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Commission hesitates on hiring third full-time attorney

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Hubbard County is gradually rehiring its workforce, temporary seasonal workers and part-time help, and for the third time in a year the Hubbard County Attorney approached the board to say: My turn.

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County Attorney Don Dearstyne requested elevating his part-time prosecutor to a full-time position.

Assistant County Attorney Sharon Marten retired almost a year ago. She was the third attorney in the prosecutor's office. The board did grant the hiring of Michael Plante last fall, but took no action on the latest request.

Dearstyne and Plante presented statistics showing Hubbard County's caseload per attorney was markedly higher than each of the surrounding counties.

That met with some skepticism from two board members.

"We hear crime is down but your caseload is up?" questioned commissioner Don Carlson.

The case filings are up because the county has assumed prosecuting city cases, Dearstyne said. The city compensates the county for those prosecutions.

But Dearstyne said because Hubbard County has assumed sole patrol duties for Akeley, he anticipates seeing caseloads rise as they did in neighboring Nevis when that city paid to have a deputy stationed there full-time. The Akeley police chief resigned under pressure earlier this month.

"We didn't get a lot (of cases from Akeley, from their PD," Dearstyne told the board. "We will see an increase if the Sheriff's Department takes over, as we saw in Nevis."

Commissioner Greg Larson said caseloads are down to the point the county has only 1.2 judges now assigned to it. Judge Paul Rasmussen has been commuting from Clearwater County, but his caseload has gradually been reduced as the workloads shrink. Larson, however, said he was not sure how recent his numbers were; court statistics usually lag behind six months.

"Everybody seems to be down a bit," Larson maintained.

"We are charging out more serious felonies," Dearstyne said, adding those cases take much more time to prosecute.

"As other departments increase their personnel it trickles down to our office," Dearstyne said. His office gives legal advice to most of the other departments in the county.

"Once you're full-time your health benefits exceed your half-time salary," said board chair Lyle Robinson in explaining why commissioners were reluctant to act on the request.

In other action, the board:

n Heard results from an IRS audit that will change the way county employees are reimbursed for certain expenditures related to work.

If clothing is not deemed necessary for work, or worn for the sole purpose of work, it will be deemed a taxable benefits. So will personal use of county cell phones.

"You can spend more time and effort to search it out," said commissioner Cal Johannsen.

"Are we allowed to have employees working at the transfer station without jeans?" asked board chair Lyle Robinson.

"Jeans are very wearable," replied auditor Pam Heeren. To be eligible for the non-taxable benefit they must have an official logo on them that differentiates the clothing from every day wear, she said.

n Authorized the recall of a temporary highway worker and two temporary utility workers for the highway and parks departments.

n Authorized the purchase of a pneumatic roller in costs not to exceed $18,000 for the highway department. County engineer Dave Olsonawski said the smaller roller the department currently uses has a tendency to tip over in steeper ditches.

n Approved elevating one jail employee from part-time to full-time, and authorized jail personnel to increase their on-call roster from eight to ten employees.

n Met the new environmental specialist, Jeffrey Woodford. He replaces Laird Hensel, who died in a car accident in December.

n Learned that fire damage to the Public Works garage will be covered by $13,154 in insurance monies. It is believed a spark from equipment possibly ignited ceiling materials in the mechanics bay last month.

n Learned a Sentence to Service crew spent last week sandbagging in the Fargo-Moorhead area to aid the flood fight. The program recently received $6,400 in donations.

n Approved a quote for 16,500 seedlings to be planted on recently acquired land adjacent to the South Transfer Station. The trees will serve as a visual shield between the area and nearby development. The seedlings will be machine planted this spring at a cost of $130 per 1,000 trees.

Heard the 13 counties in the northwest radio region will join Hubbard County in purchasing VHF digital radios for emergency personnel. Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer said the county is pursuing $100,000 in grant monies to make some major equipment purchases.

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Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.
(218) 732-3364
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