Carlton County board message to Legislature: Finance your own branch of state government
After two hours of haggling and lack of support for a majority position, the Carlton County Board of Commissioners last week reluctantly approved a resolution to the state Legislature that the local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has done a fine job for area residents, has space needs, and the state should decide how to fund a building program for their local Soil and Water Conservation needs.
Chairman Dick Brenner summed it up, "The current bill being considered in the Legislature is mandating that the Carlton County board should levy for the Soil and Water Conservation building needs. The Soil and Water Conservation board and its program is a state of Minnesota responsibility and they have the power to give the Soil and Water the authority to levy for this building project. They should not tie the hands of Carlton County."
Jim Nynas, former Carlton County commissioner and current board member of the Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District, addressed the board requesting a letter of support for a one-time levy authority to guarantee a USDA loan for up to $2 million on a site next to the Carlton County transportation building. The original proposal called for a separate building housing Soil and Water, Extension, Economic Development and Twin Lakes Township.
Earlier in the discussion, Nynas said the board offer for space at the Vernon building next to the Carlton Post Office was declined by Soil and Water for several reasons. "There would be a heating savings," he admitted as compared with the facility they are now housed in, "but that does not compensate for the 36 percent loss of usable space that we currently have." Concerns included no lab facilities, no meeting room, lack of private offices to handle data privacy issues, no break room, no storage area, lack of handicapped parking and no loading zone.
Nynas pressed for the new building as he pointed out, "We need a permanent home — we have been bounced around for 50 years. State officials have criticized us for not having our own facility. We have a great working relationship with Carlton County government and we have had great support for our needs and program. After 20 years of planning for a new building, it is time."
Commissioner Marv Bodie replied, "We have been looking at an addition to the transportation building but we want to do it right. A separate building is not an efficient use public funds. This all takes time."
Auditor Paul Gassert explained that an SWCD levy would be a separate line on the tax statements. Borrowing from the USDA does not require a mandatory public hearing if the state Legislature gives the SWCD the power to levy for a building.
Commissioner Gary Peterson responded, "This whole discussion centers on committing Carlton County taxpayers to paying for a new building with no bond referendum and not even a public hearing. I am very reluctant to give any support for a one-time levy authority for the Soil and Water building even if it is the state's responsibility. Our taxpayers need to be consulted on this."
After three board votes, with Bodie, Proulx and Peterson objecting, the county board finally approved unanimously a resolution to the state Legislature acknowledging there are SWCD building needs, but saying the board was not opposing legislative action giving the SWCD money for a building. "The state Legislature must give the levy authority for their SWCD and not force the county board to levy for a state program," Brenner said to this reporter following the meeting.
When asked if this was enough to help move the Legislature to approve this one-time levy for Soil and Water, Nynas replied, "No." At this time the legislation remains locked at the Senate committee level.
Discussion continued on the effort of Lutheran Social Services (LSS) in flash flood of 2012 relief work in Carlton County.
Commissioner Peterson reflected support for LSS commenting, "There are 40 cases to complete in Carlton County. LSS is already working with these cases. We do not want these people to fall through the cracks. Eleven Quick Start loans amounting to $500,000 need to be completed. And most importantly, LSS will be in position to leverage more money for disaster relief if needed."
The board tabled any decision until County Coordinator Dennis Genereau had a list of county approved cases with LSS, explaining need and the steps and timeline to complete the work.
Duane Brownie, Veterans Affairs, updated the board on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs move to hire a coordinator for the region to run a bus system for veterans to and from the vet's hospital in the Twin Cities. In the past, the county has tried to provide transportation for the area vets.
At this time, 10 to 12 people from the local area have been providing their own transportation reimbursed by the VA at 45 cents per mile. This has been quite costly for the whole region and this new plan by the VA is being considered.
A form for agate pickers in the Moose Lake area, issued by the Moose Lake Area Chamber of Commerce for $3 with a map, was approved. County attorney Thomas Pertler commented that this does not let the county or the Moose Lake Chamber off the hook if someone is hurt in the county gravel pits and sues. "That's why you have insurance," he added.
The county Finance Committee will meet before the Committee of the Whole each month to give a recommendation to the county board on any county decision needed that is not budget neutral.