The Great Divide Ambulance Service was a major topic at the Town of Cable’s annual meeting Wednesday, July 22, as about 45 townspeople heard reports regarding operational challenges faced by the 10-township ambulance agency. Townspeople then voted to authorize the service to purchase a building on Highway 63 to provide living quarters for emergency medical personnel.
Great Divide Ambulance Service business manager Laura Bjork said the agency recently settled a lawsuit against them concerning employee overtime for more than $350,000. The agency hired a human resources specialist from Duluth who helped draw up and implement an employee handbook. The ambulance service added overtime wages and benefits and took $600,000 from its Safe Building fund to balance its 2019 budget.
Bjork said the ambulance service’s offer to purchase the former Runamuck Rides building on Highway 63 South in Cable has been accepted. The offer is contingent upon the approval of the four towns that own the service: Cable, Namakagon, Drummond and Grand View.
The building will be renovated at an estimated cost of $250,000 and will be used for EMS personnel living quarters, Bjork indicated. The current EMT house will be sold, and the proceeds could be applied toward the cost of the renovation.
Bjork said 2019 was “very busy,” with 1,272 ambulance runs, 31 fire stand-bys, 10 dead-on-arrival cases and 246 transports to hospitals. Of the calls, 873 were non-emergent.
“Currently Great Divide is running non-stop,” Bjork added. “We are still in need of employees, preferably paramedics.” In addition to the four Bayfield County townships, Great Divide contracts with six townships in Ashland County, serving a 780-square mile area in the two counties.
“Currently the ambulance service uses state funds to balance their budget and this cannot continue,” Bjork said. “Our funds will run out.”
Ambulance service coordinator Rob Puls said it has been a “tumultuous” year.
“These are dynamic times for all of us,” he said. “We need to pull together to get through this.”
Puls said the three ambulances situated in Cable “are all well north of 200,000 miles. I’m getting good at repairing them.” A cardiac monitor costs $37,000 per ambulance, he added.
“We continue to have personnel shortages,” he said. “We cannot get people to move here and work for us.” This is despite the fact that an entry-level EMT can make $60,000 a year plus benefits while working three days a week, he said.
“You should be very proud of this ambulance service,” Puls added. “We have the highest level license you can have in the state. With the COVID situation, we have never seen so many unstable patients. Everybody quit going to the doctor and put off things; we saw people accumulate very serious acuity conditions. That was a huge strain on us and our folks performed very well.”
He added, “It gets harder every year. We’re trying to hold onto the spirit” that the service founders had. “When an accident or illness strikes, we’re there to make it your best worst day. We’ve had case after case with positive outcomes.”
Last year, cardiac provider Essentia Health awarded Puls for having more positive outcomes than any other individual in the two-state region. “I’ve got good people working for me,” he added.
Cable Fire Chief Kevin McKinney said the department added five firefighters in the past few months, bringing the total number to 10, which is “still a low number.” The new members must take a Firefighter 1 course through WITC.
On a related issue, Cable Area Police Officer Kevin Johnson urged people who dial 911 accidentally to call back and let the dispatcher know if they’re OK. Otherwise officers will come to the caller’s door. “They have bigger and better things to do,” he said.
Town Chairman Brett Rondeau announced that the National Guard on Aug. 14 will conduct free testing for COVID-19 at the Cable Community Centre, with hours to be announced. Up to 400 people will be tested, first-come, first-served.
The testing is “targeting southern Bayfield County and northern Sawyer County,” Rondeau said. It is open to all, even if they’re not a resident, he added.
Rondeau noted that several people had recently retired from town government, including the former clerk and treasurer. The new appointed clerk is Elaine “Bunkie” Miller and the new treasurer is Bobbi McCauley.
Deputy Town Clerk Deanne Allen said the town received a $12,000 state grant to conduct aquatic invasive species (AIS) boat checks at public landings on Cable, Perry and Takodah lakes. Also, the town received a $6,000 Firewise wildfire grant. The town received $9,625 cost share reimbursement from businesses for new sidewalks that were installed.
Miscellaneous donations and contributions for community projects such as the historical mural and bicycle park were “up significantly” from $7,669 in 2018 to $29,254 in 2019, Allen said. “These donations are really amazing and show the interest in Cable in bringing amenities to our town.”
The “town is solvent, we have no debts and we are operating within budget,” Allen said.
Forest Lodge Library Director Kristine Lendved said the library had 789 registered town resident patrons and 284 nonresident patrons in 2019. The library offered Makerspace events, author events, trick or treat for Halloween and Christmas stories by the fire.
The library has purchased a lot next door and plans an expansion that will preserve and incorporate the current 95-year-old building. The expanded facility will provide improved safety and accessibility with a main entrance and parking located on the building’s north side. It will also include meeting spaces and study rooms, increased technology services, more shelving and displays for print and non-print collections, additional patron seating and reading areas, more space for quiet study, computer training and library programming.
The library plans to launch a fundraising campaign for the expansion in early 2021 and hopes to begin construction in the spring of 2022.
Sanitary District President Dave Popelka said the system passed inspections and audits by the DNR and USDA this spring “with flying colors.”
The system processed 1.3 million gallons of wastewater last year, which is about 40 percent of the capacity of the treatment plant, Popelka said. Septic haulers provide 10 percent of the treatment system’s income.
Popelka said the biggest problem is debris plugging up the pipes and pump, including diapers, wipes and even spandex shorts, which users have flushed down their toilets.
Popelka said the sanitary district has talked with the Telemark Interval Owners Association (TIOA) and American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation about extending sewer to the Telemark property. The TIOA has agreed to provide the local match for a state Idle Sites grant, and to pay any expenses not covered by the grant.
The treatment plant could easily handle the flow from the Telemark properties, which would be equivalent to about 110 homes, Popelka said.
Cable Union Airport Commission President Doug Rowe reported that Cooper Engineering is preparing an environmental assessment with public input for obstruction removal at the airport. This would extend the north-south runway’s useable length to its pavement distance of 3,700 feet.
The airport has two undeveloped hangar sites and the commission is pursuing options to replace the terminal building.
Planning Commission Interim Chairperson Sue Thurn said the town has implemented a short-term rental ordinance, looked at the completion of the campground at the Cable Recreation Park and has participated in the Chequamegon Bay housing group to assess how to continue offering affordable housing.
Thurn said Connect Communities volunteers created a business directory and walking map, an online calendar, conducted a needs survey of local businesses, created several spaces downtown with Aldo Leopold theme benches painted by volunteer artists; and provided free seminars on business planning, operating and marketing through social media. The downtown also has flower pots and bike sculptures.
A major project was raising $6,000 to cover the expenses of painting the historical mural on the exterior wall of Rondeau’s Shopping Center, Thurn said.
She said the annual $12,000 AIS grant from the DNR is used for boat landing monitors at the three lakes; they inspect boats and educate boaters about aquatic invasive spaces. The town provides a 25% match through volunteer time. Shoreowners inspected shorelines to remove yellow iris and purple loosestrife.
Roads and Property Foreman Jason Swanson reported that all town roads in Cable are open to ATVs.
Kathy Zuelsdorf thanked the town board for approving the Cable Bike Park and thanked donors who raised more than $10,000 for the facility, which includes a pump track and skills course. Scott King and a friend built the skills park and trails in the forest, including loops for beginning, intermediate and advanced cyclists.
Zuelsdorf said they need to raise $7,000 to construct a hard-surface pump track. The facility “will be a big asset to the town,” she said.
Town meeting attendees acted on several resolutions:
• Voted 37-0 to authorize the Great Divide Ambulance Service to purchase the Runamuck Rides property across from Triple G on Hwy. 63 for $250,000. The resolution also needs approval from electors and town boards in Namakagon, Drummond and Grand View.
• Voted 37-0, with seven abstentions, to raise the salary of the elected treasurer to $10,000, effective after the April 2021 election. The treasurer now earns $9,000.
• Voted 29-0, with 11 abstaining, to set the salary of the elected clerk at $18,000, to take effect after the April 2021 election. The clerk now earns $16,000 per year.
• Voted 32-0, with eight abstentions, to set the following town salaries: $7,000 for the town chairperson and $6,000 for each town supervisor. Current salaries are $6,891 for the chairperson and $5,511 for each supervisor. The new salaries will take effect after the April 2021 election.
• Rejected a resolution that would pay elected officials $20 per hour to perform nonofficial (town employee) duties. They now get $18 per hour. The vote was three ‘Aye,’ 18 ‘Nay’ and 19 abstaining.
• Postponed until the Aug. 19 regular board meeting a proposal to include a referendum at the Nov. 3 election that would, if approved by the voters, authorize the town board to appoint the town clerk and town treasurer positions for three-year terms.
“We’re having a hard time finding someone qualified to fill these positions,” Rondeau said. “It’s not like 30 years ago when anybody could do it. A lot of computer skills are needed and (there are) a lot of reports they have to do.”
Rondeau said the towns of Namakagon and Barnes now appoint their clerks and treasurers. Former Town of Cable clerk and current Town of Namakagon appointed Clerk Kelly Rauch said, “It’s extremely beneficial to go to a job and get paid for it. It’s a paper pushing job and it takes a lot of time.”
The board also on Aug. 19 will discuss whether to have a five-member town board.
Sybil Brakken said 15 months ago the electors of Cable by majority vote approved a resolution to create a five-member town board to provide greater representation for the townspeople. But “the town board has done absolutely nothing to honor that motion.”
If the ordinance is adopted by the end of 2020, a five-member board could take effect after the April 2021 election, when two additional supervisors would be elected, she said.
Brakken asked that the board on Aug. 19 approve the ordinance. “Our town is changing and growing, and with that growth has come a great variety of interests,” she said. “We need better representation for all the various groups. Five members will spread the work out to make easier for the board.”
Six area towns have five-member boards and four of them have lesser populations than Cable, she added.
Rondeau said the board will vote on this topic at its Aug. 19 meeting.
Chairman Rondeau presented certificates of appreciation to various individuals for their dedication and service to Cable: Karl Kastrosky, Shelly Wilson, Kay Rowe, Heather Ludzack, Laura Bjork, Rob Puls, Kathy Zuelsdorf, Ned Zuelsdorf, Lori Popelka, Kevin McKinney, Tammy Rasmussen, Sue Thurn, Scott McKinney, Amy Byrd and Deanne Allen.