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County will begin initial court security with glass counter

Dep. Jeff Stacey re-established the Explorer program in 2006 to encourage teens and young adults to develop an interest in law enforcement careers.

A glass security partition will be installed in the Hubbard County District Clerk of Court office to ward against disgruntled citizens leaping the counter.

That's the first step in what could be an extensive security renovation for court personnel and county employees.

Another security installment will consist of erecting a partial wall to hold the new metal detector that will be installed leading into the main courtroom.

Four bids were received for courthouse security. None were accepted yet. The bids ranged from about $7,000 to more than twice that amount.

The proposals would install a series of cameras throughout various areas of the courthouse with two separate monitors, one in the dispatch area and one to be on the courthouse main floor in the bailiff station.

The Hubbard County board asked for some additional details on the system, including the retention time of the tape recording, how much the software to run the system would add to the cost and where the information would be stored, and in what format.

"I think there's been a lot of concern over the possibilities and probabilities" of situations in other counties, Hubbard County sheriff appointee Frank Homer told the commission.

Although there are no reported incidents of anyone jumping over a counter here, county officials have reported increasing incidents of dealing with angry, frustrated and sometimes irrational members of the public.

Many other counties are bolstering their courthouse security.

The protective glass barrier and wall will be done for about $2,200, with inmates doing the work as community service.

"Will it snowball and other offices want it?" asked board chair of the glass barrier.

The board hoped not.

And once again, the issue of monitoring the monitors became an issue. "I just don't see dispatch doing it with all they have going," Robinson said.

In other board action, the commission:


-Heard from Auditor Pam Heeren that while the county has spent slightly more than it had the first quarter of 2008, it's still in good shape financially.

As soon as tax statements were mailed out, Heeren said "we had the usual rush of people paying them in full so they wouldn't forget."

"It's a wonderful thing," Robinson remarked.

Isolated pockets of spending are causing some concerns, but there is nothing alarming.

-Learned the law library has been running in the red, due to the increased cost of computerized legal research software and declining revenues. The library is funded by a share of revenues collected from traffic fines.

"Fines are already horrendous," said commissioner Dick Devine. "Now you're talking $140-$150 for a speeding ticket which is outrageous. For a lot of people it's really a hardship.

Robinson said the county should just ride out the deficits for now. Summer visitors - and their accompanying traffic violations - may fill the law library coffers.

Public works

-Heard the solid waste department is temporarily running into the red, which it can't do by law, so Heeren asked for permission to borrow funds from another account to cover that department temporarily.

"They're not generating and we're not collecting," said Vern Massie, solid waste administrator.

Collection of recyclables has been down, along with the prices for those goods.

-Approved the purchase of liquid calcium chloride for county roads. The county highway department has been spreading the substance on gravel roads to stabilize the base. It's resulted in less plowing and maintenance. Last summer some roads didn't need grooming for up to eight weeks.

The county will spend nearly $500,000 on the product, "but we're saving money in the long run," county engineer Dave Olsonawski told the board. He said the department will experiment with a thinner coating of the calcium chloride this summer to see if it can result in savings. The county won't dilute the mix; simply spread a thinner coating on roads. About $331,000 of the cost is the county's share; the remainder is apportioned among the townships.

-Approved May timber sales of 1,143 acres, in 31 separate parcels.

"It will help the timber industry out," said land commissioner Bob Hoffman. "We're well ahead of this time of year" in the county's master cutting plan, but local lumber mills have been pleading for product. The auction is set for May 12.

Law enforcement

-Heard about the Explorer program, re-established in 2006 for youth ages 14-21, to give them a background in what it takes to be a law enforcement officer.

Dep. Jeff Stacey has assumed leadership of the program, which is self-supporting through community donations.

Stacey will be taking seven students to a state conference next weekend. The students will learn the basis of handing domestic disturbances, bomb threats, crime scene investigation and traffic stops.

One former Explorer is graduating from a college program in criminal justice studies; two Explorer alums are destined for similar college experiences.

"It's a great program that gives back to the community," Stacey told the board.

-Heard the jail population, of 47 inmates Wednesday, still includes 20 Clay County prisoners transported here because of the flood. But that number is dwindling steadily as Clay County reopens its courthouse and jail.

Public Health

-Learned St. Joseph's Community Health will circulate a health survey designed to promote healthy communities and healthy behaviors; assess the quality and accessibility of health services in the area and prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

The survey is conducted every five years.

Commissioners were also placed on a Health Alert Network, which will give them information on matters of general health importance such as rabies bites and vaccines, salmonella outbreaks, bio-terrorism events and other vital topics.

Social Services

Learned that requests for medical assistance and food stamps rose by another 38 cases in March from the previous month. Intakes, which numbered 192 in February, rose to 258 in March. Not all will result in eligibility for benefits, but caseworkers must process each application to make those determinations.

Bessler did report Social Services revenues and expenditures the first quarter of 2009 are sitting at 17.7 percent, well below the 25 percent anticipated for this time of year.

-Heard a Legislative update on resolving the massive financial burden human services programs has become.

"The system is too costly," said Hubbard County Social Services director Daryl Bessler, referring to the state's healthcare programs.

"They don't want to talk about real change," he said of lawmakers considering an overhaul of the system. "Ultimately they think they're going to save real money; divert attention from program costs."

"They're just moving the furniture on the Titanic," Robinson said.

"It seems so," Bessler answered.

Environmental Services

-Previewed a draft of a septic system ordinance that must comply with state laws mandating wholesale change early next year.

The board scheduled a public workshop to educate the public on the proposed changes, to be held at 9 a.m. June 10.

Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf admitted he had some frustration with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's wavering on the standards that must be adopted.

He cautioned the board "the county may adopt an imperfect document until the state makes up its mind."

One of the controversial aspects of the change is mandating pressurized septic systems in sandy soils, which Hubbard County has in abundance.

The board did not adopt the draft.

"I have a little discomfort doing something wrong and they're too busy to make it right," Robinson, a retired plumber, said of the state agency.

County Attorney

A hiring freeze once again came under fire as County Attorney Don Dearstyne asked the board to replace a retiring assistant.

Dearstyne said he needs a third attorney in his office due to contract obligations he's assumed with Social Services and the city of Park Rapids.

"We've seen quite a spike in child support cases and contempt hearings where they're not paying" their support obligations, he said. The county receives $35,000 from each contract to prosecute cases.

Commissioner Greg Larson, the former County Attorney, repeatedly questioned Dearstyne on whether the caseload has actually risen when it appears to have declined. Larson said the Social Services cases have always been part of the workload, but are now paid through a contract arrangement.

Dearstyne said often times, the three attorneys in his office are appearing simultaneously in court proceedings because there is so much work to do.

"For court appearances you have to have a licensed attorney," he pointed out.

Robinson took a hard line on not filling the position, which seemed to bother his fellow commissioners.

"We have contracts to fulfill," Devine said. "We can't quit them mid-stream. We agreed to provide those services."

"We can't afford to lose the $70,000 they're bringing in," commissioner Cal Johannsen said.

"With the number of attorneys out there, there's some that could work hourly," Robinson suggested.

Devine was adamant that such an arrangement hasn't worked in the past and he didn't think the county should try it again. He said hourly contracts with attorneys end up costing more than replacing the employee in the first place.

Dearstyne was clearly unhappy with the news. His other attorney has planned summer vacation, which will leave his office with one attorney - him.

Robinson tried to soothe the matter over by pointing out the dire circumstances counties are in for the near future.

"They're (the Legislature) talking about making counties spend all their reserves" before any more state aid comes their way, Robinson said.

"It seems to me you need help and we need money," commissioner Don Carlson said. "I suggest you come back with your request on July 1 and we'll look at it then."

Dearstyne had no choice but to withdraw his request.