Hospital CEO seeks city support with physician recruitment

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By Shelia Tomkins

The Guttenberg city council at its regular monthly meeting on Nov. 12 heard a report from hospital leadership about physician recruitment, voted by a narrow margin to purchase property on Highway 52 to use as a Welcome Center, and listened to a business owner's request on water line repair charges. 

Mayor Bill Frommelt led councilmembers Mick Pierce, Austin Greve, Fred Schaub, Virginia Saeugling and Jane Parker through the evening's agenda. Also present at the council table were City Attorney Michael Schuster and city administrative assistant Michelle Meyer in the absence of the city manager.

Physician recruitment

Tim Ahlers, Guttenberg Municipal Hospital CEO, gave a presentation on the challenges of physician recruitment and the role that city leadership can play in supporting that effort.

"Here in Guttenberg we have exceptional facilities," said Ahlers. "Our new challenge is recruiting doctors."

He said hospitals need physicians to survive, and that two local key physicians plan to retire in the next couple years. "Replacing them will require a community-wide effort."

Ahlers said the hospital has a significant economic impact on the community, including jobs, wages and benefits and increased tax revenue that are pumped into the local economy. He said four physicians must be recruited in the next couple of years.

Physician shortage is a national concern, especially in rural areas. Ahlers cited statistics saying that only 1% of final-year medical residents prefer to practice in a community of 10,000 people of fewer.

While there are many factors in physician recruitment beyond local control, Ahlers said that Guttenberg can offer state-of-the art medical facility, support from the MercyOne network, along withcompetitive compensation and benefits.

Ahlers gave five ways in which city leaders can help make the community a more attractive choice when recruiting new physicials: offer access to cultural opportunities; offer a "robust" shopping and restaurant scene; offer kid-focused activities and learning opportunities; offer a strong education system, and promote outdoor activities and recreation.

Ahlers asked city leadership for support by following goals defined in the  city's strategic plan developed in 2014. "GMC wants to help. We are all in this together," he said. "We would like to create a work group with the city to spur growth and development."

Mayor Frommelt thanked him for his presentation and suggested a meeting in the near future of representatives from the council, hospital board, Chamber of Commerce and community residents to discuss the topic.

Property purchase for

Welcome Center

Clayton County Development Director spoke to the council about  county marketing efforts to promote tourism and its positive economic impact. She said efforts have increased in the past five years and have brought results as measured in terms of hotel/motel tax revenues and local option sales tax figures.

She advocated finding a high-visibility location for local tourism offices, saying that when the CCDG office in Elkader was moved to a prime location, traffic increased. 

Her presentation was followed by remarks from Mayor Frommelt who advocated for the purchase of a property at the corner of Highway 52 and Schiller Street, owned by Bender Foods, as a new site for the city's Welcome Center. The mayor said the site is more visible to travelers than the current location on River Park Drive. He reviewed the background on negotiations for the property.

Discussion followed on the cost of the proposed counter offer by the city ($70,000), the use of the internet by travelers, and additional renovation costs.

On a 3-2 vote, the council approved the purchase with Greve and Schaub voting against it.

Dam Bar request

Ryan Husman of the Dam Bar spoke at length with the council about the cost of service line repairs to his Dam Bar business. Husman purchased the riverfront business last year; it sits on land leased from the City of Guttenberg. He was billed  by the city for approximately $$5,600 in repairs for a service waterline break. He told the council he thought the city should bear the cost of repairs. The council noted that city ordinance provides that the cost of repairs from the water main to the building should be borne by the owner of the building. After discussion the council voted to offer him a three-year payment plan.

Husman also asked the city to take over responsibility for maintaining the public parking lot that was developed on leased land adjacent to his building prior to his purchase. The council decided to table the matter pending review of the lease agreement

Umbrella Arts

Lori Kann and Sherri Oliver of Umbrella Arts gave an update on the planter project in downtown Guttenberg sponsored by UA, and asked for a city donation to finish the second phase of the project. They said UA is willing to donate $3,000 of the total $5,000 cost, and asked for a $2,000 city contribution, which was approved by the council.

Other business

Rick Jensen received council approval to proceed with his request to purchase a small parcel of city property in north Guttenberg.

The council authorized its support for administrative search warrants for possible zoning violations in regard to residential occupancy in a commercial district.  

The annual financial report for the past fiscal year was approved. A budget workshop was set for Monday, Dec. 16, at 6 p.m. 

The city will purchase from Black Hills Energy a conduit line that runs down the hill. The line is being vacated by Black Hills due to upgrades to the natural gas system. The purchase price was set at $1. The city will use it as a conduit for a secondary power line. 

Some changes in wording for the city’s solid waste ordinance were approved. 

The council reviewed marina rates and policies for the coming year, taking into account recommendations from the city manager and marina manager Jim Zerbe. 

The council okayed the annual programming agreement with Alpine Communications for Cable Channel 6. 

The city will donate a punch card to the hospital wellness fair. 

The council okayed the purchase of a New Holland loader for the public works department at a cost of $57,640. 

A meet and greet gathering and swearing-in ceremony will be held for re-elected city council and hospital board members prior to the next monthly meeting on Dec. 9.

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