Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 25 County Board Meeting: Conditional Use Permits, CCLEP Financial Support, Child Abuse Prevention Month

Board Chair Jan Hall and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Sue Hakes and Bruce Martinson were all present for today's County Board Meeting.  Also present were County Administrator Jay Kieft, County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, Assistant County Attorney Jeanne Smith and Administrative Support Bev Wolke.

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

Office of Planning and Zoning
The County Board approved (2) Conditional Use Permits (CUP) as presented by OPZ Director Tim Nelson and Planning and Zoning Administrator Bill Lane.
1)  A CUP was approved for Jean Kloster-Jezierski and Edward Kloster allowing the continued use of a recreational vehicle for storage on property adjacent to Maple Hill Road.
2)  A CUP was approved for Paul Goettl to modify an internally illuminated sign at the Clearview Store in Lutsen.

Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP)
The County Board approved 3-2 (Doo-Kirk and Gamble opposed) $2000 to support a coordinator position for CCLEP.  The City of Grand Marais previously approved $2000 in support of a coordinator.

Highway Department
The Board authorized the purchase of a 2015 GMC Sierra 4WD Crew Cab Pick-up to replace the 2005 pickup that was totaled in a rollover accident last summer.  This $36,476.81 purchase (less $16,313.75 insurance payout) will be paid from the Highway Department Equipment Reserve account.

With regrets, the board accepted the resignation of William Kloster and authorized the Highway Department to advertise and begin the process of filling the Maintenance Worker 2 position vacated by Kloster.

Miscellaneous Actions
-  The Board approved (2) liquor licenses:  1)  Gail Thompson for Clearview General Store, and 2) Lisa Mesenbring for Chicago Bay Marketplace.
-  The Board delegated by motion the authority to approve depositories of county funds to the Couty Auditor-Treasurer's Office.
-  Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers notified the Board that local banking institutions have been evaluated for services and fees;  Grand Marais State Bank was selected as the local depository as of June 1, 2014.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month!
At the urging of Joni Kristenson (County Public Health), Jodi Yuhasey (Violence Prevention Center), Grace Bushard (County Social Services), and Beth Farone (County Social Worker for Child Protection) the County Board proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.  Child abuse is an issue that affects all members of our community and finding solutions depends on involvement among people throughout our community!

County Administrator, Jay Kieft
County Administrator Jay Kieft noted a 3rd Work Session of the County Board will be held to improve its effectiveness, discuss the role of the County Administrator and identify core values.

Meeting Minutes 
A complete copy of meeting minutes from today's meeting may be found on the Cook County webpage or by calling the County Administrator's office at 218/387-3602.  Alternatively, a video of this meeting may be viewed in its entirety by going to Boreal.TV.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Human Services Board and County Board Meetings for March 18, 2014: TEXT4LIFE, PHHS Planning,

Human Services Board Meeting
Human Services Board Chair, Sue Hakes, along with Board members, Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Jan Hall, Carla LaPointe, and Jerry Lilja were all present for today's meeting.  Bruce Martinson was absent.  Also present were Sue Futterer, Grace Bushard and Andrea DeBoer.

Early Childhood Community Collaboration Program Results
Patty Nordahl came before the HS Board to share the work being done on the Early Childhood Community Collaboration Program.  Nordahl currently serves on the Governor's Early Childhood Task Force.

Nordahl began by sharing the agreed upon values at the State level.  (I will do my best to repeat them accurately.)  The first is, "Supporting our youngest is a public good."  Others include, "With 70% of children under 5 years of age in day care outside of their homes, we need to do child care right."  And, "Child care IS early learning".  Nordahl also explained that most important of all in a child's birth to age 5 development is the formation of healthy relationships; in fact is has an impact on how brains are formed and has lifelong impact.

Just this month, ISD166, Gwen Carmen, Nordahl and others sponsored "Early Childhood Community Conversations".  These conversations were well attended and illuminated many of the Cook County assets, challenges, and needs unique to rural Minnesota communities regarding early childhood learning.  As part of those conversations, a video promoting early childhood and its impact on our future, entitled, "The Raising of America" was shown.

Nordahl's experience, leadership, and passion for her work has been a significant benefit to Cook County--and the State of Minnesota--for many years.  Her work is respected and appreciated.

Director's Report, Sue Futterer
Public Health and Human Services Director, Sue Futterer, gave an overview of the PHHS Department planning and staffing updates.  Futterer and staff are working to do cross training so that more than one PHHS staff can support the multitude of programs on-going.  This work is being done to provide better client services and outcomes, reduce stress on the staff, reduce turnover, and improve job satisfaction.

Futterer reported that Cook County will be piloting the use of ITV on line services for a child support hearing this spring.  She also reported that the TXT4LIFE program that originated in NE Minnesota has received national recognition.  TXT4LIFE is a growing suicide prevention program that originated in Carlton County to address the historically high suicide rates in Carlton County and the Arrowhead Region.

Board Actions
1.  The Board approved a Purchase of Service Agreement between Cook County and Linda Waterhouse for Developmental Disability Case Work Training.
2.  The Board approved hiring a Child Mental Health Case Management Social Worker to fill a recently vacated position.

Committee Reports
The following committee reports were given.  For further detail, feel free to contact the representatives listed.
Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency--Sue Hakes
Arrowhead Health Alliance--Sue Hakes
Arrowhead Regional Corrections--Jan Hall
Community Health Board--Jan Hall
Public Health and Human Services Advisory Committee--Carla LaPointe or Jerry Lilja
Health Care Planning Committee--Bruce Martinson
North Shore Collaborative--Sue Hakes

Cook County Board of Commissioners Meeting
County Board Chair, Jan Hall, and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, and Sue Hakes were all present for today's Board Meeting.  Commissioner Bruce Martinson and County Administrator Jay Kieft were absent.  Also present were Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken, County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, and Administrative Support Bev Wolke.

Public Comment Period
Several members of the Public came before the County Board to express their strong support for constructing a sidewalk along County Road 7 from the intersection with the Gunflint Trail, past the Clinic/Hospital, Care Center, Sawtooth Ridges, and Birchwood Apartments.  Persons who spoke included:  Jay Arrowsmith-DeCoux, Peter James, Gwen Carmen, Danny Garcia, Jennifer Schulz, Kristine Bottorff, Deb Benedict, Kristin DeArruda Wharton, others.  Several letters of support were also received including one from the Sawtooth Clinic Board, Birchwood Apartment residents, Sawtooth Ridges residents, others.

Highway Department
The Board approved the Ulland Brothers low bid of $1,930,420 for the CSAH 12 Rehabilitation Project as recommended by Highway Engineer David Betts.

The Board approved the Northland Constructors low bid of $114,552.70 for the CSAH 7 Sidewalk Project.  This bid was significantly higher than the Engineer's Estimate of $77,600; Highway Engineer David Betts recommended rejecting all bids and cancelling the project.  The Board voted 3-1 (Gamble opposed) in favor of the project.  Board Chair Jan Hall and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk and Sue Hakes argued in favor of the project which was identified in 2010 as a priority sidewalk by the Safe Routes To School committee. (Note this is the project that so many residents supported during the Public Comment Period.)

Law Enforcement
The Board approved using 9-1-1 funds to purchase (2) dispatch chairs and upgrade personal computers at (3) CAD stations for $3063 and $3403 respectively as requested/recommended by Sheriff Mark Falk.

County Road Vacation, Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken
At the request and recommendation of Molly Hicken and Highway Engineer, the County Board set a Public Hearing on Road Vacation for CR62, 62E, 62W, 62N, and 62S.  The Public Hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 10:00 am in the Commissioner's Room.

EDA Bonding for Superior National
Bond Attorney for the County, Bob Toftey, came before the County Board to answer questions about possible bonding options for Superior National Golf Course.  Scott Harrison was also available to answer questions on behalf of the EDA and the Superior National Golf project.

(This is complicated stuff, but here is how I understand it:)

As part of the $6.1 million golf course improvement project, the EDA originally  intended to issue revenue bonds for ~$2.3M.  Of 13 traders and banks solicited to sell these revenue bonds, only (2) responses were received.  Both of the financial institutions bidding are proposing best efforts to market the new issue, but will not underwrite the full amount, in large part due to the high risk of the project.  In addition, the proposed interest rates of 6.24% and 5.5% were higher than the estimates.

An alternative to the EDA issuing revenue bonds is a G.O. Tax Abatement Bond issued by the County.  The advantage of this is over $1M reduction in interest costs.  The disadvantage to this is that the bonds would be secured by the full faith and credit of the county taxpayers.  In other words, if Superior National is unable to make the bond payment using revenue from the golf course, the County would be responsible for the payment.

Commissioner Hakes asked the EDA to consider the following:  1) What would the Superior National project look like if it was reduced from $6M to $4M?  and, 2)  What "collateral" is available to pledge to remove the risk from tax payers?

Moody's Investors Service Credit Rating for Cook County
Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers was pleased to report an improvement to Cook County's rating to Aa3 from A1.  The rationale provided for this included:
-  History of conservative budgeting that has led to presence of healthy reserves in all operating funds.
-  High levels of property wealth as exhibited in very strong full value per capita
-  Strong and conservative management team
Moody's also noted challenges faced in Cook County:
-  Below average income indices
-  Older population with reliance on economically sensitive tourism industry.

Veteran's Services
Commissioner Hakes, Cook County Veteran's Services Officer (VSO) Pat Strand, and Grand Portage VSO Clarence Everson will be attending a meeting in Carlton County on April 7 regarding Veteran's access to medical facilities in Minneapolis.  Hakes, Strand and Everson are encouraged by the State Veteran Affairs interest and committment to solving this problem.

Meeting Minutes
A copy of the meeting minutes will be made available on the Cook County website after they are approved by the County Board.  Alternatively, a hard copy of these minutes will be made available upon request by calling the County Administrator's Office at 218/387-3602 and requesting it.  A video of this meeting in its entirety can be viewed at Boreal.TV.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

March 11 County Board Meeting: One Watershed, Property Classification, Forest Service Roads

Board Chair Jan Hall and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Sue Hakes and Bruce Martinson were all present for today's County Board meeting.  Also present were County Administrator Jay Kieft, Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken, and Administrative Support Bev Wolke.

Public Comment
No member of the public came before the County Board.

Office of Planning & Zoning (OPZ)
The Board addressed several issues presented by OPZ Director, Tim Nelson:
1.  The Board adopted the Cook County Septic Ordinance Number 58, acknowledging the successful process between local government, the MPCA, and concerned/involved citizens.
2.  The Board authorized (4-1 Hakes opposed) to move forward with the consulting team of John Powers, Robert Bruce and Tony Kroska to develop a work plan and budget for updating the County's Comprehensive Land Use Guide Plan.
3.  The Recycling Center will extend its hours on Tuesdays by opening at 9:00 am.  This is in response to the public's request for earlier drop off times.
4.  The Board accepted the Solid Waste Committee recommendation to change vendors for waste electronics collection based on lower costs to the public.  The County will contract with The Retrofit Company and pay the administrative collection fees; the public will NOT pay a fee for dropping off electronic devices.
5.  The Board supported attendance by the Planning Commision, Board of Adjustment, County Attorney and (2) Commissioners at the MCIT Land Use Legal Work Shop in St. Cloud and authorized payment of travel expenses.  Commissioners Doo-Kirk and Gamble will respresent the County Board.
6.  The Board approved the annual renewals for the solid waste hauler licenses.

Law Enforcement
The County Board authorized (4-1 Martinson opposed) Sheriff Falk to purchase (2) new squads and the necessary equipment to outfit them at a cost of ~$97,000.  Funds for this purchase have been allocated and previously approved in the 2014 budget and vendor quoted state contract pricing.

One Watershed, One Plan
Water Plan Coordinator, Ilena Berg, provided the Board with information about the One Watershed, One Plan pilot project.  The Board passed a resolution to support Lake and Cook County SWCDS in their pursuit of their proposed joint One Watershed, One Plan pilot project.

Vehicle Needs
The Board authorized Maintenance Director Brian Silence to obtain vehicle quotes for a car needed by the Assessor's Office.

Resort Property Classifications (MN Statute 273.13 Subdivision 25)
At the request of the County Board, Assessor Betty Schulz provided information regarding Class 4c Seasonal Recreation property and how it is determined.

Jim Boyd, Cook County Chamber of Commerce Director, along with Dennis Rysdahl (Owner AmericInn) and Bill Hubbard (Owner Cliff Dweller) came before the Board requesting support for changing the statutory language defining Class 4c Seasonal Recreational properties in Minnesota.  Boyd identified (7) Cook County lodging properties that have been inadvertently receiving the tax benefits from being classified in error as Class 4c (Best Western, Aspen Lodge, Spruceglen, Shoreline, Aspen Inn, Cliff Dweller, AmericInn, Mountain Inn).  Correction of this error has resulted in significant tax increases for these (7) properties.  (Auditor Braidy Powers cautioned it is difficult to determine the exact increase, but roughly estimated it to be $162,000 in total.)

Commissioner Bruce Martinson made a motion to change the statutory language as requested, making it quite easy to be classified as 4c seasonal recreational.    Commissioner Gamble supported the motion and it passed 4-1 with Commissioner Hakes opposed.

Discussion:  I opposed this motion because taxpayers that have been paying their fair share of taxes are being asked to subsidize the taxes of those who have not been paying the taxes intended by State Legislation.  The reduction of property taxes for these lodging establishments will result in an equivalent increase in property taxes for all business and property owners in Cook County, a burden that has already been carried for several years. According to Auditor Braidy Powers, the City of Grand Marais taxpayers will bear the brunt of this shift.  I also opposed this motion because nearly all of the businesses being asked to carry this burden are seasonal, not just the (7) requesting the tax relief.

Cook County Local Energy Project
The County Board denied (4-1 Hakes opposed) a request from CCLEP for $4000 to support a part-time CCLEP Coordinator.  The County Board contributed $4000 to CCLEP last year.

Superior National Forest Road Maintenance Funding
District Ranger Nancy Larson and District Ranger Kurt Steele supported Civil Engineer John Olson in his presentation on Forest Service Maintenance and funding.  Forest Services roads and bridges are being lost.  The County Board passed a motion to support Federal funding for maintaining these roads.

NE Minnesota Transportation Planning
Todd Campbell, MnDOT District One, and Jon Mason, ARDC Transportation Planner, presented an overview of MnDOT District One projects for 2014-2018.  Mason also overviews the Transportation Alternatives Program for community based projects that enhance cultural, historic and environmental aspects of our transportation infrastructure.

Cook County Community YMCA
Duluth YMCA CEO, Chris Francis, and Cook County Branch Executive Director, Emily Marshall, came before the County Board with an overview of the 2013 Budget and 2014 Year-To-Date budget. Individual memberships are currently at 1361, which has resulted in a significant increase in projected revenues.  However, due to the increase in membership, increase in propane costs, and start up costs, expenses have also gone up.  Overall, Francis and Marshall are extremely pleased with the start up financial results, but reminded the Board that it is too early to make any year-end projections.  The County Board acknowledged their good work.

Francis also said the Y is exploring the feasibility of providing Licensed Day Care and will likely come to the Board with ideas later this year.

Public Health and Human Services (PHHS)
The Board accepted  a staff resignation as presented by PHHS Director Sue Futterer, and authorized Futterer to begin the process of filling this position.

Auditor-Treasurer, Braidy Powers
Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers brought several items of business before the Board.
1.  The Board approved the Claims.
2.  The Board approved the 2013 audit engagement letter and authorized the chair and county auditor to sign it.
3.  Powers provided a chart showing County investment earnings since the year 2000.  Some years showed earnings in excess of the budget estimate, while other years showed earnings below the budget estimates.  Accurately anticipating the financial markets is difficult.  Powers noted that the County invests conservatively.
4.  The Planning and Zoning Department has set a PUBLIC HEARING for April 22, 2014 at 10:00 am to consider changes to fees charged by the Office of Planning and Zoning.
5.  The Board approved hiring Karen Blackburn for the Financial Coordinator position being vacated by John Peterson in April.

Meeting Minutes
A copy of the approved minutes for this meeting will be made available on the Cook County Website or by contacting the County Adminsitrator's Office at 218/387-3602.  A video of today's meeting will be made available at Boreal.TV

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2014 Bush Foundation Fellowship

The people of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and 23 Tribal Nations are blessed by the continued commitment of the Bush Foundation to making our region a better place by living its mission to "act as a catalyst for the courageous leadership necessary to create sustainable solutions to tough public problems and ensure community vitality".  

Established in 1953 by 3M executive Archibald Bush and his artist wife, Edyth, the Bush Foundation has granted over $1 billion in grants and fellowships to over 3000 people.  Through its Fellowship Program, the Bush Foundation is committed to supporting and developing more leaders who are better equipped and better networked to effectively lead change.

I am honored, humbled, and thrilled beyond belief to have been selected as a 2014 Bush Foundation Fellow and will use this amazing opportunity to pursue graduate work at the University of Minnesota and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  I look forward to working with others to apply what I learn to making my rural Minnesota community the best that it can be!

The 2015 Bush Fellowship Program will open for applications in September 2014. Think about it!