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Commissioner discusses workforce housing in Lutsen

Heidi Doo-Kirk
Heidi Doo-Kirk

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, May 22. The following discussion and action items occurred during Tuesday’s meeting.
Highway Engineer
Cook County Highway Engineer Krysten Foster appeared first during the regularly-scheduled agenda during Tuesday’s meeting. Foster shared an update on the 2017 reconstruction of County Road 7, as well as work near a pit off of Maple Hill Drive. The projects, now complete, went over budget by more than $120,000 in combined overages.

The County Road 7 project was funded through state aid highway funds, while the Maple Hill project funds came through the recently enacted transportation sales tax.

Poor soils and gravel encountered during the reconstruction project largely contributed to the overages. However, Foster commended the work of the local highway department in making sure these overages were as minimal as possible.

Commissioner Bobby Deschampe said the overages showcase how challenging it is to do road construction projects in Cook County and northeastern Minnesota.

“You never know what you’re going to run into,” he said.
New County Employee Handbook
Speaking next was Judy Hill, the county’s human resources generalist. Hill presented the new county employee handbook to the county board for review and acceptance. Hill said the handbook has not been updated since 2013. Moving forward, it will be the policy of the county to update the handbook or at least review the handbook every two years.

A summary of the updates in the new handbook includes: removing plan names or insurance carriers that the county offers employees; certain language that was too vague regarding when employees qualify for pay increases; updating the tobacco policy to include e-cigarettes; and other general language to make the employee handbook easier to understand.
Land Services Department
Tim Nelson, the director of the county’s land services department, had a request during Tuesday’s meeting for two new semi-trailers for the county’s recycling program, including one for the new drop-off recycling site at the Hovland garage. Nelson has made several similar requests for updates to assist with the county’s recycling program in recent years. He said each time there is a need for upgrades to recycling equipment the land services department verifies if it would be better to purchase new or used equipment. In the request Tuesday, Nelson said it made more sense to purchase used equipment when it comes to semi-trailers to haul cardboard in conjunction with the recycling program. The two used trailers will cost approximately $6,000 each.

Nelson said the county can use funds set aside for the transfer station development rather than impacting the overall budget, as these trailers were an unexpected cost.
Zoning Change for Arrowhead
Bill Lane from the county’s land services department also addressed the commissioners on Tuesday. Lane had a request for a conditional use permit to place workforce housing on property owned by Cascade Lodge and Restaurant. The owners of Cascade Lodge, Thomas and Jelena McAleer, want to install two permanent modular homes on the property that would house up to six employees each, as well as one temporary recreational vehicle to provide housing for their seasonal workforce housing. The new houses would be hooked up to the current septic system at Cascade Lodge.

Lane said the potential for county-wide relief from the local housing crunch is perhaps the ability for individual businesses and commercial operations to provide housing for their employees. This request for a conditional use permit from the owners of Cascade Lodge follows exactly into that directive, Lane noted.

“There is absolutely no downside to this from our point of view,” Lane said.

Commissioner Deschampe said he appreciated a local business owner taking a critical need such as housing into their own hands rather than asking the county for money to address the issue. Other members of the county board supported that sentiment, stating it was a pro-active approach to a need facing many local businesses.
Braidy Powers
Speaking on Tuesday about the county’s 2018 issuance and sale of bonds was Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers. The county board and Powers had a lengthy discussion on Tuesday about interest rates on bonds and other financial arrangements involving this year’s bonding requests. The conversation was essentially a follow up to approval from the county board of bonding requests that range from highway construction projects to funds for the community center.

Also involved was a motion to support loan documents and other information regarding a workforce housing project in Lutsen. Bruce Kimmel from the Ehlers financial group and Scott Harrison from Lutsen Resort and the EDA were present for the discussion and to share information about the housing project. Kimmel shared many of the details about project, including how it will be funded and where the funds will come from. To hear more about this project, including specifics on funding,  type “Lutsen Housing Project” into the search tab of this website.

Commissioner Jan Sivertson said the news from Tuesday’s meeting about the housing project was “monumental.” Sivertson also praised the county’s financial planning, AA bond rating and the hard work of many agencies, committees and individuals to make the Lutsen housing project move closer to being a reality.

County Administrator Jeff Cadwell had two requests for the county board on Tuesday, both seeking approval to pursue architectural and engineering services for projects that include upgrades to the local courthouse and the YMCA in Grand Marais.

Cadwell brought a proposal from a Twin Cities based development firm whose services could range from designing a new jail facility in Cook County to roof and window replacement at the courthouse. The county will pay the WOLD architect firm approximately $19,000 for the services.

The commissioners approved this request on a 5-0 vote.

The other request from Cadwell focused on the YMCA. The county will pay a different architect firm, ARI, approximately $18,000 to prepare design plans for roof repairs, new toilet facilities and new sidewalks at the YMCA. The total cost for these upgrades to the YMCA site could cost the county at least $220,000, though Cadwell did note that the YMCA has some funding to offset the new bathroom facilities.

Cadwell said the YMCA project came forward with work currently being done at the local school district, ISD 166. A current roofing project taking place at the school could reduce the expenses involved with roof repairs at the YMCA.  Cadwell said there is an aging roof at the YMCA and one that needs to be repaired or replaced in the near future. The YMCA opened its doors with a new building in 2014. The upgrades to the roof would cost approximately $150,000.

The commissioners approved to fund the design firm and move forward with the planning for the YMCA upgrades on a unanimous vote.

And finally from Tuesday’s meeting, Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers reminded local residents that filing for county offices started on May 22 and ends June 5. This includes three seats that are up for election on the county board.

To hear more about Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners, vthe audio below features an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs and Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk about the decisions and discussion from this week’s meeting of the county board.