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Personnel matters top county's June agenda

Cook County Courthouse and government offices. WTIP file photo
Cook County Courthouse and government offices. WTIP file photo

The Cook County Board of Commissioners held its regular end-of-the-month meeting on Tuesday, June 25 and on the agenda were a number of personnel matters.

One of the first orders of business was the administration of the oath of office to our new county assessor, Robert Thompson. With that appointment, Todd Smith’s employment as county assessor ended.

So, later in Tuesday’s meeting, the board considered an “involuntary demotion” for previous assessor Smith, who was aware of the proposal. With the demotion, the board was asked to consider keeping Smith on staff as the assistant county assessor, a decrease in salary to $33.85 from $43.73.  The board passed a motion to make that change.

In another personnel matter, Administrator Jeff Cadwell explained the “reclassification” of the job description for the administrative assistant in his office. He explained that the change is due to the fact that the public information officer job, previously held by Valarie Marasco Eliasen had been was eliminated and some of the duties were added to the administrative assistant’s job. The assistant has also taken on the task of overseeing the iCompass agenda software, the new system for providing board meeting information to the public on the county’s website.

With the job description reclassification, the administrative assistant position will receive a salary increase of $1.31 per hour.

However, Commissioner Dave Mills, who sits on the county personnel committee, pointed out that there is a savings of $5.80 per hour because the public information officer role had been taken out of the emergency management director starting salary.

Colvill subordinate service district considered for Kelly’s Hill
The county board heard from members of the Kelly’s Hill Road Association in Colvill, who came in with a request for creation of a subordinate government services district—an SGSD—which give the county authority to maintain the road and to assess property owners along the road for that work.

Hillary Freeman spoke for the road association, noting that the goal is to have all of the property owners along the road share the road maintenance expenses—something that she said is not happening now.

To create a subordinate services district, a public meeting must be held, so a public hearing date was set for August 13 at 9 a.m. to consider and to give the public the opportunity to comment.

County board chair Ginny Storlie noted that there are five or six such service districts in the county already.

Commissioners express frustration over future of PILT
County Auditor Braidy Powers reported to the board that the county had received $761,263 from the federal government as a payment of lieu of taxes, or PILT. However, Auditor Powers said the funds arrived with no documentation or communication explaining which specific PILT program the funds came from. 

Powers said other counties have also been frustrated by the uncertainty of where the funds came from and how they could be allocated.
For that reason, Powers said the funds were held until this week when he said it was determined that the funds are from a PILT program titled “Secure Rural Schools.” Powers said it appears the funds are back payments from 2017 and 2018.

Some of the money is intended to assist townships with federal lands within their borders, so $60,135.57 will go to the West End townships and the County will retain $701,127.43 as a payment in lieu of taxes.

Commissioners were asked to pass a motion to accept those funds, which they did, while expressing frustration at the lack of communication about the allocation and use of the funds. Commissioners also expressed concern about the future reimbursements for federal land and the impact on the county budget.

Final approval for run and ski equipment grant
The county approved a motion to accept a $51,336 grant from the Federal Recreation Trails Program for equipment to be used by the North Shore Ski and Run Club and Superior Cycling Association for maintenance of ski and cycling trails
This has been a grant that has been in the works for several months, but purchase of the equipment has been delayed by the difficulty in meeting the “Buy American” mandate. Auditor Braidy Powers said in the past equipment purchased under such programs had to be made in America. He said the requirement has been changed to require that the steel used in making the equipment be certified as U.S. produced steel.
Tim Kennedy and Chris O’Brian, of the Superior Cycling Association and the North Shore Ski and Run Club, noted that it is nearly impossible to find the needed equipment that meets that requirement.

Auditor Powers said there is some risk in accepting the grant without certifications for all equipment.

The run and ski group can continue to seek a waiver from the rule on American steel certification but if that doesn't happen, and if this grant were audited and found to be not in compliance, there is a possibility of an order to return some of the grant. The likelihood of that is unknown.

The county does have a balance of recreation funds from the state in lieu of taxes of $17,191 at the end of 2018 with another $37,000 expected in July 2019. Powers said that amount could be held in contingency should the worst case occur.

The board passed a motion to accept the grant for the groups and to hold those funds in reserve should the need for repayment arise at some point. The motion passed unanimously, with Commissioner Dave Mills adding that if that were the case, there should be a plan that the equipment could also be used by other recreation users in the county.

WTIP invited County Administrator Jeff Cadwell in to the studio to talk about those personnel matters, a road project, a new communication tower and a glitch in the recording of the last county board meeting. Here’s Rhonda Silence with that conversation.