Board adopts preliminary levy, many social action resolutions

Itasca County logoby Barbara Cameron

The county commissioners packed several resolutions and proclamations, awards, a public hearing and department reports into their lengthy regular meeting of Sept. 22. The session covered everything from plastic bags to hunger and homelessness.

The meeting began with two people missing, Rusty Eichorn (Dist. 4) and Mark Mandich (Dist. 5), while a quorum of the board recited the flag pledge, approved previous minutes and approved their two agendas.

The consent agenda this week was short, and it was adopted unanimously by the three commissioners. Legislative priorities for the Western Mesabi Mine Planning Board were adopted, with fiscal disparities adjustment being the most important. The board will serve as fiscal agent for Blandin’s $25,000 quick response grant for the Buck Lake Improvement Club; they accepted $4,456, United Way’s first grant award to the Itasca County Wellness Court; they approved an applicant’s repurchase of tax-forfeited land; and they approved seven special use leases for the sheriff’s radio and communication towers (Alvwood, Bass Lake, Bigfork, Coleraine, East Central, Inger, Nashwauk).

Two employees were recognized due to job transfers. Steven Picht was hired as a highway maintenance worker and Fred Knight as a mechanic/welder.

Proposed levy

Auditor/Treasurer Jeff Walker requested the board adopt the 2016 proposed tax levy and schedule the public meeting for discussion of the budget and levy for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

The proposed levy is $36,643,569, an increase of 7.99 percent over last year. The fire levy for the unorganized townships is $411,821, and this is always a set dollar amount that is based on the net tax capacity. The proposed unorganized road and bridge levy is $1,598,111, or 13 percent of the net tax capacity.

Terry Snyder (Dist. 2) and Leo Trunt (Dist. 3) promised they would continue meeting to try to reduce further wherever they could. Chair Davin Tinquist (Dist. 1) thanked the staff for their efforts during the last couple months of budget discussions. “What we’ve done so far is commendable.”

Walker offered several reasons to explain to the public why their preliminary figures indicate a $2.7 million increase. The county this year picks up an extra $1.2 million on one payroll because of the 12-year cycle for pay periods. Another one-time hit for the county is the $415,000 because they are no longer using reserves to bring down the levy. The figures also assume a two-percent salary increase for all employees, although this is not a certainty. Finally, their medical insurance premiums saw an increase of eight percent, after several years of staying at the same rate. “We’ll be posturing ourselves for a much better budget year next year,” Walker said.

Additionally, he continued, because the county’s tax capacity has increased by about a million dollars (due mostly to utility infrastructure projects), much of the levy increase will be absorbed. The net effect to a taxpayer with a $100,000 home would be an increase of about $17 per year.

The commissioners unanimously accepted Walker’s request for board action.

Next on the regular agenda was Jenni Johnson with the commissioner warrants of $1,791,538.38 that included about $1 million in highway construction. This passed unanimously on the roll call vote.

Crissy Krebs brought the health and human service warrants of $1,215,020.41. As they expected, the out-of-home placements portion at $381,000 was not quite as good as last month’s. On the roll call the warrants were approved.

Hunger, homelessness

The communications coordinator for the Second Harvest Food Bank, Kim Smith, brought a resolution to proclaim September as Hunger Action Month in Itasca County. She noted that one in seven people here is hungry, that the food bank serves 24,100 individual clients per month, and 2,000 children are in the group of more than 5,000 people who rely on food from Second Harvest annually. After she read the resolution, the board voted unanimous acceptance.

The executive director of the United Way, Kim Brink-Smith, came with United Way board member Ben DeNucci to present a related resolution designating November as National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month in Itasca County. (Eichorn joined the meeting while Brink-Smith was speaking.) She noted the growing demands on county services and volunteer agencies.

She said that on any given night there are 10,000 Minnesotans (one-third of them children) who are homeless. This means they are people and families who lack affordable housing, face mental illness or family crisis, addiction, low minimum wages and the loss of support networks. Last October on the Community Connections night survey, she told the board, some 62 such families were identified in Itasca County.

After the reading of the resolution, the board adopted it.

Shoreland stewardship

Since 2005, Andy Arens from the Soil and Water Conservation District and Tom Nelson from the Itasca Coalition of Lake Associations have been presenting shoreland stewardship awards to recognize individuals and groups who take actions to protect the county’s waters. They presented slides to show the work done by this year’s recipients, Mary Jo Gibbons on Bass Lake, Stephen Zorrich on Amen Lake and Peter and Terri Houdek on Moose Lake.

Biological approaches to erosion and sedimentation characterized the steps taken by these stewards. Willow waddles for bank stabilization; longer grass, clover, wildflower and native shrubs to hold the soil and reduce runoff; bank seeding against wave erosion and ice damage; and wildflowers on the septic mound were some of the approaches they used. Arens noted that the biological solutions (such as willow and brush waddles instead of riprap) are becoming more and more popular.

Arens invited anyone who would like to participate in this sort of conservation work on their shoreland, or to nominate someone for next year, to get in touch with him. Original nature prints from local Itasca County artists were distributed to the award recipients present, and the recipitients and presenters all went to stand with the commissioners for photographs.The content you are trying to access is only available to members. Sorry.

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