Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cook County Board of Commissioners Meeting: ATVs, Blacksmith Shop, YMCA

Board Chair Jan Hall, along with Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Sue Hakes and Bruce Martinson were all present for today's County Board Meeting.  Also present were Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, County Attorney Tim Scannell, and Personnel Director/Board Secretary Janet Simonen.

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

Superior Cycling Association
Adam Harju of the Superior Cycling Association came before the Board to request the County support the Federal Recreational Trails Program Grant application for extending mountain bike trails in Cook County.  The Board agreed unanimously to be the applicant for this grant and ultimately, the fiscal agent.  This project proposes to construct an extension of Cook County Mountain Bike "single track" trails by (2) miles at the Pincushion Recreation Area and (2) miles at the Britton Peak Trailhead for a total of (4) additional miles.

Cook County Historical Society (CCHS)
Cook County Historical Society Director Carrie McHugh and President Gene Erickson came before the County Board to request the County support the Historical Society (CCHS) in its quest to purchase Bally's Blacksmith Shop property for $130,000.  Specifically, they requested the County be the Purchaser of the Blacksmith Shop as recommended by the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) in order to be more successful in the pursuit of funding from the MHS.  The County Board authorized entering into a Purchase Agreement with the owners of the Blacksmith Shop for $130,000 with $2000 earnest money, subject to a Phase I Environmental test, successful financing by grant or fundraising, marketable title and County Attorney's Office review.  Time is of the essence in getting the Purchase Agreement in place as the grants are due March 15, 2013.

Schroeder Survey
Contracted County Surveyor Wayne Hensche came before the County Board to present the completed survey information, plat, costs and proposed assessments for the Schroeder Survey which was requested by private landowners and approved by both the Schroeder Town Board and Cook County Board.  The Board approved the plat and set the Public Hearing for March 12, 2013 at 10 am to assess the survey expense.  If you have questions or need information about this process, feel free to contact County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers at 387-3646.

Norpine Trail Association
The Board agreed to support a grant application to the MN DNR for the Federal Recreational Trail Program 2013 Equipment Grant Application.  The County agreed to act as fiscal agent should this grant be awarded to Cook County.  A 25% match is being provided by Cascade Lodge and Solbakken Resort.

ARMER Radio Update
Information Systems Director Danna MacKenzie and Rowan Watkins, Sheriff Mark Falk and Deputy Leif Lunde came before the County Board to provide an update on  Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER) installation and use in Cook County.  Current and future users of ARMER in Cook County include Law Enforcement, Highway Department, Grand Portage, Fire Departments.  Indicators are good that Cook County will received partial funding from FEMA to help pay for radios for the volunteer fire departments.  A County-wide Radio Users email list is being compiled so that all users may be kept informed about radio issues both as the ARMER project is implemented and operating.

Highway Department
Assistant County Engineer, Sam Muntean, came before the Board to request authorization to solicit bids for the CSAH 7 Rehabilitation project; the Board approved this request. This project will be paid for using State Aid funds.  Muntean reported that the project is due to start in June 2013 and will take 10 weeks to complete. The type of work to be done includes culvert repairs and replacement, bituminous removal, bituminous surfacing, aggregate base, aggregate shouldering.  This work is slated for CSAH 7 between Highway 61 and CSAH 6.

PUBLIC HEARING on Cook County ATV Ordinance
A Public Hearing was held to consider removal of the ATV Ordinance expiration/sunset provision.  In addition, the Cook County Highway Engineer, David Betts, recommended the ATV Ordinance be changed to allow ATVs on the Gunflint Trail up to County Road 60.  In the audience were approximately 20 people.  Paul James spoke in favor of making the ATV Ordinance permanent.  John Bottger said he commended the ATV riders and hadn't seen any problems. The Board voted unanimously to make the Ordinance permanent, expand riding on the Gunflint Trail up to County Road 60, and make some administrative changes to better identify roads.

Veteran's Services
Commissioner Sue Hakes reported that both she and County Veteran's Service Officer (VSO) Clarence Everson attended a meeting sponsored by ARDC in Duluth last Friday.  The purpose of the meeting was to dialogue with other NE Minnesota County Commissioners and VSOs, ARDC Staff, MN Dot, MACV, and AEOA to identify common concerns for Veteran's living in rural MN.  Most of the discussion focused on providing Veterans with better access to medical care whether it be through improved transportation, expanding CBOC medical facilities in the area, or restoring fee-based medical services.  Hakes gave a short presentation about the recent FUTURES Workshop she attended at Camp Ripley to discuss Veteran's issues.  The group is eager to move forward on this work and next steps are being identified at the local, State and Federal levels.

Assessor's Office Staffing Request
Jan Hall led a discussion regarding the need for additional staffing in the Assessor's Office. The Board discussed several options including a) hiring a full-time employee, and b) hiring a year-round employee for 28 hours/week and training an existing County employee to fill in 1 day/week.  Hall recommended the subcommittee regroup with County Assessor Betty Schultz to discuss these options further.

Cook County Family YMCA Project
The County Board held a work session to discuss the Cook County Family YMCA.  Also present were Attorney Ken Donovan from Fryberger, Tim Scannell, Braidy Powers, Janet Simonen, Wade Cole and Mark Kragenbring from ORB and Dan Miller from JLG Architects.

Wade Cole gave an overview of the changes to the floor plan and cost/scope reductions as recommended to the County Board by the CCFY Steering Committee.  The Board approved the floor plan.  They also reviewed the Bid Items to determine what work, if any, should be re-bid.  After a lengthy discussion, the Board voted to re-bid (2) packages: Earthwork and Storefront. The remainder of the bids were approved to the low bidders contingent upon an acceptable contract which includes value engineering changes.

The CCFY Steering Committee passed a motion to "recommend that the County take any 1% funds unallocated to be held in reserve for the CCFY project and any outdoor county recreation projects as part of the Community Center project."  Hakes brought this recommendation before the Board but it was voted down 2-3 (Aye: Hakes and Martinson, Nay:  Doo-Kirk, Gamble, Hall).

Commissioner Hakes expressed her concern that the unallocated ~$500K of 1% funding be put in reserve until all existing 1% projects were completed and made this motion which passed unanimously. It was agreed that this reserve was not dedicated for any specific project.

Last note:  The Steering Committee is working extremely hard to plan for the inclusion of a water slide at the opening of the facility.  And, in response to community requests and feedback, they have re-prioritized bleachers in the gymnasium and will work hard to keep those in the plan.

Meeting Minutes
A copy of the official Meeting Minutes will be made available on the County Website or by calling Janet Simonen at 387-3602.  A video of this meeting in its entirety may be viewed by going to Boreal.TV.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

February 19, 2013: Human Services Board and County Board of Commissioners Meet

Cook County Human Services Board Meeting
Human Services Board Chair, Sue Hakes, along with Board Members Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Jan Hall (9:10 am), Carla LaPointe, Jerry Lilja, Bruce Martinson were all present for today's Human Services Board Meeting.  Also present were Sue Futterer, Jan Parish, Alison McIntyre, and Janet Simonen.

Committee Reports
No reports were given for Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, Arrowhead Health Alliance, Community Health Board, Public Health and Human Services Advisory Committee or North Shore Collaborative as these Boards and Committees have not met since the last Human Services Board Meeting.

Garry Gamble reported that Arrowhead Regional Corrections (ARC) is currently in union negotiations.  He also reported on preliminary discussions being held at ARC regarding the dire conditions at the Northeast  Regional Corrections Center (NERCC).  Gamble and Jan Hall, along with other ARC Board members toured the NERCC facility.  Gamble reported the needs for significant facility improvements, describing the current conditions as "dissettling".

Bruce Martinson reported on the most recent meeting of the Health Care Planning Committee noting that the relatively new and highly popular "Living Well With Chronic Conditions" class is proving to be successful.  Doctors at the Clinic are noticing measurable improvements in their patients that participate.  Martinson also reported that the Hospital Board held a special meeting to discuss renovation plans for the Hospital and the Care Center.

Family Home Visiting Program--Allison Hereen, BScN, RN, PHN
Allison Hereen came before the Board to give an overview of her role in Maternal Child and Family Health which she explained is working with parents for positive, safe and healthy outcomes for children and their families through an individualized, strength based, holistic approach.  The greatest portion of this program is the Universal Prenatal and Postpartum Home Visiting which is described as an "arm into the community".  This home visiting program is voluntary and available to all families, regardless of income.  Other pieces of Maternal Child and Family Health include a) Child Health and Development, b) Community Collaboration and Interagency Relationships, and c) Education and Injury Prevention.

Hereen brings great enthusiasm to her job, as well as a wealth of Public Health nursing experience from other counties and from ISD166.  When asked what she sees as being unique to Cook County, she said that Cook County's geography creates large distances between families with young children and can cause feelings of isolation.

Fiscal Updates--Jan Parish, Income Maintenance & Fiscal Supervisor
Jan Parish gave a complementary presentation to Hereen by talking about the funding for the Home Visiting program.  The majority of the funding comes from the Arrowhead Health Alliance grant; other funding comes from a County Health Board grant and two other smaller grants.  Parish explained that Public Health does bill private insurance and medical assistance whenever possible.  The cost to the client is free.

Director's Report--Sue Futterer
-Region 3 Redesign has been delayed, but electronic documentation should be in place by the end of 2013.  A meeting with the Region 3 County Commissioners and Staff is being scheduled for April 30, 2013.
-Futterer gave the Board an overview of Child Support in Minnesota and in Cook County.
-Futterer explained MN Choices, a standardized assessment tool under development to determine eligibility for health care and other services.  She also provided information on potential changes to Counties with the coming Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange.
-The Department of Health Services is conducting a routine review of Cook County's Wilderness Outpatient Treatment today.

Items for Action
The Board approved a Purchase of Service Agreement for the Women's Health Center and authorized the Engagement of Ron Michaels Consulting for the project definition phase of Regional Electronic Document Management Systems for Child Support Units.  The Board also approved the 2013 Assurance and Agreements Between the Community Health Board and Cook County, as well as the Addendum to the Joint Powers Agreement between Carlton, Cook, Lake and St. Louis Community Health Boards.

Cook County Board of Commissioners Meeting
Board Chair Jan Hall, along with Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Sue Hakes and Bruce Martinson were all present at today's meeting.  Also present were County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers and Personnel Director/Board Secretary Janet Simonen.

Public Comment
No members of the Public came before the County Board.

Office of Planning & Zoning (OPZ)--Tim Nelson, Director
Tim Nelson and David Demmer came before the County Board to recommend termination of the Wetlands Management Plan committee process that was just getting underway.  Unfortunately, it has become apparent that the level of support OPZ had been led to believe would exist from the Army Corp of Engineers through their participation in the process can not be counted on.  The Board supported the recommendation to terminate.

Highway Department--David Betts, Highway Engineer
The Board authorized the Highway Department to advertise to solicit proposals for aggregate stockpiles as recommeded by Russell Klegstad and David Betts.

The Board awarded the snowplowing for Irish Creek to LaBoda Grading, Inc.  The Board also discussed the importance of written communication and following the proper legal steps for the Public Hearing already scheduled for June 25 at 10:30. This hearing was scheduled to discuss the potential for withdrawing the Irish Creek Subordinate Service District.

As presented by David Betts, the Board adopted the Town Road Account Allocation Policy and approved the distribution of town road funds accordingly.

Superior Cycling Association
Tim Kennedy came before the Commissioners to inform them that the Superior Cycling Association wants the County to act as the applicant for a project to extend both the Pincushion Trail System in Grand Marais and the Britton Peak Trail System in Tofte (2) miles each for a total of (4) miles of new trail.  The Superior Cycling Association will present the grant application and their formal request at the next County Board meeting.

Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP)
The scheduled discussion regarding the Biomass District Heating customer contract has been postponed to March 12, 2013.

Auditor-Treasurer--Braidy Powers
Several items were brought forward by Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers:
- The Board approved a Subordination Agreement between Cook County and Hedstrom Lumber Company for $152,533.72 and second position on the loan with first position to the bank.  It is the County's customary practice to hold the second position.
-  As required in the Cook County Investment Policy, Powers submitted the annual investment report for Cook County.  Objectives of the County investments are 1) Safety, 2) Liquidity, and 3) Yield.

Personnel Department--Janet Simonen, Director
Personnel Director Janet Simonen presented an updated draft of the Cook County Employee Handbook noting several changes including Comp Time accrual, limits to Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance eligibility, the addition of some employee groups and unions to pay toward their Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance premiums, shift differential pay eligibility, and out-of-class pay policy.

Simonen provided the Board with a copy of the Personnel Director/Board Secretary job description, information from the Association of MN Counties regarding various county organizational structures, and some guidelines to planning for executive transitions.  Simonen has given the Board a 6-month notice of her resignation.  The Board scheduled a Work Session for March 18 at 1 pm to discuss the replacement of Simonen and the potential for re-structuring.

One Percent Projects
Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers presented a change order addition for ~$64K for rebar, concrete and labor for the Cook County Family YMCA project.  This is work which was originally to be included in Phase 4 but has been changed to be done now in Phase 2.  The County Board approved this change 4-1 (Gamble opposed) to be paid for from the project contingency fund.

Commissioner Hakes gave an overview of the Skating Warming House project noting that the Hockey Association will be meeting Wednesday, February 20, to discuss their preference for location, style and size of the building.  The County has allocated $50K for this project; the Hockey Association has committed $28K of its own funding.

Powers and Hakes gave an update to the County Board regarding the Board's need to decide on whether or not to rebid all or portions of the Cook County Family YMCA project.  Powers and Hakes reported on a lengthy conversation they had with Attorney Ken Donovan of Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith and Frederick, P.A. of Duluth regarding the legal aspects of rebidding, analyzing each bid division separately. Ultimately, there is a cost to rebid, just as there is a cost to not rebid.  ORB Management and JLG Architects are working to identify all of the associated risk and cost for both scenarios so that the Board can make a sound decision about how best to move forward.  Powers stressed the importance of the Board making this decision on February 26 noting that cost to the project can be increased by delay in schedule, redesign expenses, delay in opening the Cook County Family YMCA, extending the construction time and impact to ISD166 need for the spaces.  The Steering Committee will meet Monday, February 25, to determine their recommendations for the County Board.

Cook County Airport Commission
Sue Olson was appointed as an alternate to the Grand Marais/Cook County Airport Commission.

Meeting Minutes
Official minutes for this meeting may be obtained by going to the Cook County website or by contacting Board Secretary Janet Simonen at 218-387-3602.  A video of today's meetings in their entirety may be viewed by going to Boreal.TV

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

County Board Meeting 2/12/2013: Land Exchange, Veteran's Service Officer, Cook County Family YMCA, Closed Session

Board Chair Jan Hall and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Sue Hakes and Bruce Martinson were present for the 2/12/2013 County Board of Commissioner's Meeting.  Also present were Personnel Director/Board Secretary Janet Simonen and County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers.

Public Comment
Several members of the Public--Steve Ortman, Steve Watson, Jim Shinners, Chuck Futterer-- came before the County Board to express concern over the pending land exchange between Cook County and the USFS.  In particular, they expressed concern over the County obtaining ownership of a 40-acre parcel, aka Parcel #19,  along the Devils Track Road on the north side of the lake.  The majority of concerns about the County using Parcel #19 for gravel mining or related activities, were increased road traffic, increased noise, intrusion on recreational hiking and ski trails, setbacks from residential property, impact to the Junco River and access to fly fishing on the Junco River.  Several written letters or emails were also received by the County Board.

It should be noted that at a meeting between the County and the USFS held on 2/4/2013, the County participants (Commissioners Martinson and Hakes) and the USFS agreed to recommend to the full County Board the deletion of Parcel #19 from the exchange list.  This recommendation was made based largely on the public concerns expressed during the USFS scoping comments period.  Later in the Cook County Board Meeting, the County Board voted unanimously to delete Parcel #19 from the exchange.  Both the County Board and the USFS appreciated the concerns raised by the public and acted.  

School Superintendent Beth Schwarz came before the County Board to share her perspective on the Cook County Family YMCA project as a citizen, as a member of the Community Center Steering Committee and as the School Superintendent.

Office of Planning & Zoning (OPZ)
The Board approved (2) solid waste hauler licenses:  North Shore Waste (Dustin Hanson) and Nelson Machine Products, LLC (Richard Nelson) as presented by OPZ Director Tim Nelson.

The Board approved a new contract with Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD).  This new contract is essentially the same as the previous one for the collection of business waste collection and household hazardous waste collection and runs through 2017.

Highway Department
The Board approved a special event permit for the Mush for a Cure Fun Run to be held March 8-10, 2013 on the Gunflint Trail.

Highway Engineer, David Betts, requested consent from the Board to open negotiations with a private landowner to pursue purchasing a ~10-acre parcel of property that would give the County access from the east to the Maple Hill Gravel pit.  This pit is currently accessed from the north on County Road 54 which is quite steep.  Written concerns about the County purchasing this land and building a new road were received from (2) nearby property owners; a 3rd property owner, Bill Kloster, expressed his concerns by appearing in person.

Generally, there is concern among the neighbors regarding sediment runoff from an un-named spring fed creek that starts and runs through the subject property and into the Little Devil Track River, a designated trout stream.  Concerns about increased noise, more truck traffic, tree removal and potential well contamination were also expressed should this pit be expanded and an additional road built. Commissioner Doo-Kirk reported that the Maple Hill neighborhood appears to be equally divided about whether it is better to access from the north or the east, depending on where one lives.

The Board gave Betts authorization to proceed with negotiations, but the final purchase decision will be based on the environmental and other impacts to the neighborhood, as well as price and other terms.  Betts said the Maple Hill Gravel pit is the only county-owned source for clay.

Assessor/Land Commissioner Office
The Board approved the modified priority land list as recommended by Commissioners Martinson and Hakes resulting from their 2/4/13 meeting with the USFS and other County staff.  See details above under Public Comment.

The County Board agreed to move forward in the sale of the Tip of the Trail property on Saganaga Lake.  Auditor Braidy Powers will bring a proposed resolution detailing the terms of the offering for Board consideration at the next County Board meeting. The Board discussed holding the auction in the summer of 2013.

Assessor/Land Commissioner Betty Schultz requested adding a Clerk position to the Assessor's Department to meet workload demand.  The Assessor's Department is not meeting the Department of Revenue requirements to physically inspect 20% of the parcels in Cook County annually (a quintile).  This quintile requirement has not been meet in many years largely due to inadequate staffing.  In addition, the Assessor's Department is undergoing a significant land and building system conversion that will greatly enhance uniformity in Cook County, equal assessment and equal treatment of property throughout Cook County.

Schultz is concerned about not meeting the statutory requirements of the Department of Revenue and has been working closely with the DOR to develop a 5-year plan to come into compliance.  In addition, John Hagen, Director of the Property Tax Division of the Department of Revenue, personally called Board Chair Jan Hall to discuss Cook County's non-compliance and emphasize the critical nature of meeting all DOR requirements, including the quintile requirement.

The Board is split on this issue with Board Chair Jan Hall, Sue Hakes and Bruce Martinson supportive of getting the Assessor's Department the resources it needs to satisfy statutory compliance and ensure equal and fair taxation in Cook County.  A small task force consisting of Hall, Bruce Martinson, Braidy Powers, Janet Simonen and Betty Schultz will meet to explore the staffing needs in the Assessor's Department and make a recommendation to the full County Board in the near future.  Full-time, part-time, temporary, contracting and job-sharing will all be considered.

Schultz reminded the Board that at least one commissioner needs to be trained in Board of Appeal and Equalization.

Personnel Department
Currently, Cook County contracts with the State of Minnesota to obtain 15 hours/week of service from Tribal Veteran Service Officer Clarence Everson.  However, this contract ends as of June 30, 2013, due to an amendment in MN Statute specifically removing jurisdiction and control of County VSOs from the Commissioner of MN Department of Veteran Affairs (MDVA).

The County Board authorized Janet Simonen to begin the process of advertising for a 15 hour/week Cook County VSO.  The County has been very satisfied with the work of Clarence Everson, aka Clinker.

After 30 years of Public Service, Janet Simonen is retiring.  As promised, she gave the Board 6 months notice; her last day will be Friday, August 9, 2013.  With regrets, the Board accepted her resignation.

Miscellaneous/Auditor-Treasurer Office
The Board approved the purchase of a scanner for the Auditor's Office at a cost of $875.95.

The Board approved the Intercreditor Agreement to loan $75,000 over 20 years to the Cook County Food Coop under the Revolving Loan Fund.

The Board approved a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) soliciting qualified vendors to install Wildfire Mitigaton Systems for Property Owners in Cook County and be reimbursed pursuant to County Rules.  Individuals, businesses and corporation may respond to be approved as vendors for conventional waterfront systems or non-waterfront systems, or both. This RFQ has been reviewed and recommended unanimously by the Firewise Committee.

The All Hazard Mitigation Plan was amended to include the role WTIP plays through its broadcasting and notification capabilities on behalf of public safety.

Cook County Family YMCA (CCFY) Project
Wade Cole, ORB Management, came before the County Board to discuss the construction contracts for the CCFY.  To ensure statutory compliance and equal opportunity to all bidders, the County has solicited legal advise from Attorney Ken Donovan at Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith and Frederick regarding state public bidding laws as they pertain to the CCFY project.  Per Mr. Donovan, the need to re-bid or not depends in large part on the extent of material changes within the project and indicated that a 20% scope change is sometimes used as a general rule. He also said it is within the County's jurisdiction to re-bid any one bid package without re-bidding the entire project.  The County Board agreed unanimously that it is premature to make any decisions or awards until changes to the scope are finalized, potential value engineering estimates are firmed up, and bids are further analyzed.

Superior National Golf Course
Bruce Martinson reported that the clubhouse at Superior National Golf Course flooded causing a fair amount of damage.  Frozen pipes are believed to be the cause of the flooding.

Closed Session
A closed session of the Cook County Board was held for a client/attorney discussion regarding threatened litigation.  The County Board is not at liberty under attorney-client privilege to give any further information regarding this matter.

Meeting Minutes
A copy of the official meeting minutes for the February 12 meeting of the County Board will be made available on the County Website or by contacting Janet Simonen at 218-387-3602.  A video of this meeting in its entirety is available on Boreal.TV.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

PCs For People at Cook County Higher Ed!

Cook County Higher Ed is now a
PCs for People Computer Depot!

PCs for People Mission Statement:
"To create new opportunities by providing personal computers and education to people who have limited experience with technology due to social, physical and/or economic circumstances."

Thanks to PCs for People, Cook County Higher Ed (CCHE) now has used desktop and laptops available at reduced cost.  CCHE asks that applicants for these PCs has financial need, or otherwise fits the above description.  

If you are interested in purchasing a desktop or laptop PC,
stop by Cook County Higher Ed for an application.  

Yesterday, I stopped by the PCs for People St. Paul Office to pick up 3 desktop and 3 laptop computers for delivery to the Cook County Higher Ed PCs for People Computer Depot.  The St. Paul facility was impressive with its workshop and customer service intake area.  Check their website for more information about this impressive organization. 

And, give a big thanks to our own Cook County Higher Ed for bringing the benefits of PCs for People to Cook County!