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Doo-Kirk talks levy vote, commissioner salaries

Heidi Doo-Kirk
Heidi Doo-Kirk

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, Dec. 12. The following discussion and action items occurred during Tuesday’s meeting.
Public Comment
There were six people who spoke during the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting.

Lutsen resident John Brisky spoke first. Brisky voiced his support for the board’s choice to raise the levy by double digits this year. Brisky also voiced his “disgust” with the Cook County News-Herald, that he claims has run a “smear campaign” against the commissioners and county staff to dismiss the need for the tax increase. Brisky also noted that he found it ironic that the “chief campaigner” against the county board does not own property in Cook County and therefore does not pay real estate taxes locally.

John Bottger also spoke during Tuesday’s meeting. He praised the leadership of the county board and said communication between the commissioners and the public has been outstanding.  

Joyce Heiskari was the third individual to speak during the public comment period. She said the county board’s intent to increase local taxes by as much as 17.5 percent is unacceptable and not fair to local taxpayers. On a positive note, Heiskari said she approved of the board’s choice to not financially support a coordinator position for the local cycling association.

Another local resident, Don Davison, said he was unhappy with recent actions of the county board. Davison brought up a potential violation of notification for open meeting laws, claiming the recent Truth in Taxation meeting notification was not published in time. Davison also voiced an issue with how the Truth in Taxation meeting was handled, saying the public does not want to be mistreated or verbally abused by elected officials.

Also speaking Tuesday was Arvis Thompson, who said too much money is provided in Cook County to support tourism. Thompson said a list of organizations and events that the county plans to financially support in 2018 is unclear in where funds are going and why.

The final person to speak during the public comment period was Paul Nelson, who said he moved from Dakota County, Minnesota, and was surprised the taxes were lower in Cook County. Nelson said the commissioners are doing the right thing to raise local property taxes as a means to balance the budget and to continue providing valuable services.  

“It takes commissioners who have the intelligence to see there is a problem,” Nelson said, “and to have the courage to fix it.”
Vote on levy
Near the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners voted to set the levy at an increase of 17.5 percent.

The motion to set the levy increase, which will increase local property taxes, was made by Commissioner Myron Bursheim. It was supported by Commissioners Ginny Storlie and Jan Sivertson. It passed on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioner Bobby Deschampe voting against because he felt the increase was too much. Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk voted against because she felt a 19.9 increase would better serve the county in the long term.

The choice to set the levy at 17.5 percent this year came after the board deliberated for months – and intensely for weeks – on how to reach a balanced budget for 2018. The levy will now allow for $9.5 million for the county to operate.

A preliminary levy increase of 19.9 percent had been set in September, with the county’s budget committee working with those figures for months until it was lowered last week to 17.5 percent.
Pictometry Contract
Moving into action items from Tuesday’s meeting, Rena Rogers and Kyle Oberg from the county’s I.T. department explained the value and benefits of a digital land survey the county hopes to conduct soon. The county has been discussing a pictometry – or digital aerial survey – contract for several months. Rogers explained that numerous county departments, including the highway, assessor and sheriff’s departments, that will all benefit from an updated land survey.

This aerial survey will take place in spring 2018 before leaves are on the trees, Rogers said. The study will cover an area of 1,134 sq. miles. Partnering with the county to hire a firm to conduct the survey work will be the City of Grand Marais, Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Arrowhead Electric and the U.S. Forest Service.

The board approved to support the pictometry contract by a vote of 5-0.
Aquatic Invasive – Amanda Weberg  
In more news from Tuesday’s meeting, Amanda Weberg, the Cook County Aquatic Invasive Species coordinator, shared a complete 2017 report to the county board. Weberg shared all of the valuable partnerships she worked with during the last year, including local law enforcement and various state agencies.

Weberg cited an aquatic vegetation workshop this summer on East Bearskin Lake with Cook County Soil and Water and University of Minnesota staff that was a great success. No invasive species were found during the event, which is a good thing, but Weberg said the team did find the diversity of aquatic plants in the lake to be impressive and a success story for the AIS team and the county at large.

In addition, this year Weberg said she heard from several parents in Cook County about the great value in working with local youth to raise awareness of not spreading invasive species in Cook County waters. An example of this would be education about not dropping fishing bait into lakes, among other preventative measures people can take to keep local lakes free from invasive species, Weberg said.

On a less positive note, Weberg said the invasive species rusty crayfish were found in Duncan Lake this year. Duncan is a popular lake for recreation in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It is located in the mid-Gunflint Trail area. Weberg said in all likelihood the rusty crayfish came through a drainage from West Bearskin, which has harbored the invasive species for years.
To hear more about Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners, the audio below is an interview with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs and Commissioner Doo-Kirk.