DNR member saves small city hundreds of thousands of dollars
MAPE member Monica Weber is being praised for helping to save the city of Tower hundreds of thousands of dollars. In her work as a grants administrator with the Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR), she was doing routine monitoring and discovered some irregularities.
The city of Tower is the self-proclaimed eastern gateway to beautiful Lake Vermillion and a city where “visitors and residents alike can experience some of the most captivating scenery in northeastern Minnesota.”
To make some of that scenery even more accessible to Minnesotans and tourists, Tower city officials applied for and received grants from the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The reimbursement grants were used to build a trail around the city’s harbor and to connect the harbor trail to the to the public beach and campground on Lake Vermillion. Reimbursement grants require grantees to pay for costs up front and then seek reimbursement.
Photo at right: Harbor trail in Tower, MN/Photo by The Timberjay
Construction costs were higher than expected and Tower officials “wound up spending more than the grant was worth,” according to Local 101’s Weber.
The city was not disclosing cost overruns to the LCCMR nor was it requesting grant reimbursement. The LCCMR contracts with DNR to administer the grants. “Something wasn’t adding up,” Weber said. DNR further investigated and discovered irregularities. As the city did its own investigation, the clerk-treasurer was removed.
Last July, Weber and the LCCMR Executive Director sat down with the mayor and other city officials and went through the projects, determined which controls were not in place and which ones needed to be in place, and how the city was fixing the problems. “The DNR cares deeply about the fiscal controls and that you are spending the money on what you said you were going to spend it on. We worked with the city to establish the proper financial steps,” Weber said.
Tower had been given a grant to accomplish three things and they had accomplished only one. City officials had to go to the full LCCMR board to ask for a retroactive amendment to a 2016 trails grant which would allow the city to receive more than $320,000 in grant funds that would have otherwise been forfeited, leaving the city to pay the entire bill. The city’s property tax base is $300,000 and the city would have been left in a precarious financial position if the grant was not reimbursed.
Photo at left: DNR's Monica Weber
“The city was very appreciative and their state representative, Rob Ecklund, was very appreciative of the work we did to help them. I think the new staff realized what a pickle they were in and were appreciative of the fact that we wanted to work with them to succeed,” Weber said.
Because the DNR had worked with the city to establish the necessary financial controls, the LCCMR voted to release the initial grant funds. “My job is to protect taxpayer money but also to aid and assist those who receive the money. No grants person ever wants the project to fail. I wanted to do anything I could to make them successful,” Weber added.