Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More on Budgets and the County Board Meeting

2012 County Budget Hearings
Monday was another full day of Budget Hearings by the County Board.  A follow-up meeting with the County Department Heads is scheduled for September 12.

County Board Meeting
County Board Chair Jim Johnson and Commissioners Hakes, Hall, Martinson and Sobanja were all present for today's County Board Meeting.  Also present were Braidy Powers, Tim Scannell and Janet Simonen.

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

Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department
Chris Steele and  Michael Valentini of the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department (GTVFD) presented the GTVFD proposal for expanding their (3) fire halls:  Poplar Lake, Gunflint and Seagull.  The proposal includes the addition of a bathroom at Gunflint, storage at Poplar Lake and creation of a Command Post at both Poplar Lake and Seagull.  The total cost for this work is estimated to be $550,000 to be paid by raising $50,000 in donations, finding $100,000 in grants and a loan from the County.  The County Board authorized a $220,000 loan for 20 years at 1% to the GTVFD to be paid back by increasing the levy in that Fire District.  Steele and Valentini said their project has the support of all Lake Associations in the District, Law Enforcement and the Forest Service.

Grand Marais-Cook County Airport Commission
The County Board voted unanimously to update and renew the Operation Service Provider Agreement (OSP), Fixed-Base Operator (FBO) Agreement, Airport Administrator Agreement, and Airport Commission By-Laws as recommended by the Airport Commission.

Highway Department
County Engineer David Betts and Maintenance Supervisor Russell Klegstad asked the County Board for approval to proceed with a surplus equipment auction.  The Board approved this request and also a request to replace a broken 3" pump.

Betts also gave a status report on the CSAH 8 road construction project.  Originally, this project was ahead of schedule, in part due to the State Shutdown and the availability of the Contractor.  Now, due to high demand for the asphalt plant after the State Shutdown, the project is being delayed.  CSAH 8 will be prepped and ready for asphalt pavement when it becomes available.  The road will have Class 5 gravel laid down.

Law Enforcement
The County Board approved a lease for the County to continue its use of the Devilfish Tower Site.  Cook County currently has one antenna on this tower and a small building on the site to house a repeater.  This lease is pre-dated to July 1, 2009 and terminates on June 30, 2019 for an annual lease fee of $500.

The County Board also approved a request from Sheriff Falk to support the submission of a $1M grant application to FEMA under the Assistance to Firefighter's Grant (AFG) to offset countywide costs for the migration to the ARMER system.

PUBLIC HEARING to consider changes to the Cook County Fee Schedule
No member of the Public spoke at this Public Hearing and the County Board approved the proposed changes to the Cook County Fee Schedule in Public Health and Human Services and Environmental Health.  Most of the changes were slight reductions.

Community Center Ice
The County Board approved a request to purchase Synthetic Ice up to $65,000 using 1% Local Option Sales Tax funds from the Community Center project, subject to a) trial and approval of a sample of this ice by the Cook County Hockey Association, and b) modification to the original Community Center 1% Local Options Sales Tax request.

The Cook County Amatuer Hockey Association and the Community Center Board of Trustees also requested the County Board commit to constructing outdoor ice beginning no later than July 1,  2012.  The County Board could not commit to this without a specific plan for the ice; concerns about identifying a location were also expressed.  Clearly, however, the County Board is supportive of expediting this process as is reasonable and requested the Hockey Association and Community Center Board of Trustees come forward with a proposal for consideration.

The County Board also reviewed a proposed Lease Agreement between the existing Community Center and the Cook County Curling Club for a period of 5 1/2 months and a fee of $13,750.  The Board agreed to the lease agreement in general principal, suggested a few minor changes, and asked County Attorney Tim Scannell to review the contract.

Recycling Center Vehicle
Brian Silence and Tim Nelson requested authorization to purchase a used vehicle for the Recycling Center.  The County Board authorized this purchase 4-1 with Commissioner Hakes voting no.  Hakes expressed the need to understand the vehicle purchasing policy and confidence that the current policy is the most cost effective.

HOME Consortium Advisory Committee
Sue Hakes asked the County Board to consider appointing Nancy Grabko to the open housing advocate seat on the HOME Consortium Advisory Committee.  The Board agreed Grabko would fit the position well and asked Hakes to get a letter of application/interest from Grabko for formal consideration.

One Percent Project Updates
The Board briefly discussed the Superior National Golf Course project noting that $1.8M of the 1% Local Option Sales Tax was set aside for this project at last week's Joint County/EDA Work Session, subject to an acceptable Business Plan.  Commissioner Hakes stated that while she appreciated the high bar that the SNGC and EDA had set for themselves to find funding to renovate the golf course and clubhouse, that she would not support any SNGC proposal that required an increase to the levy, bonding, or other new debt.  Hakes reminded the Board that the EDA has outstanding debt of ~$1.6M for the Cedar Grove Business Park that is currently the burden of the City of Grand Marais.  Overall, the Board shared the concerns expressed by Hakes.

Power It Down Day
Cook County received a friendly, informal memo from the USFS encouraging the County to join with the USFS in "Power It Down Day".  The memo asks each of us to turn off our computer, monitor, printer, coffee pot, scanner, copier, plotter and personal appliances when leaving work on Friday.  This one simple act helps to cut greenhouse gas emissions from building energy consumption and purchased electricity.

City/County Work Session on Community Center
The County Board and the City Council met to discuss possible options for the City to participate in the Cook County Community Center project.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Budgets, Human Services and the County Board

2012 County Budget 
The County Board, along with the Auditors Office and Department Heads, is working hard on the 2012 Budget.  Last Monday and a portion of Tuesday, the County Board held Budget Hearings.  These hearings will be completed on August 22.  A follow-up meeting with the Department Heads is scheduled for September 12.  Click here for the complete 2012 Budget Calendar.  These meetings are open to the Public.

Cook County Human Services Board
Human Services Board Chair, Sue Hakes, along with Board members Diane Fitzgerald, Jan Hall, Jim Johnson, Carla LaPointe, Bruce Martinson and Fritz Sobanja were all present for the monthly Human Services Board meeting.  Also present were Sue Futterer, Jan Parish, Pat Strand, Anna Jorgenson and Janet Simonen.
Long Term Care and Waivered Services
Pat Strand, Eligibility Worker and Case Aide, gave an overview of her work.  Strand works to provide Long Term Care (LTC) and Waivered Services for the elderly, blind and disabled with the goal of keeping people in their homes as opposed to going to a Care Center facility.  Currently there are 34 cases of LTC and Waivered Services and 59 cases of other Medical Assistance and Food Support cases.  Strand believes that with recent legislative changes, as well as County demographics and the overall economy, that this caseload will most likely continue to increase.

Strand is the Long Term Care expert in the Human Services Department; her work has been appreciated in Cook County for 23 years.

July 2011 Financial Report
Fiscal and Income Maintenance Supervisor Jan Parish presented the July 2011 Finances.  Parish noted that the Cash Balance for the department is down slightly most likely due to the delay in funding caused by the State shutdown.  She also noted that the budget is on plan for the current year.

Director's Report
Human Services Director Sue Futterer presented some interesting information she gathered about the impacts and cost benefits of Home Visitation Programs. Currently in Cook County, pregnant or post-partum women and their families are being served by a Universal Home Visiting Grant awarded to Arrowhead Health Alliance.  Studies show that programs similar to this have multiple benefits including a significant financial payback.

Futterer updated the Board on the Region 3 Income Maintenance Redesign Project and requested the Board consider funding this project from the General Fund.  The Board will take this into consideration as part of setting the overall budget.

Futterer distributed (2) very useful documents for Board information:  2011 Legislative Session:  Summary of Laws and 2011 Legislative Session Summary:  Local Public Health Association of Minnesota.

Board Actions   
The Board approved an amendment to the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) Agreement between Cook County and Sawtooth Mountain Clinic for bridging funds in the amount of $9,036.  The Board also approved a Purchase of Service Agreement between Cook County and Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA) for supported work activities for MFIP Clients in the amount of $2,985.

County Board of Commissioners Meeting
Chair Jim Johnson and all Commissioners (Hakes, Hall,  Martinson, Sobanja) were present for today's regularly scheduled County Board Meeting.

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

Poplar River Alternative Urban Area-wide Review (AUAR)
The Board voted to re-adopt the Lower Poplar River Alternative Urban Area-wide Review (AUAR) along with its mitigation plan for another five year period.  This action includes incorporation by reference of two more recent water shed studies.

Highway Department--5th Avenue West Ditch Reconstruction
The County Board awarded the 5th Avenue West Ditch Reconstruction project to low bidder Edwin E. Thoreson for $53,337.81.  This project is slated to begin within a week and should be complete by mid-September.

Otis Creek Crossing CSAH 16
County Engineer David Betts provided the County Board with his assessment of the issues and potential solutions for the Otis Creek/CSAH 16 storm flooding.  Betts asked the Board to authorize a ditching project at the intersection of CSAH 16 and CR 69 to help alleviate the problem.  Because of the potential impact to private property owners, Commissioner Hall requested the neighbors be informed and solicited for input before moving forward.

Betts also recommended that work be continued to reconstruct the Otis Creek crossing at CSAH 16.  However, he recommended that this crossing NOT be reconstructed prior to the reconstructing the Stonegate Road and TH 61 Crossings. A letter has been sent to MnDOT.  A second letter will be drafted and sent to the Stonegate Homeowners Association.

Lastly, Betts noted that there are insufficient grant funds and Highway Department personnel available to do the ditching or construct this crossing and that State-Aid monies would need to expended which could put other projects in the Five Year Plan in potential jeopardy.

Sawtooth Mountain Bike Challenge
The County Board approved a special permit for the 2011 Sawtooth Challenge Mountain Bike Race scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, August 27.

One Percent Local Option Sales Tax Projects
The Board approved a request to enter into an agreement with DSGW for interior design of the circulation and reference desks, as well as the work flow for the Library Expansion.  It is anticipated that this space will be built by local cabinet makers.

A Master Schedule of the One Percent Sales Projects has been created and reviewed by the County Board.  This Master Schedule identifies financial placeholders or projected costs and % of completion for (5) projects:  Cook County Community Center $11M, Library Addition $1.49M, Birch Grove Community Center $700K, Superior National Golf Course $1.8M, Broadband $4M.  The County Board and ORB Management also discussed criteria for prioritizing the projects.  Certainly any project needs to comply with the Legislation that was passed.  The Board also discussed the importance of giving priority to the projects that were identified when the public voted on the tax.

The County Board discussed the pros and cons of  (3) possible locations for the Community Center.  They also explored the possibility of locating the facility adjacent to ISD166.  There has not been a recent dialogue between the County and the School Board regarding this option, so the County Board will draft a letter to the School Board inviting them to explore this possibility further at the next Joint City/County/School/Tribe meeting already scheduled for August 25 at 4 pm in the City Council Chambers.

A work session to discuss the County Biomass Feasibility has been scheduled for September 20, 2011 at 1 pm.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

County Board Meeting

County Board Chair Jim Johnson and Commissioners Hakes, Hall, Martinson and Sobanja were all present for today's regularly scheduled Board Meeting.  Also present were Braidy Powers, Tim Scannell and Janet Simonen.

Public Comment
No member of the Public opted to speak during the Public Comment period.

Maintenance Department
The Board authorized Maintenance Supervisor Brian Silence to enter into an agreement for $4800 with the Jamar Company to conduct an extensive investigation of the tie-in to the original building and gutter eave of that building.  This investigation and subsequent repair will be done to prevent water intrusion.

The Board also authorized Silence to purchase 9 personal task lights  at a cost of $335 each to be installed on the Commissioner's table.  These lights are being installed so that overhead compact florescent lights may be turned off in the presence of people with sensitivity to such  lighting.  The new lights consume minimal energy.

Information Systems (IS)
Congratulations to Information Systems Director Danna MacKenzie for being selected as a 2011-2012 Policy Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.  MacKenzie was selected from a large number of robust applicants to develop core leadership competencies necessary to inspire, organize and work effectively to advance the public good.  The County Board was pleased to authorize MacKenzie to use $1000 from the IS Department training budget for years 2011 and 2012 to pay ~1/3 of the program fees.

As noted in the Policy Fellows Program Overview, a vibrant community benefits everyone and MacKenzie's participation in this program will certainly benefit Cook County.  "Citizens who take part in public affairs must turn from the private interests to take a look at something other than themselves." Alexis de Tocqueville.    

Ehlers and Associates
The County Board passed a resolution calling for public hearings on a capital improvement plan and the intent to use capital improvement bonds.  More simply stated, the County would like to refinance their debt for the Cook County Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center.  By refinancing, the County is likely to save an estimated $122,000 in interest costs.

On another note, Bruce Kimmel of Ehlers and Associates presented an overall bond timing and master cashflow scenario for all one percent sales tax projects.  In this scenario, the County will likely issue bonds for $8,500,000 this Fall.  Interest rates are very attractive and anticipated to remain low.

PUBLIC HEARING to survey Sections 7-8-9-17-19, T58N, R5W in Schroeder Township
A pubic hearing was held on this matter.  No objections from the public were raised and the process will move forward.  A citizen petition tallied 67% in favor of this corner restoration survey.

Cook County Historical Society (CCHS)
Carrie McHugh, Cook County Historical Society Museum Director, gave a wonderful mid-year overview of the work the Cook County Historical Society has completed, is working on, or has plans for.  Of particular note is the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Exhibit which included a two-room exhibit, digitization of photos and oral histories, as well as an on-line component.  And, the CCHS is hopeful they will be successful in their request for a grant from the LLoyd K. Johnson foundation to fund conservation of the Grand Marais Lighthouse Lens to be received on long-term loan from the Coast Guard, perhaps as early as this Fall.

The CCHS requested the County Board continue their annual grant for their important work.

Vacating County Road 79
The Board authorized a resolution to begin the process to vacate County Road 79, formerly a section of Old Highway 61.  Recent Mn/DOT Highway 61 road construction in Lutsen created a new access to property owners using CR 79 so it is no longer needed.

Permits and Licenses
The County Board approved a raffle on August 13 at the Midtrail Firehall as requested by the Mid Trail Home Owners Association.  The Board also approved a temporary on-sale liquor license for a single day (9/22/11) as requested by the Schroeder Area Historical Society for the an event at the Cross River Heritage Center.

Superior National Golf Course
The County Board reviewed a proposal from Sirius Golf Advisors to conduct a business and marketing plan for Superior National Golf Course.  Sirius also proposed a consulting contract to provide assistance in executing the business plan.  The County Board agreed that it needs a Work Session with the EDA to determine a) direction and mission of SNGC, b) roles & responsibilities of the County, the EDA and SNGC Staff, and c) funding.  The County Board also asked EDA Liaison Bruce Martinson to recommend that the EDA/SNGC Staff immediately implement the no-cost or low-cost suggestions already given by Sirius Golf Advisors to improve operations at SNGC this year.  It is anticipated that the County/EDA Work Session will be held Thursday, August 18th at 7 pm in the Commissioner's Room.

Highway 61 Otis Creek Crossing
Highway Engineer Dave Betts drafted a letter to Mn/DOT requesting that Mn/DOT replace the TH61 box culvert over Otis Creek.  This request is being made to handle any increase in flow that would result from increasing the size of the CSAH 16 culvert as desired.  The existing drainage structure is undersized; excess runoff is impacting local residents and needs to be corrected.  The Board authorized Betts' letter.