By Dan Reed
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

County decides on HealthPartners

 


The Carlton County Board of Commissioners are expected to pick HealthPartners for county employee health coverage at a major cost savings with little change in benefits. Final approval cannot be accepted until the seven unions involved vote in favor of the new health coverage. This would be a change for existing negotiated contracts. The consent from all the involved unions may come in early November.

After the Committee of the Whole meeting on November 1, county coordinator Dennis Genereau explained, “As facts have come out during this process, it is apparent that the offer from Blue Cross is not as good as the HealthPartners proposal for the next three years. Carlton County has a good insurance rating at this time, due to the overall good health of county employees covered. The experience rating will affect cost of future insurance coverage.”

Change of health coverage companies has sparked lots of conversation in the union membership and among other county staff. At this time, new contracts are being negotiated between the county board and unions for next year’s budget cycle.

The Carlton County Transportation Department has a $2.4 million general operating budget for this current fiscal year. The dedicated half-cent sales tax brings in $1.8 million yearly at this time. The Jarvi Road by Cloquet will cost about $1 million to rebuild and asphalt. The Eagle Lake Road near Cromwell will cost about $1/2 million for grade work and asphalt.

There has been some unanticipated savings in this transportation budget year. Some new transportation staff could not be found with the necessary work experience. There is a shortage of skilled staff in the available labor market. New hires with little job experience are now being trained by current county staff to get them up to speed for their position duties. Some positions remained unfilled during the budget cycle.

Fuel prices are down. Due to the extended soft spring roads, dump trucks were kept off county roads. Other necessary work used pickups to catch up on unfinished duties. Savings overall in the transportation budget is estimated at about $300,000.

Some of next year's Committee of the Whole meetings, perhaps five, will be held in different county locations starting with a meeting at the Fond du Lac Band Tribal Center. The plan is to build relations with all parts of the county and get citizen feedback. It has been several years since this type of outreach has occurred.

Economic Development Director Connie Christensen spoke strongly for the county board to establish a dedicated capital outlay fund for future federal and state funding and bonding authority. She commented, “Documentation of leverage, such as a dedicated capital outlay fund, gives us a better chance to get funding or a bonding project. We should go into every state budget cycle with a bonding project, such as the Highway 210 utilities project, development work at the transportation building land, or a building upgrade or replacement.”

Commissioner Dick Brenner observed, “We have a million dollars now to be used for a capital outlay project. We just have not been ready to pick a particular project to start.”

County engineer Mike Tardy and assistant county engineer Milt Hagen updated the road projects for 2016. Most work is completed. Both asphalt layers have been completed on the County State-Aid Highway (CSAH) 12 road project from County Road 132 to south of Anderson Road. The remaining roadbed of CSAH 12 from south of Anderson Road to Highway 23/73 had only the first two inches of asphalt installed. Portions of the roadbed are still soft. The decision was made to let it settle for the winter months, make necessary repairs after breakup and apply the finishing 1½-inch asphalt lift in early summer.

Commissioner Gary Peterson asked, “How many miles of road have been done with the half percent sales tax so far?”

Tardy replied, “Eight miles.”

 

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