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