Thursday, April 28, 2011

Contractor Bonding 101 Class

This just in from Cook County Higher Ed---

Contractors in Cook County will soon have the opportunity to bid on the upcoming Library renovation project and later the new Community Center. Within those contracts are certain contractor bond requirements. To give contractors a better understanding of the bonding process and options, Cook County Higher Education is pleased to offer "Contractor Bonding 101" at the Cook County Courthouse on May 11.

Chris James, CIC, and Vice President of Liscomb Hood Mason Company in Duluth will present information on contract surety bonds. More specifically, Mr. James will cover performance and payment bonds, the bonding process and requirements, and various bond options.  Chris James, CIC has over 20 years experience in contractor bonding. He specializes in construction, contract surety, small business and professional liability. Liscomb Hood Mason Company is an independent Insurance Company located in Duluth and has been in business for 84 years.

The information session is being held Wednesday, May 11 at 1:30 pm in the Cook County Courthouse Commissioner’s room. This session is being offered prior to the pre-bid meeting scheduled for 3:00pm May 11 at the Library. There is no charge for this information session and all contractors interested in learning more about the bonding process are welcome to attend.

For more information please contact Cook County Higher Education by email or call 387-3411. Thank you!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

County Board Meeting with Community Center Discussion

Vice Chair Jan Hall chaired today's County Board meeting in Board Chair Jim Johnson's absence.

Public Comment
No member of the Public opted to address the County Board at today's meeting.

USFS Secure Rural School Program
The Board approved a request to solicit public comment for Cook County's Proposed Use of Funds from the US Forest Service Title III:  USFS Secure Rural School Program.  Approximately $104,000 in Federal Title II funding is available, but may only be used to a) carry out specific activities under the Firewise Communities Program, b) reimburse the County for Search and Rescue and other emergency services performed on Federal lands, and c) develop Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP).

Personnel Issues
The Board approved recommendations made from the Personnel Committee to rate the new Assistant County Engineer/Project Manager position, to upgrade the Chief Deputy County Recorder and Registrar of Titles position, to keep the Assistant County Assessor at its current level, and to upgrade the Assessor's Technical Clerk/Appraiser position.

Per MN Statute, the County Board voted to reappoint David Betts as Cook County Engineer for a term of four years.

The Board approved a request to advertise for the open position of Deputy Auditor-Treasurer/Bookkeeper resulting from notice of resignation.

Highway Department
The Board authorized several requests from County Engineer David Betts:
a.  Approval of USFS Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grant to improve aquatic species passages at county roadway crossings on CSAH 6 and CR 75.
b.  Authorization to advertise and receive bids for calcium chlroide, gravel crushing, and special service district summer maintenance.
c.  Approval of contract for geotechnical services for CR 70 at Flute Reed River, CR 60 at Durfee Creek, CR 75 at Little Devil Track, CSAH 6 at Little Devil Track.
d.  Approval of New Roads Cost Accounting Software.
e.  Authorization to purchase (2) Kenwood radios.
f.  Approval of Special Events permit for the Ham Run Half-Marathon on May 1, 2011 and lastly,
g. Approval to develop a proposal for professional services to prepare a Facility Master Plan for the Highway Department with ORB Management and potentially others.

The Board approved the 2011 First Quarter budget report.  Overall expenditures after adjustments were at 24.8%.  The Board also reviewed and agreed to the terms of the 2010 Audit as presented by the Office of the State Auditor to Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers.  The Board also moved to reimburse the North Shore Hospital from the original local sales tax fund for the purchase of a tub system for the Care Center in the amount of $17,466.

Sag Lake Parking Lot Maintenance
The Board approved a Contract for Services with Voyageur Canoe Outfitters to maintain the Sag Lake Parking Lots I and II for $230/week. 

Cook County Higher Ed Course on Contractor Bonding
The County Board authorized payment of $250 to cover the cost of a Contractor Bonding course being offered on Wednesday, May 11, from 1:30 to 2:30 pm.  The cost for attending this course is FREE.  The pre-bid meeting for the One Percent Library Expansion project will be held at 3:00 pm this same day.

Community Center Update
Tom Wacholz, ORB Management, and Tim Meyer, Meyer Group Architects presented  an update on the One Percent Community Center project.  In their presentation, they overviewed the planning and design work to date, schedule, site layout, floor plans, program spaces, and financial analysis of the project.

Presented to the Board, was the Schematic Design recommendation from the Community Center Steering Committee (CCSC).  This recommendation for site layout, floor plan, and program space was based most heavily on community input gathered from stakeholder surveys, stakeholder representation on the Steering Committee, public input given directly to the Steering Committee.  In other words, the Steering Committee has been listening and has been working to give the community what we believe is wanted in a Community Center. 

Most importantly, the Steering Committee has been working on the financial feasibility of the proposed Community Center.  This study includes projections for:  Cost to Build, Operations & Maintenance Costs, Revenues.  As part of today's meeting, an estimate of the financial picture was presented.  This summary shows a Cost to Build of approximately $11 million which is within the $8-12 million budget, although still higher than is desired.  However, the Operations & Maintenance Costs are still too high and the Steering Committee recognizes this.      

The Steering Committee has a full day meeting tomorrow, April 27, to continue refinement of the design.  Alongside the design work, the Steering Committee and the Financial Subcommittee will work to find ways to improve the bottom line.  Areas of focus to improve revenues and lower the O&M will include close examination of staffing needs, possible inclusion of the Senior Center, increasing revenues, incorporation of energy efficiencies into the building, and exploration of other funding sources.

The County Board voted 3-1 (Martinson voted nay) to move the project from the Schematic Design Phase to Design Development and also to hold (2) Public Meetings to show the Public the Schematic Design and Financials for the project.   Overall, the County Board was favorable of the site plan, floor plan, and programming.  Concern was expressed over the O&M costs, and the lack of participation from the City of Grand Marais.  These concerns are valid, recognized and will continue to be worked hard.

The County Board unanimously confirmed that the Steering Committee is heading in the right direction with respect to the facility itself, and the need to cut the O&M.

Public meetings will be scheduled for:

In Grand Marais
7 pm, TUESDAY, May 10 in Commissioner's Room

On West End
7 pm, WEDNESDAY, May 11 at Birch Grove Community Center

All members of the Public are encouraged to attend these meetings to learn more about the project and give us feedback.  We want to hear from you.

Bonding Process for 1% Sales Tax Projects
Ehlers & Associates was present to give the Board a general overview of the bonding process for 1% projects.  Ehlers & Associates is in the process of gathering information about this type of General Obligation Bond to ensure the County has all the information necessary to make sound financial decisions when bonding for these projects.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Human Services and County Board Meetings

Generally, I try to post blog entries on the same day as the Board Meetings.  This week, however, I was unable to do that due to a heavy schedule.  Both the Human Services and County Board meetings I'm sharing in this entry occurred last Tuesday, April 19, 2011. 

Human Services Board Meeting on April 19, 2011
Jim Johnson is out of the County; Diane Fitzgerald was ill.  All other Human  Services Board members were present.  I called the meeting to order and the agenda and last month's meeting minutes were approved.

Committee Reports
Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency--I reported that the results of the study recently conducted by AEOA on homeless persons in Cook County was reviewed by approximately 12 Cook  County residents that actually participated in the study.  This meeting was led by AEOA Staff who reported that Cook County is diverse and not what it appears to be upon first blush.  Possible solutions to the problem were discussed by the group.
Arrowhead Regional Corrections--Commissioner Jan Hall reported that ARC is in the process of hiring a new director.
Community Health Board--Commissioner Hall reported that the CHB has put several purchases, including bike racks and speed limit signs, on hold until funding decisions are made.

Child and Family Service Reviews
Social Services Supervisor, Grace Bushard, gave a very informative presentation on the Minnesota Child and Family Safety Review (CFSR) Program.  Bushard explained that CFSR is a collaborative effort between state and federal agencies that focuses on key child welfare practices and systems.  This Child Protection Program focuses on results instead of penalty in (3) key areas of effort:  Safety (of children), Permanency (in living situations) and Well-Being (meeting all the needs of children). 

Bushard also noted that in both Minnesota and Cook County there is a strong effort to re-unite children with their families or primary caregivers, but only after a safety plan is in place.  Cook County will participate in a review to examine social work practice and principles that contribute to improved outcomes for children and families in 2012;  our last review was in 2006.

It was clear that Bushard is passionate about this important work.

Financial Report 
Income Maintenance and Fiscal Superior, Jan  Parish, complemented Bushard's presentation nicely by giving the Board a financial summary of "Out of Home Placements" in Cook County's Public Health & Human Services.  In 2010, Cook County handled 14 cases for a total cost of $285,730. 

Director's Report
Director Sue Futterer reported on the Region 3 Redesign Income Maintenance Project noting that a market survey will be conducted to explore other vendors for document management systems.  Futterer also reported on the PHHS role in the Emergency Management Conference Mock Airplane Crash to be held April 29-30, updates to the legislative process as it affects Public Health and Human Services, and staffing needs resulting from medical leaves.

Items for Board Action
The Board approved a grant contract agreement between the Department of Health Services and Cook County for the purchase of technology upgrades.  This grant funding will be used to purchase a laptop to complete MN Choices Program Assessments.

County Board Meeting on April 19, 2011
VIce Chair Jan Hall chaired the meeting in Chair Jim Johnson's planned absence. 

Public Comment
Kevin Norby of Herfort/Norby  Golf Course Architects addressed the County Board by giving an overview of his firm's qualifications, as well as that of the proposal lead Golf Convergence.  Nordby asked the Board to interview Golf Convergence and postpone making a selection for a Superior National Golf Course consultant.

County Highway Department--David Betts, County Engineer
County Board approved a request to replace a pressure washer that was broken after freezing when a garage door malfunctioned last month.  Unit cost is $5113.38 with all but $1000.00 covered by insurance. 

County Board authorized County Engineer David Betts to hire up to 5 temporary employees this summer.  (4) temporary positions are already included in the 2011 approved budget.  The 5th temporary employee is needed to offset the unexpected leave of a permanent Maintenance Worker I employee.  Estimated wages for these workers is $67,300 and will be paid for from the County State Aid construction fund, County State Aid maintenance funds, GLRI Invasive Species Grant and the Highway Department's maintenance budget.

County Sheriff Mark Falk
County Board approved the Cooperative Law Enforcement Agreement and Operating and Financial Plan between the US Forest Services and the Cook County Sheriff's Office to provide a cooperative effort for law enforcement services on National Forest Services lands within Cook County.  Funding provided to this agreement is $11,500, a reduction from the $23,000 received in previous years.  Forest Service lands are under Cook County jurisdiction.

Search & Rescue Building
Emergency Management Director Jim Wiinanen requested authorization to purchase the materials needed to make improvements to the Search and Rescue Hall.  Commissioner Hall toured the facility and agrees with the needed improvements.  The County Board directed Wiinanen and Brian Silence to seek bids for the work.

Maintenance Department
Maintenance Director, Brian Silence, requested authorization to hire a temporary employee in the Maintenance Department for 12 weeks this summer.  The County Board approved the request.

11:00 AM PUBLIC HEARING to assess the costs of the Judge Magney Survey
No members of the Public spoke at this hearing although a letter was received from Tom and Mary Hong Loe.  County Surveyor Wayne Hensche presented the costs per parcel.  After taking into consideration feedback from several property owners prior to today's Public Hearing, as well as the letter from Loe's, the County Board approved the costs of the Judge Magney Survey with payment terms of up to 10 years at 1% interest.

One Percent Projects
Rob Barse of ORB Management was present to give updates and move business forward for Superior National Golf Course and Birch Grove Community Center projects.

The County Board voted 3-1 to hire Sirius Golf Advisors as the Golf Course Consultant for Superior National Golf Course as recommended by the selection committee of Bruce Martinson, Braidy Powers, Tim Scannell, John Lindell, Myron Bursheim, Mike Davies and Sue Hakes.  The selection committee confirmed their decision to hire Sirius after an interview was conducted.  All responders to the RFP were highly qualified.

The County Board voted to accept the Construction Management Agreement with ORB for the One Percent project to improve infrastructure at Superior National.  I learned later, that the Agreement before the Board was a draft and it was premature to authorize it.  It is anticipated that the County Board will work with the Economic Development Authority (EDA) to move this project and this agreement forward properly.

The County Board authorized the Birch Grove Community Center Project to move forward on upgrading the Service Kitchen for an estimated project costs of $41,790.  The Board also approved the Consulting Sub-Agreement with ORB for this project.  Tofte Township intends to contract directly with ORB to be the Construction Manager for this project.

Sentence to Serve
The Board approved the contract for Sentence to Serve as presented by Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers.  The State's contribution was lowered from 75% to 50% for this program effective last year.

Airport Lease
The Board approved a lease between Cook County and the State Department of Administration for use of a parcel of airport land for the DNR in the event of fire danger.

Airport Grant
The County Board approved the grant agreement for the previously approved purchase of a John Deer Wide Area Mower at a cost not to exceed $51,863.39.  The State will pay 2/3 of this cost leaving the County responsible for $17,287.79.

Community Center One Percent Project Update
I was pleased to report to that the Community Center Steering Committee has come to an agreement on a recommendation of the Schematic Design and location for the new facility.  This recommendation comes after several months of study and consideration of past and on-going public input, stakeholder surveys and stakeholder representation on the Steering Committee. 

The Committee is now ready to present their recommendation to the County Board for authorization to move forward.  Included in this presentation will be an overview of the Financial Feasibility study. The Committee will also be holding (2) Public Meetings in mid-May.  The purpose of the Public meetings is twofold:  1)  to inform the Public of the current recommendation, and 2) to ask the Public for feedback on the schematic design.  We will be listening!  Stay tuned for dates and locations.

It should be noted that the current design is subject to change as we get input from the County Board and the Public.  It will also change as we move from the pre-design to the design phase and as we work to keep the facility within budget for construction, as well as future Operations & Maintenance costs.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

No Net Gain, One Percent Projects & Superior National Golf Course

Vice-Chair Jan Hall chaired the County Board meeting in Board Chair Jim Johnson's absence.

Public Comment
No member of the public opted to address the County Board during the Public Comment period.

Tuckpointing Project at the Courthouse
The County Board approved a request from Maintenance Director Brian Silence to enter into a Contract with Karr Tuckpointing to do some needed tuckpointing on the original Courthouse.  The $35,237 bid will be paid in part with a $20,000 grant; the balance of $15,237 will be paid from the Building Fund.

Highway Department
County Engineer David Betts was given Board authorization to solicit bids for roadway striping on CSAH 1, CSAH 10, and CSAH 17.  The Board also approved the Local Bridge Replacement Program Grant for the Junco River Bridge on CSAH 8.  No money from the General Fund will be used for this $233,900 project; funding will come from State Aid and the grant.

Leo and Clearwater Landings Annual Maintenance Contract
The County Board authorized a Contract for Services with Gloria Johnson to clean the Leo and Clearwater Landings from May 14 thru October 16, 2011 for $80/week. 

No Net Gain of Public Land
On February 17, 2011 the Association of Minnesota Counties asked counties "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".  Because this issue is complex, the County Board decided to discuss it at a Work Session to be scheduled in May.  The Board discussion included dramatically different points of view on this matter. 

In today's meeting, I stated that, "I am 100% against losing property tax revenue, and that a no net gain policy for State-owned land in Cook County could, in fact, have a negative impact on property tax revenues we are able to collect".  The Bill currently before the Legislature, House File No. 332, is not a one-size-fits-all solution and while it may be beneficial for some counties or certain particular situations, I do not believe it is beneficial for Cook County.  It could inhibit Cook County in its ability to use its lands for the highest and best purposes and then nobody wins.  In addition, the administration of such a policy has the potential to add another layer of government bureaucracy to be paid for by the taxpayer.

The County Board made the correct decision to thoroughly examine this issue at a Work Session; it's very important to our future.

Water Plan Coordinator
Cook County Soil & Water District Manager, Kerrie Fabius, notifed the County Board of CCSW's intention to hire Illena Berg as the new Water Plan Coordinator replacing Cindy Gentz.

Auditor-Treasurer Concerns
Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers reported that Cook County has been awarded a Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Grant (HMEP) for $6000 to carry out an airplane crash exercise scheduled for the last weekend in April.  Emergency Management Director Jim Wiinanen will provide the 20% match of $1500 from his budget.  This Aircraft Crash Exercise is being held as part of the 22nd Annual Cook County Emergency Services Conference. 

The County Board approved the March 2011 Terms and Conditions of Accepting Airport Improvement Program Grants.

Tom Wacholz, ORB Management
Tom Wacholz and Rob Barse of ORB Management were present to update the Board on the One Percent Sales Tax Projects they are involved in.

Community Center--Wacholz noted that the next Community Center Steering Committee Meeting is scheduled for this Friday, April 15 from 8-5 pm at the Community Center.  The goal of this meeting is to decide on a recommendation to be made to the County Board and the Public regarding the final location and programming to be included in the Community Center.  Wacholz also explained that the Steering Committee has been working on the financial feasibility for the proposed Center.

As the Community Center Steering Committee Chair, I discussed the process and the opportunity for public input into the Community Center design.  Once the Steering Committee makes its decision for recommended programming and location, we will bring it to the County Board to seek approval to continue moving foward, followed by (3) Public Meetings we are working to schedule in May.  The Public Meetings have (2) major purposes:  1) to inform the Public about the recommended design and financial picture, and 2) obtain Public input and feedback about the recommended design and financial picture.

I also shared with the County Board the work the Steering Committee has been doing to determine the financial feasibility of the new Community Center.  We've been working to project estimated costs for a) building the facility, b) operating and maintaining the facility, and c) determining anticipated revenues for the facility.  In addition, we're working to project users of each proposed area of the new facility to aid in our decision-making.  This process is complex, but critical to the long-term success of the project.

Birch Grove Community Center--Tofte Town Supervisor, DC Olsen, requested the County Board allow them to hire ORB Management as the Construction Manager for their project to improve the Birch Grove Community Center.  This project has been estimated to cost just under $500,000 with the current plan to include upgrades to the commercial kitchen, a new tennis court, hockey rink with outdoor basketball court, parking, outdoor toilet, playground, warming hut and landscaping. While most of the funding will come from One Percent Sales Tax funds, Tofte Township has been working to obtain grants and other funding to offset the total cost.  Olsen's request of the County board was approved.

Library Expansion Project--The Board approved the Library Project Construction Management Agreement and the Addendum to the Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) between the City and the County for Library Services.  Under the JPA, which has already been approved by the City of Grand Marais, the County will act as the owner of the Library project for purposes of signing all contracts. 

Superior National Golf Course--Rob Barse reported that (4) proposals were received in response to the RFP sent out to hire a Golf Course Consultant to study Superior National and make recommendations for an overall strategy to maximize the potential of Superior National.  The Review Committee to study the proposals includes Myron Bursheim and John Lindell representing the community at large, Braidy Powers and Tim Scannell, Bruce Martinson and Sue Hakes.  Every attempt has been made, and will continue to be made to keep this study and the resulting recommendations a truly independent study.  The Review Committee has met to review the proposals and will be conducting interviews this week.  It is anticipated that a recommendation will be made to the County Board on April 19.  Copies of the proposals are available to the public upon request.

Superior National Golf Course Discussion
The Board discussed the EDA's recent decision to hire a Manager at Superior National Golf Course, a decision I believe to be premature.  My recommendation to Bruce Martinson, County Board liaison to the EDA is to wait until the Golf Course Study is complete before making any hiring decisions or spending any money.  This is consistent with my position with the EDA and Friends of the Golf Course to not allocate any County or One Percent Funds until there is a sound business strategy in place.  Clearly, the EDA has gotten "the cart before the horse" in this matter.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Janet Simonen and Sue Hakes reminded the Board that April 13, 2011 is "Denim Day", a day that has been set aside to wear jeans as a way to raise awareness and take a stand against rape.  If you, or someone you know, needs help, you may contact the Violence Prevention Center at 218-387-1262 or on their Crisis Line at 218-387-1237.  For more information about the Violence Prevention Center, check their website at


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cook County Taxes

The current issue of North Shore Highway 61 features an interesting and informative article about Cook County local taxes entitled, "How Do Our Property Taxes Compare With Others" written by Jim Boyd.  Check it out.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Iron Range Lawmakers Fight the Good Fight But Fail to Prevent Take Away

ST. PAUL — Iron Range lawmakers waged an emotional fight but failed to prevent the Minnesota House from taking $60 million out of an economic development fund slated for the area.  Read full story at:

Iron Range Lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, banned together to prevent this unfair takeaway.