Tuesday, September 27, 2011

County Board Meeting

Chair Jim Johnson was absent today from the County Board meeting.  Vice-Chair Jan Hall ran the meeting.  Commissioners Hakes, Martinson and Sobanja were present.  Also in attendance were Braidy Powers, Janet Simonen and Tim Scannell.

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

Association of MN Counties (AMC)
The Cook County Board welcomed Jeff Spartz, Executive Director of the Association of MN Counties, to today's County Board Meeting.  Spartz views visiting the various counties throughout the State an important part of his job as Executive Director, stating that "it's where the work is done".  He encouraged the Commissioners to continue their participation in the work of AMC. 

Proposed Social Host Ordinance
After review and discussion, the County Board moved to start the process to allow adoption of a Social Host Ordinance for Cook County.  Among other things, a Social Host Ordinance makes it unlawful to provide an environment where underage drinking takes place.  Both County Attorney Tim Scannell and County Sheriff Mark Falk are recommending the County and the City of Grand Marais adopt a Social Host Ordinance.  A Public Hearing is scheduled for 11:00 am on November 8, 2011.  A comprehensive educational component will be conducted with the adoption of this ordinance.

Economic Development Authority (EDA) Budget Request for 2012
EDA Director, Matt Geretschlaeger, along with several members of the EDA Board were present for a presentation of the 2012 EDA Budget Request.  The EDA is requesting the County levy $148,566 for the EDA which includes a 1/2 time Director Salary of $34,000 plus Employment Taxes and PERA.  The County Board questioned several of the line item expenses.  The County Board also asked about the efforts to sell lots in the Business Development Park.  No decision about this request was made but will be discussed as part of the overal 2012 County Budget. 

Nancy Grabko was also present at this meeting.  She gave a detailed overview of the success of the Cook County/Grand Marais EDA Housing Program for the past 3 years noting that the average return on investment for this program for every dollar spent is $8.40.  Grabko, within the EDA Budget, is requesting $20,000 to be used as matching funds for housing projects.  These funds would provide the required local support for multiple grant applications. 

Highway Department
The County Board approved a capital purchase request for a plasma cutter ($2738) and pallet racks ($5383) for the Highway Department.

The County Board also reported to County Engineer Dave Betts and Maintenance Supervisor Russell Klegstad concerns raised by the public about County Road #8 including reports of flat tires.  Betts and Klegstad updated the Board on the status of the project, including the Class 5 gravel that has been put down.  Betts and Klegstad urged the Public to heed the speed limit signs for safety purposes and to reduce any damage to tires.

Bond Resolutions
Carolyn Drude of Ehler Financial Advisors was present to answer any questions regarding issuing bonds for  a) $1,420,000 for the "refinancing" of the Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center to save an estimated $127,000 over 4.5 years, and b) $8,500,000 for Sales Tax Revenue Bonds for the proposed funding of One Percent Projects including the Library, Birch Grove Community Center, Broadband Grant to Arrowhead Electric, and the Community Center.   Both bond resolutions were adopted by the County Board.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Human Services Board, County Board Meeting and Biomass Work Session

Cook County Human Services Board Meeting
All members of the Cook County Human Services Board were present for today's meeting:  Chair Sue Hakes, Jan Hall, Jim Johnson, Bruce Martinson, Fritz Sobanja, Diane Fitzgerald and Carla LaPointe.  County staff present was Sue Futterer, Jan Parish, Anna Sandstrom and Janet Simonen.  Ric Schaefer, Arrowhead Health Alliance Director, was also present.

Committee Reports 
Board members reported on the various committees held this past month.  The common thread for all is the challenge of doing more (or at least the same) with less funding.  Commissioner Hall reported that Arrowhead Regional Corrections has labored to cut nearly $1M from its budget, a portion of which will benefit Cook County.  Hall also reported that ARC has received a 2-year grant from the US Department of Justice in the amount of $590,000.  Sue Hakes reported that the North Shore Collaborative heard a presentation from the Two Harbors Area Community Fund about the coming grant cycle.  The Two Harbors Area Community Fund has funded the LOTS reading program in the past.  And Jim Johnson noted with regrets that Darryl Smith is retiring and will really be missed.

Financial Report--Jan Parish, Income Maintenance and Fiscal Supervisor
Jan Parish gave the monthly PHHS financial report; the budget is on track for 2011.  Jan also wrote and shared an interesting (and quite entertaining) anecdote about the changes she has observed and participated in during her 30 years of service in the Cook County Public Health and Human Services Department.

Director's Report--Sue Futterer
Sue Futterer reported that the fiscal case analysis for the Region 3 Redesign Income Maintenance Project is complete and currently being studied by the Human Service Directors in the Region.  They are also evaluating the responses from the (2) potential vendors for the Redesign Software to understand the benefits and trade offs of each system.

Futterer shared a Minnesota Department of Health publication entitled "The Human and Economic Cost of Alcohol Use in Minnesota" dated March 2011.  Highlighted in that report is the fact that the economic costs of alcohol use in Minnesota are an estimated 17 times greater than the $296 million in tax revenues collected from alcohol sales.

Futterer reported that the School Community Action Team  is focusing on the development of a "Social Host Ordinance".  A Social Host Ordinance is different from State laws that prohibit adults from providing alcohol to minors.  Instead, it makes it unlawful to provide an environment where underage drinking takes place.

The Vulnerable Children and Adults Act is undergoing some legislative changes.  Funding for these service is declining and all indications are that it will continue to decline.

Lastly, Futterer reported that Hilja Iverson has been working on pre-evacuation planning in case it is needed for the Pagami Creek and/or other fires in Cook County.

Arrowhead Health Alliance (AHA) Report--Ric Schaefer, Director 
The Board welcomed Ric Schaefer to its meeting.  Ric was present to give an overview of the Arrowhead Health Alliance.  AHA is a multi-county health and human services joint powers entity between (4) counties:  Cook, Lake, Carlton, Koochiching.  The vision of AHA is to serve all of NE Minnesota with integrated pubic health care and human services that are efficient, accessible and affordable.  Since its inception AHA has successfully obtained funding for and delivered several programs including a $375,000 HRSA grant for Universal Home Visiting for pregnant or postpartum women and their families.  AHA is working to expand its programs to provide services to a greater population base.

Board Actions
The Board formalized (and welcomed) the appointment of Patty Nordahl to the PHHS Advisory Committee to complete the three-year term ending 12/31/12 of the previous Birch Grove Foundation Director. 

County Board Meeting
Chair Jim Johnson and all members of the County Board--Hakes, Hall, Martinson, Sobanja--were present for today's meeting.  County Staff present included Braidy Powers and Janet Simonen.

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

Pagami Creek Fire Update
Members of the Northern Rockies Type I National Incident Team gave the County Board an update on the Pagami Creek Fire burning in Lake County.  Approximately 23% of the fire has been contained; it has not crossed into Cook County.  It is anticipated that the fire will be under control by Monday, September 26, weather pending.  To date $3.3 million has been spent on this fire and two firefighters have been injured.

Maintenance Department--Brian Silence, Director
Representing the Colvill Community Hall Committee, Sharon Bloomquist joined Brian Silence in a request for new tables and chairs for the Colvill Community Hall.  The County Board authorized up to $4000 for this purchase.  Bloomquist and Silence agreed to comparison shop and reduce the costs if possible.  Funding will come from the unorganized township budget.

The County Board authorized Brian Silence to have the walkway on the North side of the Courthouse repaired.

County Assessor--Mary Black
Mary Black gave the Commissioners an overview of the current Cook County Taxation Abatement Policy.  Jim Johnson will work with Black to determine whether or not changes are warranted or recommended.

County Engineer--David Betts
Dave Betts notified the Board that Fran Johnson will be retiring effective November 1, 2011.  The Board accepted Johnson's resignation with regret and appreciation for his service.  The Board authorized Betts to begin the process of filling the position that will be vacated.

The County Board authorized Betts to advertise for snow plowing bids on the Evergreen Road, Voyageur's point, Mile-O-Pine Road, and West Rosebush Lane.

The County Board authorized the Highway Department to enter into a contract for geotechnical borings and evaluations as part of the Highway Department facilities Study and Master Plan.  The estimated cost is $3500.

Law Enforcement--County Sheriff Mark Falk
Communications leases between the County and the US Forest Service have been updated for both Gunflint Trail and Mid-trail.  Facilities include under these leases include radio communications towers and equipment shelters.  Both leases will expire one minute after midnight on 12/31/2030.

Auditor-Treasurer--Braidy Powers
28 annual renewal applications for Liquor Licenses were approved by the County Board.  All are subject to applicable approvals from the County Attorney, Sheriff, Town Board, liquor liability and worker's compensation compliance, state and local ordinances, etc.

The Board approved amendments to the Travel Policy as recommended by Braidy Powers to ensure consistency within the Policy as it relates to advances and reimbursements for travel expenses.

The Public Meeting on the 2012 County Budget and Levy (formerly known as Truth in Taxation Meeting) has been set for Monday, November 28.  This meeting must  be held after 6 pm.

One Percent Projects
ORB Management provided an update to the Master Schedule for all 1% Projects.  This schedule has been determined by the County Board and is used as a tool for program tracking and prioritization of projects.  ORB updates this schedule regularly and reports to the County Board the 3rd Tueday of each month.

ORB reported on the Library project.  Nearly 40% of the total project costs have been paid out on the project.  The project is on schedule and budget.  Bi-weekly site visits have been scheduled beginning tomorrow, September 21.  Sue Hakes will be in attendace at that walk-thru.

ORB also reported on the Birch Grove Community Center.  Phase I of this project was completed in mid-August and under budget.  Meyer Group was selected by the Tofte Town Board to develop the master plan for this project and to work with ORB to complete the planning a design of the warming house and skating rink.  As of September, 8% of the 1% funds allocated to this project have been spent.  ORB will continue to work with Tofte to prioritize the proposed projects for the Community Center to stay within the budget.

2012 Budget
The County Board supported a request from Commissioner Hakes to continue meeting on the 2012 budget to decrease spending, lower costs, and  increase revenues.  The next budget meeting has been set for 9:30 am on Friday October 7 in the Commissioner's Room at the Courthouse. 

Biomass Work Session
Representatives from the Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP), Dovetail Partners, the University of Minnesota and Local Project Coordinator Gary Atwood met with the County Board to present their report, "Forest Biomass Heating and Electricity in Cook County, MN".  This report presents the results of the first phase of a two-phase study that explores the options, opportunities and implications of using forest biomass as an energy source for the heating of homes, business and public buildings in Cook County.

Phase I of the study focuses on (3) things:  1) the availability of biomass for energy production; 2) the technologies and system configurations which may be suited to the range of potential applications around Cook County; and 3) a financial evaluation of these systems relative to fossil fuel alternatives.  Phase II of this study will provide the basis for determining which options presented in the report, if any, are a good idea for Cook County.  Public input and Community involvement will be a part of this evaluation.

A copy of this report will be posted on both the CCLEP and Dovetail Partners websites as early as September 21.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cook County Board of Commissioner's Meeting

County Board Chair Jim Johnson and Commissioners Hakes, Hall, Martinson and Sobanja were all present for today's regularly scheduled County Board Meeting.  Also present were Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, County Attorney Tim Scannell and Personnel Director/Board Secretary Janet Simonen.

Public Comment
Lance Johnson addressed the County Board during the Public Comment period expressing his concerns about 1% funding being spent on the Community Center and Superior National Golf Course, ORB Management, and the City of Grand Marais contract with Burbach Aquatics.

Fire Update
Melissa Groves of the USFS gave the County Board an update on the fires in both Lake and Cook Counties.  She also informed the Board that a Type II Firefighting Team will be on standby in Grand Marais beginning today.  Information about these fires may be found  at:  http://www.inciweb.org/incident/2534/  Information may also be found on the Boreal Homepage, the WTIP North Shore Community Radio Homepage, or on the dial at 90.7 FM.

Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD)
The Board authorized a request from Kerrie Fabius, District SWCD Manager, to support the submission of a Clean Water Fund Grant to upgrade 4 County boat landings (McFarland Lake, Clearwater Lake, (2) on Saganaga Lake).  The Board approved up to $15,000 to be used as a match for this effort.  Funding will come from the Forest Access Road Fund.  Fabius will also explore opportunities in the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage funding.

County Attorney's Office
The County Board accepted, with regrets, the resignation of Victim Witness Coordinator Susan Maijala.  The Board also authorized County Attorney Tim Scannell and Personnel Director Janet Simonen to create a job description to expand the position of Victim Witness Coordinator to 35 hours/week by combining it with a ~1/2 time Paralegal position.

PUBLIC HEARING on Intent to Issue Capital Improvement Bonds
A Public Hearing was held to provide an opportunity for the public to express their views concerning (i) the County's Capital Improvement Plan for the years 2011 through 2015; and (ii) the County's intent to issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $1,450,000.  No member of the Public spoke at this Public Hearing and the Board passed a Resolution to accept the plan and to state their intention to issue such bonds.  By issuing these Capital Improvement Bonds, the County expects to obtain total savings of approximately $122,445 and eliminate the need for a debt service reserve fund.

Schroeder Township Survey
The County Board authorized a Professional Service Agreement for a Survey in Township 58N Range 5W with Wayne Hensche, Registered Land Surveyor.  The cost of the survey will be up to $57,000 with the work to be completed by July 30, 2012.

Hospital Sales Tax Request
Cook County Hospital requested reimbursement of $9659 from the Hospital Sales Tax funds to pay for their 1/2 of the installation of their new facility sign.  There is $359,000 remaining in the Hospital Sales Tax Fund to be used to fund capital requests.  The County Board approved this request.

Revolving Loan Fund
The County Board approved a Revolving Loan Fund Request for the owners of the Crooked Spoon Restaurant in the amount of $66,800 as recommended by the Revolving Loan Fund. 

Preliminary Budget and Levy
The County Board adopted its 2012 Preliminary County Budget and Levy at an increase not-to-exceed 2.75%.  In a series of Budget Meetings, the County Board has worked diligently with its Department Heads to increase revenue and cut spending without serious interruption to services. To date the Board has identified over $300,000 in adjustments that will reduce the Levy increase.  This work will continue with the Final Budget and Levy to be set in late December.

Abatement Application
The Board approved an Abatement Request from Peggy Lundy for the Cliffdweller Motel by a vote of 4-1 (Commissioner Hakes opposed).  The Property Owner requested changing the classification to Ma and Pa Resort from Commercial for assessment 2011/taxes payable 2012.  Deadline for submitting this application was January 15, 2011.

Secure Rural Schools Funding 
The County Board determined its allocations for Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Funding and will notify the Forest Service of the following:  Title I (85%), Title II (8%), Title III (7%).  As noted in a National Association of Counties Press Release dated February 16, 2111,

"The Secure Rural Schools Act was passed in 1999 to replace lost revenues to counties and schools because of dramatically reduced timber harvests on federal lands. Since its passage, funding from Secure Rural Schools has allowed counties to continue to provide vitally important public services such as health care, search and rescue operations and maintenance of roads and bridge. 

The impact of Secure Rural Schools goes beyond counties and schools. It helps protect vulnerable national forests through enhancement projects and wildfire protection efforts and provides thousands of jobs in the 41states that receive funding under the legislation."

Office of Planning and Zoning
After a long discussion, the County Board voted 4-1 (Commissioner Johnson opposed) to approve a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for Dennis LaBoda to establish a dog kennel operation within the Forest/Agriculture Residential (FAR-2) zone district.  The Board approved the CUP as recommended by the County Planning Commission with one additional condition that the dog kennel shall not be less than 500 feet from an existing residence of an adjoining property owner."

Fire Information for Lake and Cook Counties

Two meetings have been scheduled to provide updates regarding the Fire situation in Lake and Cook Counties:

                Tuesday, Sept. 13th at 7:00 p.m. in the U.S. Forest Service Conference Room in Grand Marais;
                Wednesday, Sept. 14th at 11:00 a.m. in the Poplar Lake Fire Hall on the Gunflint Trail.

Information regarding these public meetings is also being disseminated via Boreal at http://www.boreal.org/ and WTIP at http://www.wtip.org/ or at 90.7 FM.