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