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.