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Commissioners approve Capital Improvement Plan

Jan Sivertson
Jan Sivertson

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, April 10. The following discussion and action items occurred during Tuesday’s meeting.
Public Comment
There was one person who spoke in the public comment period during Tuesday’s meeting. Local resident Arvis Thompson had a series of questions and concerns about county spending, particularly with bonding requests for 2018. Thompson wanted more information about how the spending of millions of dollars on a year-to-year basis impacts the annual budget.

Thompson also wanted more details on a proposed citizen committee that will be involved with setting the county budget.
Public Hearing
There were two public hearings during Tuesday’s meeting of the county board. Prior to the hearings, County Attorney Molly Hicken shared a refresher on the purpose of public hearings. Hicken used a brief slideshow presentation to explain the purpose and structure of public hearings.

The first public hearing Tuesday focused on fee schedules from various department heads, including how much it will cost to put up fire numbers, also known as address markers, for new homes, apartments or subdivisions on property already recognized by the county. Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the county had a flat rate of $100 for each new fire-number sign posted at or near the intersection of a driveway and county roadway. For multi-unit developments, this fee schedule could become very expensive. The county changed the rate from $100 for each sign, to a rate or $100 for the primary residence and $15 for each subunit.

The second public hearing held on Tuesday focused on this year’s capital improvement plans and bonds for the county. In February, the Cook County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to issue capital improvement bonds, for a not-to-exceed amount of $9.8 million. Part of the process is to hold a public hearing on the county’s Capital Improvement Plan. In addition to Tuesday’s public hearing as a sanction of the regular county board meeting, there was a public information session held on Monday, April 9.

During Tuesday’s meeting, there was additional information provided to the commissioners from Bruce Kimmel from the Ehlers financial group. Kimmel gave a summary of the capital improvement plan for 2018 and how it will be scheduled to repay all bonding requests from this year. This was a recap of the meeting Monday night and the many months of planning the county spent preparing budgets for a variety of projects.

Kimmel pointed out the fact the county’s bonding rating is extremely good, a double-A rating from the S&P report.
“You’re doing awesome work on the financial management front,” Kimmel said.

The board approved the 2018 Capital Improvement Plan resolutions on unanimous votes.  In addition, the commissioners and Kimmel had a lengthy conversation about a proposed housing development by One Roof Housing and the EDA in Lutsen that involved the sale of $1.6 million tax abatement bonds for the project. Following that conversation, the board approved the resolution to financially support the project.
Highway Engineer
In more news from Tuesday’s meeting, Cook County Highway Engineer Krysten Foster addressed the board during the regularly-scheduled agenda. Foster shared the 2017 annual report for the highway department with the commissioners, including an update on the Sawbill Trail paving.

Lisa Sorlie from the highway department joined Foster on Tuesday to share an update with the county board. Sorlie talked specific budget numbers from the highway department from the fiscal year 2017 and moving forward in 2018. Total assets for the highway department are just over $2.5 million, Sorlie explained, and there are many projects in the works and planned for local roadways and infrastructure in the coming years. Both Foster and Sorlie provided a very detailed report on the finances and projects related to the Cook County Highway Department.
County Administrator Update
County Administrator Jeff Cadwell shared several updates during Tuesday’s meeting on a variety of county news. In response to the comments and concerns raised by Arvis Thompson during the public comment period, Cadwell said he and Auditor Braidy Powers would put together a document that describes a variety of financial situations that county can, or will be facing regarding debt and expenses.

In more news, Cadwell said there will be changes to how the county records and broadcasts meetings of the commissioners. Patrick Knight, the owner of Good Measure Media in Grand Marais, has taken a job with the city and will no longer be able to record the meetings of the county board. Knight will continue recording county meetings through the month of April. Moving forward, Cadwell explained, the county board will need another means to record their meetings.

One possibility is the county using its current technology to record the meetings, Cadwell said. Another option is to upgrade some equipment to record the meetings.

“Technology breaks, so we will need staff to make sure it runs,” Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk said of recording future meetings.

Meetings that take place in the commissioners’ room at the Cook County Courthouse, such as regular meetings of the county board, would likely be recorded and possibly even live-streamed using a basic recorder that the county owns.

After some discussion on how to proceed, the commissioners decided county staff will spend the next several weeks researching options for how to record future meetings.
Commissioner Updates
In more discussion from Tuesday’s meeting, Doo-Kirk and Board Chair Ginny Storlie responded to Thompson’s comments about forming a citizen committee to provide input during the budget process. Doo-Kirk emphasized the fact any input from citizens would be strictly that, and not necessarily have the final word in the overall budget.

To hear more about Tuesday’s meeting of the county board, below is an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs and Commissioner Jan Sivertson about the decisions and discussion from this week’s meeting of the county board.