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Hubbard County picks simplest redistricting plan

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In the end, it entailed moving 67 voters into another district.

The county's finalized redistricting plan was the easiest one presented, the one that didn't necessitate extra elections, and the one that didn't disrupt Park Rapids' representation in the county. The city will keep its two commissioners of the five districts.

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Dick Devine and Lyle Robinson's seats in Districts 2 and 4, will be on the fall ballot, as initially planned.

None of the other Hubbard County commissioners' districts changed population enough to require a special election.

It seemed a slam-dunk.

That is, until County Attorney Don Dearstyne had his say.

The 67-vote bloc in Discovery Circle may not be contiguous to the district it was added to, he said, under its legal definition.

Auditor Pam Heeren, who called the Secretary of State's election division during the last board meeting for approval, said that office had given the move the thumbs up.

"They're not the ones that have to defend it," Dearstyne countered. "There's no case law dealing with it."

By law, notices must be sent to all the residents affected. Dearstyne cautioned the board not to take the easiest way out, if that was the sole reason for the redistricting.

The board disagreed and approved the plan.

In other action, the board:

n Authorized the Parks and Recreation Department to continue planning for a multi-use park to be placed on tax forfeited land off County Road 15 in the south end of town.

The park as envisioned would have a Frisbee golf course, a dog park and a BMX/mountain bike course.

Commissioners asked parks supervisor Greg Hensel to come back with more precise costs for the 2013 budget, from his preliminary estimate of $17,075. The Frisbee golf course was approved last year for Heartland Park, but commissioners worried the park is becoming too congested to add another activity to.

The plan wasn't universally embraced, however. Robinson suggested a disproportionate amount of park revenues are going to the city of Park Rapids, while parks in the county's smaller towns could use more facilities, too.

"How do I support it when it doesn't benefit the people in my district?" he asked. "It's like we're running around looking for ways to spend money."

He suggested keeping existing parks maintained as a priority over building new.

Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier said by 2013, funds would be freed up from one-time expenditures for projects in other parks.

"There are no parks out there and quite a bit of development," Hensel said. "It will be built gradually."

n Discussed possible ramifications for rural counties if the Voter ID law is passed by the public next fall. Auditor Pam Heeren has been communicating with other county officials and election directors.

The law might have some unintended and unknown consequences, she told the board.

If Internet access is needed to verify a voter's address, driver's license or other information, most town halls in the northern part of the county may not be able to verify ballot information on the spot.

Voters could still cast provisional ballots later, she told the board, but that would leave final results open for days during the verification process.

Two townships, Clay and Thorpe, have indicated a willingness to participate in mail balloting to save funds, Heeren said.

Would mail balloting be allowed under the new law, which will actually be a change of the state's constitution, Heeren wondered.

If the measure passes, the 2013 Legislature would be charged with ironing out those details. The issue goes before voters Nov. 6.

But there could be astronomical costs for counties, such as issuing the state IDs.

Even though the law says the state would issue them free to voters, Heeren is doubtful.

"They say the state is going to give these people a voter ID," she said. "I don't know that the state has the capability of issuing those. The counties do. We issue photo IDs in the license bureau and we charge for them. So who's going to end up doing this? At whose expense?"

n Heard the county's migrant laborers planted 300,000 seedlings over 386 acres on 14 sites starting on Good Friday.

Lohmeier said tougher immigration laws could prevent the Mexican nationals from coming into the U.S. in the future under temporary visas, and the county might have to find other spring planting help.

n Heard income maintenance cases and intakes rose in March, just as Social Services officials thought they'd plateaued.

"This isn't a good sign," Social Services Director Daryl Bessler said.

n Accepted the Soil and Water Conservation District's Annual Report, then threw new director Mark Sommer a curve ball he wasn't expecting.

Robinson asked why the county's insurer wouldn't provide coverage to watercraft inspectors hired by the county as summer employees as proposed a few years ago, when SWCD is in the process of hiring 11.

Sommer said he spoke to MCIT, the Minnesota Intergovernmental Insurance trust, and received approval for the hires.

Coincidentally, MCIT representative Bob Goede had just given his annual report and was in the room. He wasn't sure if he was the one who'd talked to Sommer, but said he'd doublecheck the liability issue.

Commissioners were worried that in assuming the responsibility of inspecting watercraft at public access launches, they might assume the liability, too.

'To me it's a DNR job," board chair Dick Devine said. "They should be doing it."

Several lake associations pooled funds and donated them as a grant to SWCD to hire inspectors for the summer boating season.

"It's something MCIT should discuss," Devine said. "The DNR has $75 million in a big fancy account and we don't have anything."

He asked Gede to "review it to make sure we're not liable."

Sommer said the boat inspections would be performed at busy public accesses, to guard against the spread of aquatic invasive species into Hubbard County lakes.

Of particular concern this year is zebra mussels.

n Approved spending $13,146 for audio visual equipment for the main courtroom. A 55-inch TV and equipment will be installed so attorneys can show exhibits to the jury and judge, play PowerPoint demonstrations and videos.

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Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers Hubbard County, courts and breaking news.

(218) 732-3364
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