should hold back on any further fire department spending until Fall Lake comes on board.<BR><BR>“We’re still going down that road where the town of Morse is paying the whole bill,” said Willis. “My concern is that we’re going to pay the whole bill and not see anything in return.”<BR><BR>Research by Morse officials showed that Fall Lake has not contributed financially to department operations for several years.<BR><BR>The town boards met earlier this year and appeared to find common ground, with Fall Lake supervisors requesting that Morse send a bill for past expenses.<BR><BR>But once Morse billed Fall Lake this spring, Fall Lake supervisors voted to hold off on payment until a contractual agreement is reached.<BR><BR>“Now we sent them a bill and they’re not going to pay until there’s a written agreement,” said Soderberg. “I have a problem with that.”<BR><BR>At their May 4 meeting, Fall Lake supervisors agreed to immediately contribute toward the operation of the Emergency First Responders, but held off on paying the approximately $8,500 bill for fire department operations.<BR><BR>Fall Lake Board Chairperson Nick Milkovich said then that Fall Lake needs to have a voice in department operations, and in a letter to the Morse board, Milkovich said that payment for the fire department would be considered once the two townships sign a contract.<BR><BR>Willis took the most issue with Fall Lake’s position.<BR><BR>“It seems to me like you go to the grocery store and charge up a lot of groceries, and then you go back to the grocer and say I’m not going to pay until we agree on a price for future groceries I’m going to buy,” said Willis.<BR><BR>But while both Willis and Soderberg took issue with Fall Lake’s reluctance to submit payment, Cersine said he understood Fall Lake’s position.<BR><BR>“I don’t expect them to pay the bill until there’s a contract,” said Cersine. “They’re not going to pay the bill before there’s a contract.”<BR><BR>Cersine was directed to initiate discussions with Fall Lake to come up with a contract.<BR><BR>He’s due to report back to the board in July.<BR><BR>Willis was instructed to meet with city officials to discuss a similar agreement.<BR><BR>Despite the concerns over funding, the board voted to spend approximately $7,000 for hoses, nozzles and other equipment for the new fire truck recently received by the department.<BR><BR>The board also authorized expenditures to replace safety equipment for firefighters, and to accept a DNR grant that will cover up to 50 percent of the cost of a water pump. Fire chief Ted Krueger estimated that it would cost $2,000.<BR><BR>Morse has money available in its fire account to pay for the equipment, but Willis warned that the township may end up paying the entire bill.<BR><BR>“We’re committed to the residents of Fall Lake and the board of Fall Lake isn’t even committed to that,” said Willis.<BR><BR>Also Tuesday, the Morse board voted to support a conditional use permit for the North American Bear Center, which is seeking county permission to open a museum and educational facility outside of Ely, on land located in Morse Township.<BR><BR>NABC representative Lynn Rogers said the organization hopes to acquire tax forfeit land just west of town, on Highway 169, for the center.<BR><BR>How the NABC may acquire the property is still to be determined.<BR><BR>The organization hoped that Morse would acquire the land from St. Louis County, and then sell it to the NABC.<BR><BR>But according to a legal opinion issued by the Minnesota Association of Townships, Morse may be unable to do so.<BR><BR>Willis suggested that the NABC pursue another route, in which an economic development authority would acquire the land from the county.<BR><BR>The Ely City Council also serves as the Ely Economic Development Authority, and it would apparently be legal for the authority to buy the land and turn it over to the NABC.<BR><BR>In other business, the Morse board:<BR><BR>• Opted out of any further involvement in a joint public works garage. Morse joined Ely, St. Louis County and state officials in preliminary talks about a garage that would serve several government entities, but Cersine said that estimated costs ($824,000 for Morse’s portion of the project) would prohibit Morse from moving forward.<BR><BR>• Approved several donations from the township’s recreation fund, including $1,000 allocations to the Ely Nordic Association, Northern Lakes Arts Association, Ely Little League, Ely Igloo Snowmobile Club and Ely Community Resource. Also set aside were $500 for the Ely Fourth of July fireworks and $1,224 for Ely Community Education.<BR><BR>• Denied, on a 2-1 vote, clerk Keiko Aylsworth’s request that she be paid for 12 hours per week. Aylsworth is currently paid for 10 hours each week, but she said the workload requires her to put in more time.<BR><BR>Cersine supported the increase in hours.<BR><BR>