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County continues to discuss 'citizen advisory committee' for budget process

Myron Bursheim
Myron Bursheim

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, April 24. The following discussion and action items occurred during Tuesday’s meeting.
Public Comment
For the first time in many months, there was not a single individual who spoke Tuesday during the public comment period of a meeting of the country board.
Highway Engineer
New Cook County Highway Engineer Krysten Foster appeared first during the regularly-scheduled agenda during Tuesday’s meeting. Foster shared an update on the Lutsen Bridge reconstruction process, including a cost-share agreement with the Lutsen Mountains Corporation.

Prior to giving details about the Lutsen Bridge project, Foster explained the process of engineer estimates to the county board. In looking at the Lutsen Bridge, for example, Foster said it can be challenging to estimate expected costs based on historical bids. There has not been a project such as the Lutsen Bridge reconstruction in many years in Cook County, so basing engineer costs on historical data can be problematic. Engineering bids are often done locally based on the work of other entities and construction work in the region, including the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

After sharing that background information, Foster recommended awarding the Lutsen Bridge construction project to S & R Reinforcing out of Aitkin, Minnesota. Lutsen Mountains will contribute more than $67,000 to the project. The overall project is likely to cost more than $800,000.

If any bonding issues arrive in 2018, the county will likely pay for this project with cash reserves collected through the recently enacted sales-tax that was created specifically to benefit the Cook County Highway Department.
Land Services Department
Tim Nelson, the director of the county’s land services department, shared an update on the proposed septic ordinance amendments that was recently passed by the planning commission. The most recent update to the septic ordinance was in 2016, and since that time the land services department has noticed several provisions in the ordinance that can be modified to bring more flexibility to the septic program or make it more efficient. Included in the update to the septic ordinance is language about minor repairs to sewage tanks, the number of potential permits a contractor or property owner could have active at any given time to install a septic system and documents needed for alternative septic site requests.

Nelson said the county continues to listen to contractors and local residents about the effectiveness and flexibility of the septic ordinance, while also maintaining good environmental stewardship on county land.

The local planning commission voted unanimously to approve the updates to the septic ordinance, a move the county board followed on Tuesday.
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 zoning change on property owned by Arrowhead Electric Cooperative in Lutsen from single-family residential to general commercial on property adjacent to the Arrowhead headquarters off Highway 61.  

Lane said Arrowhead Electric purchased land in 2015 that was formerly owned by a family with a long history in Cook County. This property is now being subdivided, with some being used for a workforce housing project, for Arrowhead Electric and for the township of Lutsen.

After some brief discussion on the rezoning, the commissioners supported the project on a unanimous vote.
Braidy Powers
Speaking on Tuesday about the county’s 2017 general fund and a review of the county’s budget was Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers. This is an annual report that breaks down the budget into four quarters for the past fiscal year. Powers pointed out several of the key statistics in the general fund budget review for 2017, including costs to social services, an increase in administrative expenses and a surplus in revenues from the county attorney’s office.

Commissioner Myron Bursheim wanted the specifics on what happens with any surplus to the projected budget. Powers said any surpluses would go directly to the general reserve fund maintained by the county. 
To hear more about Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners and an update from the Cook County Budget Committee, below is an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs and Commissioner Bursheim.