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Commissioners agree to support new ambulance for Gunflint Trail

Commissioner Storlie
Commissioner Storlie

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 9. The following discussion and action items occurred during Tuesday’s meeting.

Tax Abatements
Cook County Assessor Todd Smith addressed the commissioners on Tuesday about several tax issues that fell under the abatement category, which means they were incorrectly classified for the year 2017. Among them was a piece of property in Grand Portage, as well as land belonging to the Department of Agriculture and the incorrect listing of a piece of homesteaded property.
For the Grand Portage property, Smith said the parcel was incorrectly classified and the assessor’s office needed to refund taxes paid to the county dating back several years.

The commissioners had no questions for Smith about the abatements and approved the request to correct the tax issues.
Cook County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers also spoke during Tuesday’s meeting. Powers spoke about several issues the county board needed to action on, including required appointments to volunteer relief boards. In total, nearly a half dozen local residents were appointed to Maple Hill, Colvill and Gunflint volunteer relief boards.

Powers also spoke about which commissioners would serve on the extension committee and to approve a request that the county serve as the fiscal agent for a new ambulance to be used up the Gunflint Trail.

The Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan agreed to provide a portion of the funds for the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department to purchase an ambulance at an estimated cost of $200,000. The county will serve as the fiscal agent for the financial transfer.

Later in the meeting, Powers said the county received nearly $1 million in prepayment of taxes ahead of the start of 2018. This surge of payments was related to a new tax law and local property owners hoping to get deductions prior to the new year.

“We had hundreds of phone calls,” Powers said regarding people calling the auditor’s office with questions on the new tax law.
The abundance of prepaid taxes will give the county more cash on hand to start the new year, Powers said.

MnDOT Interagency Agreement
In more news from Tuesday’s meeting, the county agreed to terms with the Minnesota Department of Transportation on an interagency contract that will allow federal funds to be used locally. The resolution, which was passed by the county board on Tuesday, is essentially routine county business that must be approved annually for federal funds to support Cook County highways and projects related to the local roadways.
Administrator Update
County Administrator Jeff Cadwell spoke to the board about several employee related issues. Cadwell gave an update on the labor negations with county staff. Negotiations have been ongoing with certain county staff regarding pay and other employee benefits. The law enforcement department for the county and the local 49er group, more commonly known as equipment operators, were both being negotiated dating back to last summer, Cadwell said. There were some changes to each respective contract for county staff who are organized with these employee groups, mostly based on cost of living and other wage-related issues.

Commissioner Jan Sivertson praised the efforts of both sides during the recent contract negotiations, explaining that dialogue and the process of leadership was tremendous throughout.

The commissioners voted to accept the updated contracts on a 5-0 vote.

In more news from the administrator, Cadwell said the position of maintenance supervisor for the highway department is now open. The county has been paying wages and health insurance for now former Maintenance Supervisor Russell Klegstad while he was battling an illness. Under a motion approved by the board on Tuesday, Klegstad is no longer a county employee.
Commissioner Updates
Near the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk spoke about a recent Youth in Government program she participated in with local youth in Cook County. Doo-Kirk said the Youth in Government team did a great job participating in the event at the Capitol in St. Paul. The local students had the opportunity to meet with Representative Rob Ecklund during the event, Doo-Kirk said.

Talking points during the conference as brought forward by local students from Cook County include a mock bill to ban copper-nickel mines in the region and another related to food served in the local schools.
To hear more about Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners, the audio below features an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs and Board Chair Ginny Storlie.