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Commissioners plan to set preliminary levy Sept. 19

Heidi Doo-Kirk
Heidi Doo-Kirk

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Sept. 12. The following discussion and action items occurred during Tuesday’s meeting.
New Recycling Trailer
Cook County’s Land Services Director Tim Nelson made a request for a new recycling trailer for the east end of the county. The trailer will be similar to other recycling containers located throughout the county that allow for centralized dropping points for recyclables without having to drive to Grand Marais.

“They are costly rigs, but they do last 10 to 12 years,” Nelson said. “And this will not impact the budget as there are funds available through the future landfill development fund.”

Currently, there is not a recycling trailer conveniently available for residents of Hovland or the Arrowhead Trail and surrounding area. There is a recycling trailer in Grand Portage, two up the Gunflint Trail, one in Lutsen and one in Tofte.

Commissioner Bobby Deschampe, who represents the east end of Cook County, thanked Nelson for following through on bringing this new recycling trailer to the county. The new trailer will be located at the county’s Highway Department property in Hovland.
Maple Hill Fire Department
Cook County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers brought forward a request from the Maple Hill Fire Department for a loan of 10 years at no interest for improvement of a fire hall access road, as well as the addition of a bathroom and washer/dryer room at Hedstrom Hall.

The total loan request from the Maple Hill Fire Department was for $36,000. The remodeling of the fire hall will start in 2018, and the work on the access road was finished this summer.
County Administrator Jeff Cadwell brought forward a number of agenda items and discussion topics to the county board during Tuesday’s meeting. Cadwell first discussed union contract negotiations, namely what certain county staff are paid for working weekends. Board Chair Jan Sivertson said she was involved with contract negotiations with the local 49er union of operating engineers and found the process educating. The agreement Cadwell brought forward includes implementation of the comp study pay scale and job classification. 

Cadwell also requested authorization of a change order for a municipal truck to add all-wheel drive capabilities. Job openings in the highway department mean purchasing the truck and adding four-wheel drive will not impact the county’s 2017 budget.
Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk said it is reasonable to request four-wheel drive to the new truck so that the highway department can do their job effectively.

Commissioner Deschampe said the highway department does not need this new plow truck at the expense of $183,000 and that the four-wheel drive addition of $39,000 is only adding to what Commissioner Deschampe called an unnecessary expense.

“I hope the board does more research,” Deschampe said.


With regard to county staff, Cadwell provided an update for the ongoing search for a highway engineer. As the official application deadline has come and gone, with only one person applying for the job, the county will need to continue its search for a highway engineer, Cadwell said.

The highway advisory committee was not comfortable making a decision to fill the vacant highway engineer opening from a field on one, according to the county administrator.

The county is also without a Health and Human Services Director following the resignation of Josh Beck in July. The county has received one application for a human services director, with the applicant being an internal one, or someone who is currently working for the county.  An interview with this candidate will likely take place next week, Cadwell said.

Turning to the 2018 budget and levy, Cadwell provided an update to the county board. The board discussed, at length, how to fund non-mandated service requests for 2018. This includes funding requests for local organizations such as the Art Colony, Cooperation Station and the Senior Center.

Commissioner Doo-Kirk said it would be appropriate for the county board to take a vote on non-mandated requests so that local organizations and entities can plan accordingly regarding their 2018 budgets. However, Board Chair Sivertson said it would be appropriate to take at least one more week before taking action on funding or not funding non-mandated services or requests.
And lastly from Tuesday’s meeting, Board Chair Jan Sivertson asked the commissioners where they all sit with regard to setting the 2018 levy.

The commissioners responded with the following statements, which in part summarize their feelings toward the levy:

Commissioner Bursheim: Spread out the levy increase over three years by increases of 15,14 and 13 percent.

Commissioner Doo-Kirk: Spread out the levy over three years, increasing by 15, 14 and 13 percent, though she would not be opposed to setting it higher.

Commissioner Storlie: Spread out the levy over three years, increasing by 15, 14 and 13, though she would not be opposed to setting at least the preliminary levy higher for 2018. 

Commissioner Deschampe: Wants to spread out the levy over a longer term than the proposed three year increase the board has been discussing for months. Deschampe said he would not vote to support the levy increase at 15, 14 and 13 percent increase over the next three years and would rather focus on cutting the county’s budget.  

Board Chair Sivertson: Would prefer a substantial one-time levy increase of over 20 percent which would likely allow single digit increases in subsequent years.
At their next meeting on Sept. 19, the commissioners are expected to vote on and set a preliminary, or maximum levy for 2018.
To hear more about Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners, listen to audio below for an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs and Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk.