Tuesday, March 22, 2011

County Board Meeting with One Percent Projects Update

The diversity of the work is a major reason I enjoy being a County Commissioner.  As is typical, we covered a variety of topics at today's County Board Meeting.

Public Comment Period
No member of the Public opted to address the County Board at today's meeting.  I encourage the Public to use this time to bring issues or concerns to the full Board, as well as become part of the public record.  It's a very powerful way to have your voice be heard.

Cook County Comprehensive Water Management Plan
Cindy Gentz, Water Plan Coordinator, requested the Board pass a resolution requesting an extension of the Water Plan from the Board of Water and Soil Resources.  This request was made due to staff changes in the Soil and Water Conservation District.  The County Board passed this resolution in support of a 2-year extension to the Water Plan (2014).

Highway Department
County Engineer David Betts notified the Board that Highway Department Engineering Technician Bill Parish will be retiring effective June 3, 2011.  With regret and appreciation for the dedicated service of Parish, the County Board accepted his retirement.

The County Board authorized the Highway Department to work with the Personnel Committee to prepare a final job description and proceed with the process to replace Parish.  Minimum qualifications for this position will be a graduate of a four-year civil engineering program plus 4-10 years experience in highway design and inspection. 

The County Board approved a grant application submitted by the Cook County Safe Routes to School Committee for the installation of a driver feedback sign on CSAH 7 (west of the school and facing eastbound traffic).

Planning and Zoning
The County Board approved (3) requests that were reviewed and recommended by the Planning Commission:

1.  The County Board approved a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for Ronald Wills to establish a home business within the Forest/Agriculture Residential (FAR-3) zone district.  Wills intends to continue the operation of his Caribou Cream maple syrup business on the Caribou Trail.

2.  The County Board approved a request for an Interim Use Permit to allow the extended use of a recreational vehicle (RV) for habitation on property adjacent to Greenwood Lake.  This is the 2nd permit granted to Walter and Nancy Sellman; it does expire 3-years after approval by the Board of Commissioners.

Note:  This is the 2nd request for a Conditional Use Permit to allow an RV on an inland lake lot in 2011.  Per the Office of Planning and Zoning (OPZ) it is anticipated that similar requests will be increasing in number.  Because of this, I asked OPZ to consider the character and economic impact to neighborhoods and make some type of recommendation to the Board.  I suspect one reason for the increase in this type of request is that due to the downturn in the economy, it has become more difficult for property owners to build.  I have formulated no opinion on this matter, but felt the County should study it and move forward with careful thought and consideration.

3.  The County Board approved a request from Jeff Latz for a zone change from Forest/Agriculture Residential (Far-3) to the Light Business Development Area zone in Lutsen.  Rezoning this property is consistent with the Lutsen Town Plan and the Cook County Land Use Guide Plan. 

PUBLIC HEARING to consider making changes to the Cook County Fee Schedule
No member of the Public opted to speak at the Public Hearing held to consider changes to the Cook County Fee Schedule.  The County Board passed the proposed changes to the County Fee Schedule.

One Percent Projects Update
Tom Wacholz, President of ORB Management, updated the County Board on (3) One Percent Projects:

1.  The Community Center Steering Committee continues to work through the Conceptual Design Phase of the project.  Wacholz believes this process is approximately 80% complete.  The Steering Committee's next full day meeting is slated for April 15.  At this meeting the Committee will study estimated costs associated for building, operating and maintaining the various types of programming the Committee hopes to include in the new facility.  Wacholz encouraged the Public to call members of the Committee with their ideas and input.  As the Steering Committee Chair, I noted that we intend to have Public Meetings regarding the Community Center sometimes between April 15 and 27.

2.  The Superior National RFP has been sent out in search of a Golf Course Consultant.  Proposals are due 4/1/2011. (Commissioner Martinson is the County's liaison to the EDA.)

3.  The County Board authorized County Attorney Tim Scannell to negotiate a Contract with ORB Management to be the Construction Manager (CM) on the Library Expansion Project.  The City and the County will create an addendum to their Joint Powers Agreement to allow for this partnership.  The Board again discussed the pros and cons of using a CM vs. the more traditional design-build arrangement.  Using the CM structure allows greater opportunity for local contractors to work on this project and played an important role in the Board's decision.  (Commissioner Sobanja is the County's liaison to the Library Board.)

Clearwater Lodge Satisfaction of Mortgage
On March 15, 2011 the County Board declined a request to further reduce the balance due the County Revolving Loan Fund to $21,750.  (Last year the County Board agreed to reduce the balance due from ~$55K to ~$27,500 in an effort to support a potential sale of the Lodge.)  Braidy Powers shared that the parties have agreed to $27,500 to satisfy the County's claim and release a Satisfaction of Mortgage.

Economic Development Agency (EDA) 
The County Board approved a Service Agreement between the County and the  EDA for the Auditor's Office to act as fiscal agent for the EDA (includes Superior National).  Prior to the County taking over this accounting-only function, the EDA needs to complete its 2010 Audit Work and ensure that the books are current and accurate as of the date the County takes over.  This agreement ends on December 31, 2011 at which time the process will be evaluated.  This change is being done to increase accountability for and understanding of EDA finances.
Commissioner Martinson reported that the EDA Board has selected  (3) candidates from a field of (5) to be considered for the proposed position of Superior National Golf Course Manager:  Todd Gervais, Keith Heckstrom, Bob Fenwick

ATV Ordinance Review
Cook County ATV Club Secretary, Rhonda Silence, (via email) asked to be notified when the County  Board conducts it next review of the ATV Ordinance.  Our ordinance states "the County Board shall request an annual report regarding ATV use from the Sheriff's Office, the Highway Department and the DNR." The Board will solicit this information from these organizations and will notify the ATV Club of its review process. 

Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program (FHPAP)
The County Board passed a resolution to support the FHPAP application for $30,000 for Lake and Cook Counties in the prevention of homelessness.  AEOA plans to partner with Kootasca Community Action  to apply to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency for this funding

April is National County Government Month
The National Association of Counties (NACo) has declared April as the month to celebrate County Government.  As a way to promote county government programs and services, increase understanding about local government and build a better relationship with the Public, I suggested we hold an open house at the Courthouse.  We all agreed that holding this event in April would be too short of notice to do it right.  So, I volunteered (at the suggestion of Board Chair Jim Johnson) to take the lead on this and work with the County Department Heads to plan an event sometime this calendar year.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Drug Discount Program for County Residents

County Board Chair Jim Johnson has been instrumental in working to provide County residents with a drug discount program through the National Association of Counties (NaCO).  For more details, listen to this WTIP news report or read the good news in this NaCO News Release.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Meetings! Meetings! Meetings!

It was a full agenda for the Human Services Board and the County Board today with a Human Services Board Meeting, County Board Meeting, Public Hearing for Judge Magney Area Survey, and One Percent Library Project Work Session.

Human Services Board Meeting

As a reminder, the Human Services Board consists of the County Board, Diane Fitzgerald and Carla LaPointe.  All were present today except Jan Hall who was ill.

After some tweaks to the agenda, approval of the February 15 Meeting Minutes and Committee Reports, Wendy Danielson gave an informative presentation on Child Support.

Child Support Officer Report
Wendy Danielson is the Child Support Officer for Public Health & Human Services.  From Danielson's presentation I learned that Cook County serves a target population of clients who need, want or require child support services.  Most clients are non-public assistance clients.  As of March 2011, Cook County had 208 cases compared to 174 last year.

As the Child Support Officer, Danielson works to locate parents, establish paternity and support obligations, enforce and collect support obligations, provide program education and refer clients to other needed resources.  This work is important because it benefits children by enforcing parental responsibility.

If you, or someone you know, has questions about child support issues, you may find further information by going to the Minnesota Department of Human Services Child Support web page or the Minnesota Judicial Branch Child Support Self-Help Center.  Danielson also encourages those in need or with questions to contact her directly at 218 387 3619. 

Financial Report
Jan Parish, Income Maintenance & Fiscal Supervisor, gave a year-to-date financial report.  Parish noted that she is still working to close out 2010.  She also gave the Board advance notification that the PHHS Fund Balance is likely to go down ~$24,000.  This is due mainly to a reduction in property tax collected.

Director's Report
Sue Futterer, Director, reported on revisions to the Region 3 Redesign Income Maintenance Project.  This Project is our first step in Minnesota's Human Services Redesign Project to examine how we might deliver Human Services more effectively and more efficiently.  Cook County Human Services, working with Carlton, Aitkin, Itasca, Koochiching and Lake Counties has agreed to participate in a Discovery Phase to Redesign Income Maintenance Services by standardizing the business process, improving efficiency, and offering a choice of service area for clients receiving Income Maintenance.  The Board approved authorization of $122,298 to be divided among the 6 counties or $20,383.  50% of this amount will be reimbursed from the Federal Government.

Futterer continues to keep an eye on Legislative Issues, particularly as they relate to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Budget.  Specific budget cuts in HHS are expected to be released on March 22.

And, upon Futterer's request, the Board has proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention Month during which the Cook County Human Services Board calls upon all citizens, community groups, religious organizations, medical facilities, and businesses to increase their participation in efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect, thereby strengthening the community in which we live.

Board Actions  
Board approved an Amendment to Purchase of Service Agreement between Cook County and Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA) to include transportation funds for an MFIP Work Program for 2011.

Board approved a Purchase of Service Agreement between Cook County and the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment for Detoxification Services for 2011. 

County Board Meeting

Public Comment Period
Sam Parker addressed the Board.  Parker stated that Boundary Commissions do solve problems.  He also stressed the importance of considering private sector service providers wanting opportunities to bid survey jobs noting that not all survey work needs to be done by the County Surveyor.

Amendment to Lease Agreement for Lutsen Tower
The Board approved an amendment to renew Lease Agreement No. 09623 for an additional term of (5) years from April 2, 2011 through March 31, 2016.  This lease agreement is between Cook County and MN DOT for a State owned tower on County owned property.

Clearwater Lodge Satisfaction of Mortgage
The County Board declined a request to further reduce the balance due the County Revolving Loan Fund to $21,750.  Last year the County Board agreed to reduce the balance due from ~$55K to ~$27,500 in an effort to support a potential sale of the Lodge.

Discussion of Boundary Commission for End of the Gunflint Trail
After consideration of the need for a Boundary Comission at the end of the Gunflint Trail, County Contract Surveyor Wayne Hensche recommends no action by the County.  Hensche explained that areas of concern could be addressed by the affected owners agreeing to corrections and hiring their own surveyors.

11:00 AM PUBLIC HEARING CONTINUATION for Judge Magney Area Survey
This hearing was continued from February 22, 2011.  Property owner Tom Fiero asked County Contract Surveyor Wayne Hensche several questions about the plat.  The County Board discussed how to most equitably allocate the costs of the survey among the property owners.  Historically, the County has divided the cost by the number of acres and allocated the costs by acreage.  In an effort to achieve fairness, the County Board has decided to impose a minimum charge of $650 to property owners.  As a result, the Public Hearing has been continued to 11:00 AM on Tuesday April, 19, 2011. 

US Forest Service Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Invasives Grant (GLRI)
County Engineer/Agriculture Inspector, David Betts, along with Jack Greenlee of the US Forest Service presented (2) Agreements regarding the GLRI Grant--1) Master Agreement with general provisions, and 2) Supplemental Agreement for this specific grant.  This GLRI Grant is for $93,825 and requires a 20 percent local match which may be provided as monies or in-kind labor.  The purpose of this initiative is to combat invasive plant species within Cook County through various methods including hand-pulling, mowing and spraying. The County Board approved entering into both agreements.

Betts also reported that seasonal road restrictions will go into effect at 12:01 am., Friday, March 18, 2011, and will remain in effect for a minimum of eight weeks. After that period, road restrictions will be lifted on a case-by-case basis as conditions warrant.

2011 County Board Work Sessions
The Board agreed to schedule work sessions to a) discuss the 2012 budget (May) and b) get training on writing objective employee reviews (June). 

One Percent Library Project Work Session

A work session was held with the County Board, Library Board, City of Grand Marais representatives Mike Roth and Bill Lenz, County Auditor/Treasurer Braidy Powers, County Attorney Tim Scannell, ORB Management, DSGW Architects to discuss the organizational structure of the One Percent Library Project.  ORB Management will provide (2) proposals for County Board review on March 22 outlining services and costs as either a Consultant or Construction Manager.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Understanding Cook County Public Health and Human Services

WTIP News Reporter Jay Anderson interviewed Sue Futterer, Director of Cook County Public Health and Human Services (PHHS), on WTIP Community Radio's "Third Thursday Community Conversations" on February 17, 2011.

Providing social service programs to local residents is one of Cook County's largest government responsibilities. The annual budget for the PHHS Department is ~$2M and the programs are complex.  Listen to Jay's interview with Sue Futterer as she sheds light on these very important and necessary services.

If you, or someone you know, needs help, go to the Cook County website or call 218-387-3620.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

County Board Meeting

Today's County Board Meeting was led by Vice-Chair Jan Hall in Jim Johnson's absence.

Open Forum 
City Council Member Tim Kennedy invited the County Board to attend a Superior Cycling Association meeting in Lutsen on March 15 at 2 pm.  The purpose of the meeting is to inform the Public about efforts to build a mountain bike trail designed to draw road cycling enthuasiast of every skill level to the Arrowhead Region. 

PILT Title III Funding Request
Patty Johnson, US Forest Service Representative, informed the County Board about a GIS Special Data project she has been working on with Kyle Oberg from the County IT Department.  Johnson reported that she is seeking County Board support to pursue Title III Funding for a project to create spatial data to be used across agencies and eventually tied into a 911 system.  The County Board authorized Johnson to move forward on her proposal and to estimate costs.

Highway Department Capital Purchase Requests
The County Board approved the purchase of (2) 2011 GMC Sierra 2500 4WD Crew Cab Pickups, (1) 2011 MT525B 4WD Tractor and 30' boom with rotary mower and controls, and (1) 23' boom with rotary mower.  When questioned as to why it was necessary to purchase (2) new pickup trucks, the Board learned that the newer 2002 truck has 146,000 miles and is in rough condition and the 1994 truck has 180,000 miles on it.  Combined, these purchases are over the previously approved budget by $19,400.  County Engineer David Betts and Maintenance Supervisor Russell Klegstad stated that this overrun will be managed within their existing budget by rescheduling some non-essential culvert work.

Airport Commission Capital Purchase Reqeust
Rod Roy, Airport Commission, requested approval from the County Board to authorize $17,114.79 to purchase a John Deere WAM Mower to replace a 1985 mower which is worn out.  The total cost for this equipment is $51,863.39 including tax.  A State FAA grant will pay 2/3 of this cost.  The County Board approved this purchase.

County Veterans Service Office Enhancement Grant Program
The County Board approved a resolution to enter into a grant contract with the MN Department of Veteran Affairs for transporting veterans to medical appointments.  The State awarded this two-year grant in the amount of $12,350.

Emergency Operations Plans Review
Commissioners Jan Hall and Jim Johnson were appointed to participate in the Cook County Emergency Operations Plan review to be conducted between June and September 2011.

One Percent Project Updates
Commissioner Fritz Sobanja reported that there will be a County Board Work Session on Tuesday March 15 from 1:30-3:00 with the Library Board and representatives of the City to discuss the Library Expansion Project.

Commissioner Bruce Martinson, supported by Tom Wacholz of ORB Management, reported that the RFP seeking proposals from a qualified golf course management expert for the provision of a comprehensive assessment of Superior National Golf Course will be mailed this week with a due to of April 1.

I reported that the Community Center Sub-Committees have met/continue to meet and will reconvene at the next full Steering Committee Meeting to be held from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm on Wednesday, March 16.  As a reminder, the public is welcome to attend these meetings.

Discussion of "No Net Gain" regarding Public Land
The Association of Minnesota County's question asking if your County has ever passed a resolution for no net gain of public land or if you plan to consider this in the future, prompted a lively discussion about this issue.  Cook County does not currently have a "no net gain" policy on record.  I need more information before making a decision with as much impact as this and plan to research it.  Clearly, there are compelling arguments to be made on both sides of this concern.  Prior to today's meeting, I read with interest an article entitled "Let's Keep Lawmakers Out of the Real Estate Business" written in Points North by local writer and outdoorsman Shawn Perich.

Live Call-in Show on WTIP on the "One Percent' Projects

Interested in learning more about the new Community Center, Library expansion, Birch Grove Rec Area, Superior National infrastructure improvementes and other projects to be funded under the Cook County One Percent Sales Tax?  If so, listen to last week's WTIP North Shore Community Radio's First Thursday Program on the subject.  In the studio with Jay Anderson was Commissioner Bruce Martinson, County Auditor/Treasurer Braidy Powers, Librarian Linda Chappell and me!  I hope you find the information useful.