Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More on the Possible State Government Shutdown...

Uncertainty about the potential State Government Shutdown still looms.  The County Board and County Staff are hopeful an agreement between the legislature and the governor on the FY 12-13 budget will be achieved.

We did learn today that MN Supreme Court Chief Justice, Lorie S. Gildea, in an email to judges and court employees said a petition filed in Ramsey District Court seeking continued funding for the courts (in the event their appropriation for FY12-13 is NOT approved by July 1) was granted.  This court order enables the operation of the court system in Cook County and throughout MN.

County Board Meeting and Preliminary Budget Worksession

County Board Vice-Chair Jan Hall ran today's County Board Meeting in Chair Jim Johnson's absence.  Commissioners Hakes, Martinson and Sobanja were all present.

Open Forum
No member of the Public opted to speak at today's Open Forum.

County Highway Department
On June 17, 2011 the Cook County Highway Department received five proposals in response to their Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Highway Department Facility Study and Master Site Plan.  County Engineer David Betts informed the County Board that the review committee for this project met, scored all (5) proposals, and recommends Oertel Architects/Albertson Engineering for the work.  The County Board authorized Betts and the County Attorney to negotiate a contract for this work not-to-exceed $25,300.

Betts, along with support from Anne Zellner and Russell Klegstad, presented the "2010 Annual Report of the Cook County Highway Department".  Highlights of the report included personnel changes and finances.  It also included summaries of 2010 construction & maintenance programs, gravel crushing, snowplowing, calcium chloride application, pavement and aggregate road surface improvements, and culvert projects.

Betts also reported the Highway Department will be negatively affected by a Government Shutdown, should that occur.  The Highway Department has (3) projects started or scheduled to start in July.  These projects will require QA Inspections and Independent Assurance tests which are typically done by MN DOT.  Betts is working to find acceptable alternatives for this testing to avoid delays in the projects for CSAH 8, Junco Creek Crossing and striping. 

Fiber Optic Network Commission
Since the FON Commission was created in 2009, efforts to build broadband infrastructure in Cook County have moved from the County to North East Service Cooperative and Arrowhead Electric Cooperative.  Because of this, the activities of the Commission have shifted from preparing to run a telecom business to monitoring, advising, educating, and assisting to ensure broadband infrastructure is built, that it meets the needs of the County and its citizens, and that we have the skills and knowledge to leverage broadband-based technologies once they arrive.  Howard Hedstrom, Chair of the Fiber Optic Network (FON) Commission, with support from IS Director Danna MacKenzie requested the County Board review and accept the FON Commission recommended language to reflect these changes in the Ordinance.  The Board approved this change and a public hearing is scheduled for July 12 at 8:35 am to officially adopt the recommended amendments.

Cook County Visitor's Bureau (CCEVB)
Sally Nankivell, Executive Director of the CCEVB, presented the CCEVB Income and Expenses for FY 2010-11.  She also asked the County Board to approve the CCEVB Budget for FY 2011-2012.  The County Board acknowledged the accomplishments of the CCEVB and approved the Budget unanimously.

Cook County Board of Equalization
The County Board recessed the Board of Commissioner meeting and reconvened the 2011 County Board of Equalization meeting in which they accepted the recommendation of County Assessor Mary Black for adjustments in the Estimated Market Values for (2) west end properties.  Afterward, the County Board of Equalization was adjourned and the County Board of Commissioner's meeting was reconvened.

1% Sales Tax Projects--Community Center
Commissioner Hakes reported on the last meeting of the Community Center Steering Committee to note that they continued their in depth review of site options.  Hakes said that David Demmer of the Office and Planning & Zoning attended that meeting to inform the Committee about the process for delineating wetlands in the NW Corner for possible building of a softball field or the Community Center Building. 

WORKSESSION re:  Cook County Finances/Budgets/Priorities
The County Board, along with County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, County Attorney Tim Scannell, Sheriff Mark Falk, and several Department Heads and Supervisors (Simonen, Futterer, Nelson, Betts, Klegstad, Booth) discussed the 2011 Budget Process.  Clearly, the Department Heads are looking for feedback and guidelines from the County Board in setting their budgets for the coming year.  Guidance from the County Board is especially important with a pending State Government shutdown as well as the on-going constraints on the County Budget including potential reductions in revenue, levy limits, increased costs, increasing demand for services, etc.  It was agreed that the County Board would gather input from the various departments and meet again to discuss this in a Special Meeting of the County Board at 10 AM on Friday July 8.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Possible State Government Shutdown Information

This just in from the Association of MN Counties Executive Director Jeff Spartz...

Executive Director’s Notes
By Jeff Spartz, AMC Executive Director

Negotiations continue between the governor and legislative leadership.  Rumor has it, that they’re now talking about some additional revenues to close the gap between the two parties. The rumor mongers are not clear about which revenue devices would be tapped to make a budget deal fall into place.
Another of the rumors circulating around the Capitol is that there is an agreement to legislate a “lights-on-bill” as the global deal develops.  My sense of this is that the governor will not agree to a temporary “lights-on-bill” until he is certain that a budget is firmly agreed to in principle with only details to be worked out.
Ramsey County Judge Gearin is expected to rule momentarily (probably Tuesday) on the proposal to keep critical functions of state government operating.  I would expect her ruling no later than tomorrow so that there’s at least a modest window of time for an appeal to the Supreme Court (and there will be at least one appeal).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

County Board Meeting

County Board Chair Jim Johnson and Commissioners Hakes, Hall, Martinson and Sobanja were all present for yesterday's regularly scheduled County Board meeting.  Also present were Braidy Powers, Janet Simonen and Tim Scannell (in part). 

Open Forum
No member of the Public opted to address the County Board at the open forum.

County Highway Department
The County Highway Department received 2 bids for furnishing and blending 2500 cubic yards of sand for the winter stockpile.  The project was awarded to low bidder Edwin E. Thoreson, Inc.

Office of Planning and Zoning (OPZ)
The County Board voted to approve a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) allowing the long-term use of recreational vehicles for habitation at Trail Center.  The CUP was recommended for approval by the Planning Commission on a 5-2 vote.  All septic systems on the property were inspected in June 2010 and found to be in compliance with MN Rule 7080.

Community Center Site Options Analysis
ORB Management President Tom Wacholz presented the County Board with a proposal for Additional Services for Site Exploration.  This proposal was made at the request of the County Board after determining more information is needed about the (3) site options for the proposed Community Center.  The proposal is broken into (3) work areas:  A) Design and Engineering $58,777.50, B) Subsurface Investigation $10,000, and C) Project Management $19,688.00.  The Board authorized this work up to $88,465.50.  The (3) locations identified for further consideration include Option 1 which is between the existing Community Center and the School and requires moving the tennis courts and skate park.  Option 2 is also between the existing Community Center and the School but the building is reconfigured and does not require moving the tennis courts or skate park.  And Option 5 is north of the existing Pappy Wright Field in the NW corner of County owned property.  Leadtime for providing this work is estimated to be 4 weeks for the soil borings and geotechnical analysis.

IT Department
IT Director Danna MacKenzie provided the County Board with an update on Regional Broadband Projects including the Lake County, North East Service Cooperative (NESC) and Arrowhead Electric Cooperative projects.  MacKenzie reported that Arrowhead Electric has ordered fiber and plans to break ground by the end of July 2011.  This is great news.  Arrowhead Electric plans to build the west end communities of Schroeder, Tofte and Lutsen first.  Those interested in pre-registering may do so at http://aecimn.com

MacKenzie also reported on the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) projects.  Two of the MIRC projects include ISD166 streaming of the 2011 Graduation Ceremony and the Historical Society's project to put their records collection on-line. 

Veterans Services Officer
Personnel Director Janet Simonen reported that Veterans Services Officer Clarence Everson will continue providing Veterans Services even if the State Government does shut down.

Minnesota Housing Partnership Grant
The County Board voted to support Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency in its request to pursue a $10,000 grant to conduct a community wide planning effort designed to better understand Cook County lack of affordable housing and homelessness problems.

Cook County Human Services Board Meeting

Cook County Human Services Board

Present for the Cook County Human Services Board were Diane Fitzgerald, Jan Hall, Bruce Martinson, Fritz Sobanja, Jim Johnson and Sue Hakes.  Carla LaPointe was absent due to illness.  Also present were Sue Futterer, Jan Parish, Anna Jorgenson, Grace Bushard and Janet Simonen.

After approval of the agenda and May 17 Meeting Minutes, Committee Reports were given on Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA) by Sue Hakes and Health Care Planning Committee by Jim Johnson.  Of particular interest to Cook County is a $10,000 grant submission by AEOA specifically for further exploration of the need for affordable housing in Cook County.

Adult Mental Health Needs Assessment Results and AMHI Update
Grace Bushard gave the Human Services Board an overview of a Mental Health Services Assessment in Region 3 dated December 2010.  Strengths and Weakness in services were specifically identified, as well as ideas for improvements.  Bushard also discussed a "Crisis Stabilization Virtual Response Model" specifically for supporting persons in a mental health crisis. This model is designed to support persons that don't require emergency mental health hospitalization, but offers a plan to respond locally with mental health responders using Bridge House (Duluth) for coordination.  Phase B of this plan would include the use of Certified Peer Specialists.

Bushard's report is a continuation of the Human Services Department to focus on one area of the service they provide and present it to the Human Services Board.  These overviews are valuable in understanding the challenges and the work of the Public Health and Human Services Department as they work to meet local needs.

June 2011 Financial Report and AMHI Funds 
Jan Parish reported on the overall budget noting that the PHHS Department will be impacted by the potential State Government shutdown.  Parish said the Department has a plan in place, but there are many unknowns at this point. 
Parish also complemented Bushard's overview of the Adult Mental Health Initiative by giving an overview of the funding and fiscal organization of the program.  Cook County does employ a AMH Case Manager that is 100% reimbursed by earnings from Mental Health Targeted Case Management.  Cook County is also part of the Region III AMHI in which Lake County is the fiscal agent.  Under this initiative, Cook Conty is able to offer multiple client services and programs including crisis intervention and stabilization, emergency response, housing subsidy, suicide prevention, staff trainings, etc.

Director's Report
Director Sue Futterer reported on the potential State Government Shutdown.  Futterer shared copies of the letters that were sent to clients and providers that will likely be affected and the State's Recommended Priority One and Priority Two Critical Services.  Our County PHHS Department is working hard to minimize any negative impact to clients and providers.  If you have questions about services, feel free to contact Cook County Human Services Department at 387-3620.

Futterer and Parish gave an update on Edocs and Caseworks (two potential vendors for providing software services for the on-going Redesign efforts within MN Counties), the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic Master Contract, and NACo Prescription Drug Discount Card Usage.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

County Board Meeting

All County Board members--Jim Johnson, Fritz Sobanja, Bruce Martinson, Jan Hall and Sue Hakes--were present for today's Board Meeting.  Also in attendance were County Auditor Braidy Powers and Human Resources Director Janet Simonen.

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

County Car Purchase
Maintenance Director Brian Silence reported that the county car used by the Emergency Management Department has unsafe front tires, needs alignment, has broken left spring, bad left lower ball joint, and old fuel filter.  This car has 125,000 miles on it.  The County Board authorized Silence to look into replacement costs of this vehicle.  Hakes also asked Silence for a summary on the fleet and ideas for reducing fleet costs.  This request was supported by the Board and study should include vehicle lease vs. purchase costs, sharing cars, mileage reimbursement for employees, affordable make/models, etc.  Silence agreed and will provide the requested information at a future Board meeting.

Poplar River AUAR Update
Planning and Zoning (OPZ) Director Tim Nelson reported that the AUAR (Alternative Urban Areawide Review) for Poplar River is nearing the end of its (5) year cycle.  Nelson is soliciting comments for review and consideration and will make a recommendation to the Board for updating or letting it expire.

Nelson also requested Board approval to draft a temporary SSTS (Subsurface Sewage Treatment System) Ordinance to fill the gap between now and the 2014 deadline set by the Legislature to have an SSTS Ordinance in place.  The OPZ will also explore offering low interest loans to those qualified and the ability to pay such loans with property taxes over a longer period of time to make payments more affordable.

Ehlers & Associates
Carolyn Drude and Bruce Kimmel of Ehlers & Associates presented a preliminary bond issuance plan as an example of how the County might structure the debt for the 1% Sales Tax projects.  This preliminary plan is based on the current estimates for 1% Sales Tax project costs and construction timelines.  Bonding for the 1% Sales Tax projects will change as project costs and timelines are confirmed.  Ehler's example plan includes issuing a combination of both taxable and tax-exempt GO Sales Tax Revenue Bonds, as well as loaning ourselves money from the County general funds.  Coordinating debt services on these issues will help ensure that total annual principal and interest payments are relatively steady to minimize the overall interest expense.

Community Center (existing)
The County Board approved the Community Center Board recommendation to appoint Joanne Smith to replace Bob Spry who has resigned from the Community Center Board of Trustees.

Booth informed the Board that the Cook County Curling Club has requested indoor ice from early October 2011 through April 1, 2012 and will pay $2200/month for ice use.  The Curling Club is working to build their club by increasing the number of Bonspiels held and by attracting Canadian curlers.  To do so, the Club needs to start their curling season in October.

The needs of the Curling Club for ice time conflicts with both indoor skating and hockey.  As a potential solution, the Community Center Board of Trustees asked the County Board to consider purchasing synthetic ice that could be used for both figure skating and hockey.  The County Board agreed on a motion to consider paying $60,000 for synthetic ice subject to volunteer committments for maintenance, finding a suitable location (possibly the tennis courts), and storage for the ice.

Booth also asked the County Board to approve a motion to move forward with mitigation of the wetlands between County and School property.  This area was delineated in 2006, so the County Board approved a wetland review for an estimated cost of $300.

1% Sales Tax Project Updates
Tom Wacholz of ORB Management gave updates on the 1% projects currently underway:  Community Center, Superior National Golf Course, Library Expansion and Birch Grove Community Center

Community Center--Wacholz and Hakes reported that the Community Center Steering Committee met last Friday (June 10) to discuss, among other things, (6) location options for the facility.  Hakes informed the County Board that the Steering Committee passed a motion to ask the Board to direct ORB Management to prepare a proposal for estimated sites cost for (3) sites including Options 1, 5, and 6.   Hakes requested that the Board also consider Option 2, stating she felt it was too early to eliminate this option.  The Board discussed the options, and ultimately asked ORB to prepare the proposal for sites 1, 2, and 5, eliminating the option to attach the proposed facility to ISD166.

Superior National Golf Course--Sirius Golf Advisors prepared and presented a summary of their site visit to Superior National Golf Course last week.  After leaving Minnesota, Sirius learned that George Nelson is willing to donate enough land to the County to build an additional 9 holes of golf.  The County Board unanimously turned down the Sirius recommendation to perform a second site visit to review this additional land for the purpose of expanding the golf course.

Library Expansion Project--Work on the Library Expansion project continues.  The Library will be operating temporarily out of ISD166 and has agreed to pay $2000/month in rent up to $15,000.

Birch Grove Community Center Project--Egle Vanagaite of the Center of Changing Landscapes presented the results from their site analysis, the grading and planting plans and an illustrative master plan for the Birch Grove project.  This project has a budget of $700K and includes a tennis court, hockey rink and warming hut, playground, trails and parking.

Auditor-Treasurer Office
The County Board approved Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers' recommendation to hire Angela Cook in his Department.  The Board also approved a liquor license for Clearwater Lodge.

2010 ATV Report
As required by Cook County Ordinance #54, the County Board reviewed Sheriff Falk's Report on ATV use in Cook County which included data from Law Enforcement and feedback from the DNR, USFS and Highway Patrol.  The Cook County Sheriff's Office generated just 9 calls for service regarding ATV use in Cook County, down from 15 calls in 2009. All of the calls were minor in nature and no citations were issued for violations occurring on ATVs.  Several members of the Public (John Bottger, Vil Neilands, Rhonda Silence, Chuck Silence) spoke about how well the Ordinance is working from their individual perspectives. 

ATV Club Secretary Rhonda Silence invited the County Board and those in attendance at the Board meeting to the Cook County ATV Club season Kick-Off Party on June 19 at the Cook County Ridge Riders Devil Track groomer building.  All are welcome.  For more information call 387-9844 or ATV@rideupnorth.com.

Good news!  Nancy Grabko of the Lake and Cook County Joint Housing Initiative and EDA Chair Mike Litfin were pleased to report that Cook and Lake counties were awarded $370,000 from the 2011 Small Cities Development Program to be used for owner occupied housing rehab,  rental and/or commercial rehab, or public facility improvements.  Leveraging these funds with $106,000 in resources from Grand Marais, Lake County and AEOA results in a $476,000 project. 

Grabko is also working to secure Sec 8 Rental Assistance Certificates for both Cook and Lake counties.  She will be meeting with the Duluth Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA) to make this much needed request.  Commissioner Sobanja will join this effort on June 23 in Duluth.

Potential Government Shutdown
The Board discussed local areas of concern should the State Government shut down for lack of a budget deal by July 1.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

May 2011

Wow!  The month of May 2011 was FULL and absolutely flew by. 

The County Board held its regularly scheduled meetings on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Tuesday of the month, as did the Human Services Board meet at its usual time on the 2nd Tuesday of the month.  I also participated in several meetings for the various committees I serve on including the Public Health and Human Services Advisory Board, Arrowhead Health Alliance, Fiber Optic Network, NE MN Regional Radio Board.  If any of you has questions about these Committees or the work, please ask, I'm happy to share or answer questions.

Community Center Project
In addition to the more typical work of the County Board, there was a huge amount of activity on the Community Center project.  Public Meetings were held on May 10 and May 11 in Grand Marais and Tofte respectively.  A 3rd Meeting---also open to the Public for input and questions--was held on May 19 at the Senior Center downtown.  All (3) meetings were well attended and lasted several hours.   The Community Center Steering Committee met for full day meetings on May 4 and May 20; subcommittee meetings met at various times through the month as well.  The Public and the Press are welcome to attend and listen at all of these meetings.

A lot of good feedback about the Community Center has been received at the Public Meetings and recent County Board Meetings.  Individual Commissioners and Steering Committee Members are also receiving feedback about the project.  It is fair to say that there is both support and opposition to the Community Center Project.  And, it is important to note that there is widespread concern about the affordability and sustainability for the project; a concern that each of us on the County Board shares.

On May 24, the County Board held a Worksession specifically about the Community Center.  Major objectives of this Worksession were to a) Provide detailed information about the design and financials to the County Board, b) Discuss and consider feedback from the Public, c) Give the Steering Committee direction.  ORB Management and Meyer Group Architects were present at this 3 hour meeting; in the audience were several members of the Steering Committee and the Public.  The meeting was productive and ultlimately the County Board reached consensus to move forward with the Community Center project subject to capping the construction costs at $10M plus FFE (furniture, fixtures, equipment), no increase in existing costs to the taxpayer for O&M (operations and maintenance), City participation in bringing their expertise and financial support of $156,000 annually, and identifying the most cost-effective building location that is least disruptive to existing amenities.  The County Board identified the pool as an important (if not the MOST important) feature of the facility.  The County Board also discussed the importance of incorporating energy efficienies into the building, as well as planning for future uses of alternative energies. 

The Community Center Steering Committee met June 10 to discuss, among other things, the location of the facility.  Where to put the building is the most critical decision to be made at this point.  We discussed (6) locations in a fair amount of detail; there are pros and cons to each option, of course, and no final recommendation for the County Board has been made.  Instead, it was determined that more data is needed and a request to gather more data will be moving forward for County Board consideration. 

The Steering Committee Financial Subgroup has also been working diligently to reduce O&M costs for the project.  Not surprisingly, staffing is one of the most significant costs for the proposed new facility.  As a result, County Staff and the Steering Committee are exploring the possibility of contracating with a Qualified Manager or 501(c)(3) to operate the facility and manage the programming.

As you can see, this project continues to evolve.  As Chair of the Steering Committee, I will do my best to keep the Public updated on the project.  The current floorplan, design and financials on the Cook County website are out-of-date and will likely be identified as such, or removed from the website.  We're working to update the Cook County website this coming week with some information about the location options and Meeting Minutes.  I also intend to begin a Q&A on the Cook County Conversations for folks to ask questions and get current information about the project.

All for now.  Stay tuned!