Federal funds to react to the impacts of Covid19 in Carlton County have started to be allocated. Carlton County Board action on September 8 approved funding in four general categories, drawing from the $4.4 million received in July.
Keeping $1.2 million in reserve for unexpected costs, $800,000 was set aside to help small business and non-profits. Grants will be given through the Carlton County Economic Development Authority (EDA) for up to $7500. The application form has been written but needs a review and approval by the EDA Board this next week and approval from the County Board on September 21. At that time applications will be available on the County website and should be filled out by interested small businesses and non-profits. Any questions should be referred to the Carlton County EDA.
The next $800,000 is set aside for the Public Health and Human Services in which the Family Initiative Department and the United Way will assist in the distribution of funds. $68,000 is set aside for a rapid testing and tracing program to handle an anticipated surge in Covid19 cases this winter. $250,000 will be administered by local non-profits such as the United Way. $575,457 has been designated as current funding as of September 3, 2020.
Community Communication has set aside funding of $800,000 and the Board approved $700,000 in Communication improvements. For example $107,000 will be used in the Recorder’s Office to scan digitally all the rest of that office’s real estate records and other recorded records they handle. After this is done a person will find the needed documents online and with a small fee be able to print them at their workplace.
In specific costs in that funding stream $100,000 is for technology upgrades in the offices of the 1307 Cloquet Avenue building. At that site $200,000 will be used to establish the Emergency Operations Center which will not be going into the building’s basement. The technology expenditures approved to this point range in the $700,000 area.
County Coordinator Genereau pointed out that all these upgrades center on two goals – communication with the citizens of Carlton County and those staff members that are working at home and also to make more room in the Courthouse by moving some staff to the 1307 Cloquet Ave. building.
In the Community Investment and Infrastructure Reimbursement area already $715,000 has been committed of the initial $800,000 budget level with $500,000 focused on recouping wages for staff spending time on Covid19 issues. Air handling costs of $133,000 will upgrade both the 1307 Cloquet Ave building and the Transportation building. $40,000 will be used to convert all county restrooms to touch free facilities. $17,000 will be distributed to child care providers and facilities who were eligible but did not receive Northland Foundation grants earlier.
Upgrading the air handling situation in the Courthouse is being considered using new technology. County Coordinator Dennis Genereau will come back with costs and avenues to follow.
Reliable and economical broadband for the rural areas of the County has been cited in the Covid19 funding guidelines for accepted support as an economic driver in the rural areas and a tool for children going to school.A local broadband provider Genesis based out of Braham, MN presented options for upgrading rural internet service in Carlton County.
Co-owner of Genesis Jay Mankie said his company was formed in 1999, buying out Moose Tech in 2016 and currently has wireless installed on 23 water towers.
Mankie commented, “If those of us in this business had one system to provide high speed internet to all customers in Carlton County someone would have done it, but we do not have that capability as a society. We as a company use most of our focus to solve the lack of rural internet service.”
They presented a possible grid of towers to provide dependable internet service to Western Carlton County. During their presentation for rural internet service, Mankie advised to consider installing fiber cables run on our local electric poles as a reasonable, cost effective way to provide internet service. He said he has not contacted Lake Country Power to see if they would consider a secondary use for their electric pole network. This system called passive optical network would bring a larger cable into an area of several houses and split the cable to each home.
A state wide group promoting rural broadband has asked for all rural residents with internet to test the capability of their service with a speed test. Any interested internet user can test the speed of their internet service by going to the County website, then to the EDA to find the site. Googling you should find it at Rural Broadband Speed Test Initiative. The initiative is to prove how poorly the rural areas have good internet service. This reporter checked his internet speed and the download and upload registered .83 and .08 – a very poor rating.
Auditor/Treasurer Kathy Korteum reported that a letter is being sent out from the Minnesota Secretary of State to all voters that have not requested an absentee ballot to do so if they wish. It is a move for people to vote early and not personally vote at this time of Covid. Anyone can check to see if in fact you have requested an absentee ballot by going to mnvote.org. Korteum added that there will be a drop box inside the east door of the Courthouse next to the security station for those that wish to drop their ballots off personally.