Thursday, January 26, 2012

January 24 County Board Meeting & One Percent Sales Tax Work Session

County Board Chair Jan Hall, along with Commissioners Hakes, Martinson and Sobanja were present at the January 24 Meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.  Jim Johnson was absent due to illness.  Also present were Braidy Powers and Janet Simonen.

Public Comment
Judy Motschenbacher addressed the County Board with her concerns about spending One Percent Sales Tax dollars on projects that the County does not have the money to operate and maintain.

Lake Superior-Poplar River Water District Bonding Proposal
Charles Skinner, West End Resident and Business Owner, presented the County Board with a $4.8 million project proposal for the creation of a Lake Superior-Poplar River Water District.  $3.6 million in bonding is requested for a grant from the Public Facilities Authority (State) and $1.2 million in non-state funds will be required as a match.  If created, the Lake Superior-Poplar River Water District will own and maintain the water system.  Governor Dayton has included this project in his proposed bonding sale.  According to Skinner, the $1.2 million match would potentially come from a variety of sources including IRRRB, Superior National Golf Course, and Caribou Highlands.  The County Board voted to provide a letter of support for the project with specific language that the Cook County Soil & Water Conservation District be involved.

Local Water Management Plan
Illena Berg, Cook County Water Plan Coordinator, requested the County Board submit any water management issues to the Water Advisory Board for consideration in the Cook County Local Water Management Plan.  The Comprehensive Local Water Management Act (MN Statutes, Chapter 103B.301) requires an update and revision of the Cook County Local Water Management Plan in 2012.

Highway Department Capital Requests
The County Board approved (3-1 with Martinson voting no) capital purchases for (2) 2012 GMC Sierra 2500 4WD crew cab pickups at a cost of $31,552 plus tax for a total cost of $67,205.76.  The Board also approved (4-0) the purchase of (1) surveyor box for the 2012 GMC 2500 short bed pick up for a total of $7796.53.  Each of these items was in the 2012 Highway Department budget.

Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP)
George Wilkes, Chair of the CCLEP Energy Planning Committee, and Virginia Danfelt-Martin, CCLEP Coordinator, presented an early version of the Energy Plan they are developing for the City of Grand Marais and Cook County.  The overall goal of the Energy Plan is to better prepare our community for the challenges and opportunities of a rapidly changing energy environment.  Go to the CCLEP Website to learn more about this and other projects.

Boundary Water Advisory Committee
Eric Humphrey, on behalf of the Boundary Water Advisory (BWA) Committee, asked the County to act as its fiscal agent for Federal and/or State grant funds.  The County Board agreed to do so.  The BWA Committee is a nonprofit organization whose mission is "to preserve the existing historic trails in the boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of the Superior National Forest" and will celebrate the organization's 10th anniversary in 2012.

ORB Management One Percent Project Update
Tom Wacholz, President of ORB Management, presented the County Board with its regular overall update of the One Percent Projects.  After a general review, ORB specifically focused on (2) projects:

1.  Birch Grove Community Center Update--On Thursday, January 12, the Tofte Design Review Board (TDRB) approved the design for the Birch Grove Community Center Warming House/Storage Building and Pavilion.  The TDRB will meet again on February 9 to make final color and materials selections.  Upon approval, ORB Management/Meyer Group will solicit contractor bids for the project.  To date, $107,404.25 has been spent on this project, nearly all of those costs have been for the kitchen renovation, professional management and design services.  As the project moves forward and construction documents are produced, ORB will refine the project estimate and work with Tofte to prioritize the proposed projects. Some portions of the project may be bid as alternate and only completed if they fall within the project budget of $700,000.

2.  Grand Marais Public Library--Wacholz acknowledged and thanked the Library Project Team for their hard work and the success of the project:  Library Board, Library Project Committee (Fritz Sobanja, Braidy Powers, David Quick, Linda Chapelle), City of Grand Marais, Cook County, DSGW Architects and ORB Management.  The final occupancy walk-thru took place on November 28, 2011.  The Library Project was completed on time and under budget.  Wacholz stated that the best thing about the project is that it was completed safely.  ORB Management will manage all warranty issues, coordinate the warranty walk-thru prior to expiration of the 1-year warranty on labor and materials, and remain available as a resouce beyond the warranty period.

Courthouse and County Attorney Office Safety Measures
County Attorney Tim Scannell, Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken and Sheriff Mark Falk came to the County Board with strong recommendations for taking adequate safety measures in the Courthouse to protect prosecutors, Judges, county employees, Commissioners, and of course, the Public.  The County Board agreed and voted unanimously to take the following actions:

a.  All doors in/out of the Courthouse will be locked except for the main entrance on the west side of the building.  The west door will become the only entrance; all other doors will remain exit only.

b. The Board authorized Sheriff Falk to add deputies at public events, public meetings and court hearings of any sort at his discretion for 3 months without regard to his current budget. (Also at Sheriff Falk's discretion is the use of wand scanning equipment to ensure that no weapons are brought into the Courthouse.)

c.  Physical changes will be made to isolate the County Attorney's Office by making it accessible only by key or card, including bullet proof glass on the interior of the office for final access.  A small committee consisting of Tim Scannell, Molly Hicken, Sheriff Falk, Building Maintenance Supervisor Brian Silence and Commissioner Sue Hakes was formed to make these changes happen in a timely fashion.  Serious consideration is also being given to expanding the County Attorney's office to include its own secure conference room to ensure the safety of victims and witnesses.

d.  Signs prohibiting firearms will be posted on the Courthouse doors.

Along with the actions taken above, Sheriff Falk, Molly Hicken, Sue Hakes and potentially others will attend a Courthouse Safety Training sponsored by the MN Sheriff's Association scheduled on February 22-23 in Bemidji.  

And as previously established, the Courthouse Security Team (Judge Michael Cuzzo, Court Administrator Diane Herrick-Schmidt, Sheriff Mark Falk, County Attorney Tim Scannell, Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken, Building Maintenance Supervisor Brian Silence, PHHS Director Sue Futterer, Personnel Director Janet Simonen, GIS Analyst Kyle Oberg, Probation Officer Steve Borud, Emergency Management Director Jim Wiinanen, County Board Chair Jan Hall, and Commissioner Sue Hakes) will work to identify and resolve on-going issues with Courthouse Security such as policy review & changes, safety training, employee assistance, other.  Their first meeting is set for February 3.

Labor Negotiations
After the County Board Worksession on One Percent Sales Tax Projects, the meeting was closed and the Board discussed the on-going labor negotiations.

One Percent Sales Tax Work Session
The County Board held a Work Session with the purpose of reviewing the allocation of One Percent Sales Tax Funds.

Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers opened the Work Session by providing 4-5 scenarios for the collection of the Sales Tax, costs associated, varying interest rates and varying terms.  The One Percent Sales tax is currently generating enough revenue to pay for just under $17 million in total bonds, assuming the bonds are for 20 year terms and assuming the interest rate is 3.18% or less.  To be able to pay $20 million in bonds, Powers offered options for consideration that included delay of expenditures, paying cash from county funds and reimbursing the county from the sales tax reimbursement in future years, or increasing the term of any additional bonds.

This information from Powers, combined with the financial overview provided by ORB Management demonstrated that adjustments need to be made; this was not new information.  The budgets for the Library Project ($1.49M), Birch Grove Community Center ($700K) and Broad Band ($4M) are basically set, so most of the discussion surrounded Superior National Golf Course (SNGC), the Community Center, and the Uncommitted Funds.

Several weeks ago, the County Board voted 3-2 (Hakes* and Hall voted against) to increase the One Percent Funding allocated to Superior National Golf Course to $3.1 million.  The basic objective of the SNGC project is to create a world-class 18 hole golf course with a total estimated cost of $6 million.

*I voted no because the proposed SNGC project is too financially risk, there is no overall financial plan for $6 million, there is no committed funding beyond the 1% funds, there are too many unanswered questions about land issues, and there is no clear management structure in place.  I also voted no because the public passed the sales tax referendum with a significantly smaller allocation to SNGC than $3.1 million.

The County Board also discussed the Community Center Project and the Warming House recently proposed by the Hockey Association.  After a significant amount of discussion, the County Board agreed upon the following:

1.  Hakes made a motion which passed unanimously to reduce the Community Center project allocation from $11 million (including FFE) to $9 million (including FFE).  As before, this project encompasses the Community Center Building and the Recreation Complex surrounding it

2.  Building outdoor ice for the 2012-2013 hockey season is a top priority.  And, there is strong support on the County Board to provide some type of warming house facility for skaters.

3.  There is concern that building a Warming House as proposed by the Hockey Association for $700,000 (for the building only) would preclude the building of a larger Community Center that would serve more users and offer broader programming for all ages.

4.  The County Board asked the Community Center Steering Committee to reconvene itself to begin working on the following:
     a.  Downsize the project to $9 million
     b.  Get plan to build outdoor ice and modest warming house for next season

Friday, January 20, 2012

County Board Agendas and Board Packets

County Board Agendas are available on-line.  Just recently, the County Board Meeting Packets have also become available on line.  Here's the link:

The County Board Meeting Packet is the information provided to Commissioners prior to each County Board Meeting and is always available to the Public.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Human Service Board and County Board Meetings for January 17, 201

Cook County Human Service Board Meeting
Today's Cook County Human Services Board was called to order by Chair Sue Hakes.  Also in attendance were Jan Hall, Jim Johnson, Carla LaPointe, Jerry Lilja, Bruce Martinson, and Fritz Sobanja.  County Staff in attendance were Sue Futterer, Jan Parish, Anna Sandstrom and Kristine Swanson.

The first order of business for today's meeting was to appoint (3) persons to the Public Health & Human Services Advisory Committee:  Carla LaPointe (President), Jerry Lilja (Vice President) and Sylvia Manthey.  As President and Vice President, LaPointe and Lilja are automatically members of the Human Services Board.  LaPointe, Lilja and Manthey all bring expertise, professionalism and passion to their roles on this Board.

The next order of business was to elect a Chairperson and Vice Chairperson for the Cook County Human Services Board.  I'm thrilled to let you know that I was elected as Chairperson and look forward to serving in that capacity for the 2nd year.  Fritz Sobanja was elected as Vice Chair.

Committee Reports
Brief reports for for Arrowhead Economic Opportunity, Arrowhead Health Alliance, Arrowhead Regional Corrections, Community Health Board, Public Health & Human Services Advisory Committee, Health Care Planning Committee and North Shore Collaborative were made by those serving on these committees.

Family Child Care
Kristine Swanson, County Licensor, and Anna Sandstrom, Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) Worker, joined to give the Board an overview of the County/State Child Care Licensing procedures and also information regarding CCAP.

Both Licensed Child Care Providers and Legal Unlicensed Providers exist in Cook County with licensed facilities being routinely inspected by Swanson to ensure State requirements for child/adult ratios, physical environment, safety, sanitation, etc. are being met.  Swanson reported that there are currently 8 licensed providers in Cook County.  For information about Child Care licensing, contact Kristine Swanson.

Sandstrom reported that qualifying families may obtain financial assistance for child care through CCAP. This assistance is available for both Licensed and Legal Non-licensed Day Care Providers and there is a maximum to the level of support.  For information regarding the Child Care Assistance Program, contact Anna Sandstrom.

This work done by Swanson and Sandstrom helps to improve access to safe and healthy child care for children in Cook County.  Clearly, the work they do is important to them and to the community.

Financial Report--Jan Parish, Income Maintenance and Fiscal Supervisor
Jan Parish complemented the Family Child Care presentation by explaining that funding for the CCAP program is provided by the State and not the County.  Parish also gave the Board an overview of the 2011 Budget as it is known today.  Final expenditures and collections won't be finalized until March.

Director's Report--Sue Futterer
Sue Futterer reminded the Board of the Region 3 Redesign Meeting in Eveleth on January 31, 2012 and encouraged Board members to attend.

Futterer then gave an excellent overview of the MN Association of County Social Service Administrators Policy Vision entitlted "Shaping Minnesota's Human Services Future".  In this paper, MACSSA provides a vision of the unique role counties are positioned to and should fulfill in the delivery of human services for Minnesota.  MACSSA also recommend guidelines for future policy.  It's an interesting read and I appreciated Futterer's commentary about the work.

Cook County Board Meeting
County Board Chair Jan Hall called the meeting to order.  Also present were Commissioners Hakes, Johnson, Martinson and Sobanja.  County Staff present included Janet Simonen and Braidy Powers.

Public Comment
No member of the Public opted to come before the Board.

Cook County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD)
The Board approved a letter of support for a grant to complete a water quality assessment of the Lake Superior Shoreline in Grand Marais as requested by Kerri Fabius, Supervisor of SWCD.

Title III Firewise Funding Request
Richard Johnson and Mike Prom of the Gunflint Trail Fire Department were supported by Dick Parker of the Firewise Committee in their request for Title III Firewise funding to purchase communication equipment to better outfit trained wildfire firefighters.  The Board supported this $15,000 request as recommended by the Firewise Committee.

County Sheriff Mark Falk 
The County Board voted to accept a Snowmobile Safety Enforcement Grant similar to the grants received in the past as recommended by Sheriff Falk.

Sheriff Falk introduced Greg Gentz as the new hire for the deputy sheriff position assigned to the Grand Portage Indian Reservation.  Deputy Gentz brings 13 years of law enforcement experience to the job which includes approximately 5 months as a seasonal deputy in Cook County in 2009.  Cook County and the Grand Portage Tribe are working together in this effort; the Grand Portage Tribe will reimburse Cook County for this position.

The County Board authorized the purchase of (3) squads and the equipment to outfit them:  2 replacement squads and 1 additional squad for the Grand Portage Deputy Sheriff position.  Squads to be replaced are a 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe with 105,000 miles and a 2005 Chevrolet Impala that was totalled.  The Grand Portage RTC will pay for the squad to be used in Grand Portage.

Office of Planning & Zoning
As recommended by the Planning Commission, the County Board approved an Interim Use Permit request to allow use of a Recreational Vehicle (RV) for habitation within the Resort Commercial/Residential zone district.  The property owners are making this request to provide temporary housing for themselves during the renovation of their residence and build-out of their property.

As recommended by the Planning Commission, the County Board approved (9) gravel pit permits and (2) gravel pit permits with conditions.

Permit for Lawful Gambling Activity
The County Board approved a permit application for lawful gambling activity for the Cook County Snowmobile Club.  The Club will have a fundraiser including a raffle and bingo on February 4 at The Landing on Devil Track.

Broadband Commission Grant Application
The Board voted to authorize application for a Blandin Foundation grant to conduct a tele-health pilot project to demonstrate the use of broadband in helping seniors to stay in their homes longer.  North Shore Health Care Foundation is also a potential grant source for this work.  The grant application is due February 5, 2012.

Closed Session of the County Board 
The County Board conducted a closed session to discuss labor negotiation strategy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

County Board Meeting in a Busy Week!

It's been a busy week as we settle into 2012 and get back into the routine of County business and regular committee meetings.  This week, I attended several:  NE Waste Advisory Committee, Arrowhead Health Alliance, North Shore Collaborative and Heart of the Continent.  In general, these meetings are important for collaboration between counties to address areas of mutual concern.  If any of you is ever interested in learning more about these committees, please don't hesitate to call me.  I'd be happy to share.

As promised earlier this month, I'm providing the current 2012 County Commissioner Assignments and updated 2012 Board & Commissions Assignments.

January 10, 2012 County Board Meeting
County Board Chair Jan Hall, along with Commissioners Hakes, Martinson and Sobanja were all present for the regularly scheduled County Board Meeting on January 10.  Jim Johnson was absent due to health issues.  Also present for the meeting were Braidy Powers and Janet Simonen.

Public Comment
No member of the public opted to address the County Board at this meeting.

Highway Department
The County Board authorized the hiring of Bill Parish on a temporary basis for up to 10 hours/week for up to six months.  Parish will assist with various engineering tasks, including the Gunflint Trail Project, to help close the gap left by the vacant Assistant Engineer position.

The Board authorized capital purchases for survey equipment ($112,423) and a used shop truck (up to $46,200).  All items were in the budget for 2012.

The County Board passed a resolution in support of the reconstruction of CSAH 5 north of Brule Run Bridge and the application for Local Road Improvement Program (LRIP) funds for this project.  Estimated cost for this project is $650,000 with funds to come from Lutsen Mountain, LRIP, State Aid and Gas Tax monies.

The County Board approved a request for 2012 Mile O'Pine road assessments to be spread over 2 years (plus interest equal to the current bond rate plus 2%).  This is consistent with the proposed Subordinate Governmental Service District which allows qualifying assessments to be assessed over a period of no more than 5 years.

Forest Service/County Land Exchange Agreement
The County Board approved the "Agreement to Initiate" the Cook County Land Exchange with the Superior National Forest.  This document was reviewed by Attorney Jill Nguyn of the Attorney General's Office on behalf of Cook County.

Cook County Zoning Ordinance
On the recommendation of Planning Director Tim Nelson and County Attorney Tim Scannell, the Board adopted the proposed language changes to Cook County Zoning Ordinance Section 4.09(C)(1) and Section 4.17(C)(1)(c).  The intention of this proposed amendment is to place the processing and evaluation of all aspects of Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) within the two-mile extended jurisdictional area of the City with the City itself instead of forcing applicants to be processed by both the City and the County.

Warming House/Recreation Building Proposal
Members of the Hockey Association presented a design proposal to the County Board for a Warming House/Recreation Building.  Elements of the proposed 4427 square foot building include a garage space for the Zamboni, changing rooms, men's and women's restrooms, a multi-purpose room, concession area, rental area, and storage areas for hockey, softball, soccer, little league, teeball, parent pitch and baseball.  Rough cost estimates provided by Architect Tim Meyer are ~$1,200,000 for the building, parking and ice.

This proposed Warming House/Recreation Building definitely meets some of the long-awaited needs for hockey and other sports user groups.  This proposal surely fills a gap in our recreation infrastructure and would definitely enrich our hockey, softball, soccer, tennis and little league programs; this is all good.  But, while this proposed facility would serve the needs of some, it does not meet the needs for many others within our community.  And duplication of programming between the existing Community Center, the proposed Warming House/Recreation Building and a new Community Center need to be addressed.

The County Board has scheduled time between 10:30 and 12:30 during it's January 24 Board Meeting to discuss the One Percent Sales Tax Projects--including this proposal-- further.

Wetland Mitigation
Community Center Director Diane Booth presented information regarding Wetland Mitigation steps and costs for the rest of the Community Center property including some property owned by Cook County ISD #166 Schools.  No decisions were made.

Braidy Powers, County Auditor/Treasurer
The County Board approved an agreement with Synergy Graphics to provide Ballot Layout and Ballot Printing services.  Cook County, along with most MN Counties, use Synergy Graphics for this very specialized service.  The agreed upon rate is the same as in 2010 and will not change for four years.

The County Board accepted grants from the Legacy Grant Program and Local Program for Lutsen Trailbreakers and Banadad Trail Association, respectively.

Worker's Compensation for Elected Officials
Elected officials are paid on an annual salaried basis and do not receive Paid Leave, Sick Leave,  extended Sick Leave, or Comp Time benefits.  Therefore, if they are on workers comp, they only receive 2/3 of their normal wage and are not able to supplement their income in the same manner as all other county employees.  The County Board voted to pay an additional taxable wage by Cook County so that the combination of workers comp payments and county wages will approximately equal the officials average salary.

Courthouse Security
Commissioner Hakes reported that efforts are underway to coordinate efforts between the County, Law Enforcement, MN 6th Judicial District, and the County Attorney's Office to address Courthouse Security issues.  A Courthouse Security Committee is being formed and will initially include Sheriff Falk, Judge Cuzzo, Diane Herrick-Schmidt, Tim Scannell or Molly Hicken, Steve Borud, Brian Silence, Janet Simonen, Sue Futterer, Jim Wiinanen, Jan Hall and Sue Hakes.

Candidate Interviews
Commissioner Hakes presented a proposed interview process for County Board consideration.  Hakes advocated for the Board to interview Committee and Board applicants at the Board's discretion for key positions such as the Economic Development Authority (EDA).

MN Accountable Government, Innovation and Collaboration (MAGIC) Act
The County Board passed a resolution to recommend the swift passage of the MAGIC Act into law at the State Legislature.

Closed Session/Labor Negotiations
A closed session of the County Board Meeting was held to discuss strategies for the (3) on-going labor negotiations with County employees.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Special Meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners

Special Organizational Meeting of the County Board
The County Board held its annual organizational meeting at the Courthouse this morning.  Board Chair, Jim Johnson was absent.  Vice-Chair, Jan Hall, and Commissioners Hakes, Martinson and Sobanja were all present.  Also present were Janet Simonen, Braidy Powers, and Molly Hicken.

At this first meeting of the year, a new Board Chair and Vice-Chair are elected and appointments are made to various Boards and Commissions.  Janice Hall was elected unanimously as the 2012 Board Chair; Bruce Martinson was elected unanimously as the 2012 Board Vice Chair.

In other business...
a)  the Cook County News Herald was designated as the official newspaper for 2012
b)  the Cook County web page was designated as an official publication of the County
c)  travel allowance rates were established at the same rate as 2011

Boards, Commissions, and Temporary Committees
There are several citizen openings on various Boards and Commissions.  These openings have been posted and interested citizens are encouraged to consider applying for these positions.  It's rewarding to get involved!

Generally speaking, most County Board appointments to Boards and Commissions have remained the same as last year.  However, some changes are being made.  A final list of assignments will be compiled and I'll post it on my blog when it becomes available.

Commissioner Department Liaison Assignments
As a temporary measure in Jim Johnson's absence, Sue Hakes volunteered and has been appointed the County Board liaison to the County Attorney's Office and Court Administration.  Fritz Sobanja has been temporarily appointed as liaison to the Assessor's Office.  Hakes and newly elected Board Chair Jan Hall have been designated to work with Law Enforcement, the State, and Department Heads on the issue of Courthouse Safety and Security.