Commissioners start year with organizational meeting

Rhonda Silence

Every year the Cook County Board of Commissioners holds a special meeting on the first Tuesday of January, dubbed the organizational meeting. At that meeting new commissioners are sworn in, the board chair and vice-chair are selected and commissioners and citizens are appointed to various boards and commissions. This year’s meeting was Tuesday, January 5 and it began, as always, with no board chair. The county Auditor-Treasurer assumes that role until a new board chair is elected or the previous board chair is reelected.

Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers called the meeting to order and after the Pledge of Allegiance asked for nominations. Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk and Garry Gamble received validation from their county board colleagues when a unanimous motion was passed to reelect them as board chair and vice chair for another year.

Commissioner Frank Moe made the motion, noting that he would like to see some consistency for the board. “We had some difficult issues in the last few months of this board. I feel like our leadership rose to the challenge and led us admirably,” said Moe.

After the motion, Powers happily passed the gavel to Chair Doo-Kirk who said he did a fine job overseeing the start of the meeting. Powers quipped, “I’m good for about a minute.”

The board then moved on to “housekeeping matters,” confirming its earlier decision on travel and mileage reimbursement, keeping the rates the same as 2015 and setting the county board’s 2016 meeting dates.

Highway Department Advisory Committee members named

In what has become a routine matter, the board designated Highway Engineer David Betts as the County Agriculture Inspector. The highway engineer receives an additional $7,000 in compensation for serving as the county Agriculture Inspector.

Betts was at the special meeting as the board named citizens to serve on the newly formed County Highway Advisory Committee. County representatives on the committee are Betts and County Administrator Jeff Cadwell, along with County Board Liaison Ginny Storlie. Citizens are Bobby Deschampe, representing Grand Portage; Charlie LaBoda representing commissioner District 1; Peter Harris in District 2; Bruce Strand in District 4; and Stanley Tull in District 5. Myron Bursheim, of Hovland and Grand Marais, was appointed as an at-large committee member. The District 3 position is open and Betts said he had heard from someone who was interested in serving, but they had not yet confirmed.

Commissioner Moe noted that the District 5 seat had two applicants, Tull and Bill Hansen of Tofte. Moe said either candidate would represent the district well, but added, “Stan is here.”

The board discussed expectations for the committee and Betts said, “I’m looking forward to good, positive discussion.”

County to collect non-county levies

A motion was passed to “spread and collect” levies payable by county residents for services provided by entities other than the county, such as the City of Grand Marais; the towns of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder; for six fire districts; the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority; Cook County Hospital District; Arrowhead Regional Development Commission; the Tofte/Schroeder Sewer District and School District 166.

Moe pointed out that all of these levies are in addition to the county levy, which was held to a an 8.5-percent increase. The noncounty levies totaled $1,127,478, an increase of $9,789 from the 2015 non-county levies of $1,117,689. See the table above for levy changes.

Moe said these additional levies are why the county struggled so hard with its levy and the decision to increase county taxes. “It’s because it’s not just our levy,” he said.

Commissioner Garry Gamble agreed, noting, “It’s the cumulative impact.”

Moe expressed appreciation to the other governmental entities that work to keep government services “affordable and efficient.”

In other business

. The board approved the 2016 schedule for commissioners to be interviewed on WTIP Community Radio. Commissioners take turns going on air at 9:15 a.m. on Wednesday mornings following the Tuesday county board meetings. Next up will be Commissioner Jan Sivertson on January 13.

. The board set a public hearing for January 26, 2016 to consider changing miscellaneous fees. Department heads will submit proposals for increased or decreased fees to the auditor’s office before that hearing.

. The board unanimously voted to accept the one bid for official newspaper services from the Cook County News-Herald. The rate was unchanged from the previous two years, $8.75 per column inch.

. The board considered whether or not to pay $150 in dues to continue to be members of Greater Minnesota Parks & Trails (GMPT). The organization works to see that greater Minnesota sees financial benefit from the state Parks & Trails Legacy funds similar to the metro area. GMPT also asked the county to contribute additional funding to help provide legislative lobbying services. Because an additional expenditure had not been budgeted for, the board declined, although it was agreed that request would be revisited at the end of the next legislative session.

. Most of the meeting was spent reviewing and updating commissioner assignments. The commissioners divvied up assignments for 194 different boards, commissions and committees.

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