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Hubbard County will re-evaluate its financial status at Oct. 7 meeting

Replacing Hubbard County's steadily dwindling workforce came up once again at last week's Board of Commissioners meeting.

This time it was a public works maintenance operator, someone who would plow roadways in the winter.

County Engineer Dave Olsonawski asked the board for permission to start the search process so he has someone in place when winter sets in.

"The problem is we told the assessor he couldn't hire and we held the county attorney off until the seventh," said board chair Lyle Robinson, in rejecting the hire.

On Oct. 7, county auditor Pam Heeren will present a third quarter financial report to let the commission know where the county is poised financially. If money is available, some of the more strapped county offices may get the green light to hire.

Commissioner Dick Devine, a retired State Patrol officer, voted in favor of hiring.

"Roads are just as important as policing," he said, noting that he has patrolled in poor conditions.

"I don't want to see the roads not get plowed," he said.

"I don't know that's gonna happen," said commissioner Cal Johannsen,

Robinson suggested since the county uses independent contractors to plow township roads, some could be employed to assist on county roadways, too, saving funds that would otherwise be paid in salaries and costly benefit packages for county employees.

Seven contractors are now responsible for plowing 137 miles of roadways throughout the county. Both Johannsen and Robinson said with the high rate of unemployment in the county, there would be people available to perform the work.

"I don't compare having a shortage in the courthouse to having one out on the roads," Devine said. "It's life and death. Bad roads lead to bad accidents."

Olsonawski said most snowplow contractors don't have the proper scraping equipment or truck underbellies to do the job on the county's main roads.

The issue will be revisited after the Oct. 7 meeting, as will another request for money that was put on hold.

Karen Danks, director of the Hubbard County Historical Society Museum that is housed in the county's old courthouse, appeared before the board with North Country Museum of Arts Director Ryan Loomis to ask for an additional $1,300 in operating expenses, citing increasing costs. The museum is also housed in the old courthouse building on the county campus.

Both groups said they are unable to apply for grant monies for operating expenses.

The board held off the request until its third quarter financial picture becomes clearer.

"We're at the point where if we give it to someone we take it from somewhere else," he said of the county's tight budget. "That's the problem we're in. We have to stay ahead of the game."

Auditor Pam Heeren urged the board to approve paying the groups a 2009 budgeted allotment of $5,500 to ease their financial burden in the short term. The board voted to do so.

But in a brief comment, Robinson mentioned he was troubled the county paid $9,750 to insulate the old courthouse against mold this past summer and the tenants could have gotten grant monies to defray the costs. They did not apply for any.

"We need to know if grant money's available so we can leverage that," he chided the two directors.

Loomis said as a cost saving measure, 60 paintings, some dating back to the 16th century, will be preserved in archival paper and stored through the winter in an insulated back room of the museum to avoid heating the building.

In other action, the board:

-Learned that food stamp requests continue to climb steadily, said Hubbard County Social Services Director Daryl Bessler. A nine-year accounting showed that in August 2000, 265 cases were approved with payments of $22,454.68.

Last month, 665 cases were handled, paying $156,954.74. That was a 151 percent increase.

"The trend indicates more families are getting help, not single individuals," Bessler said. "August should be one of our best months economically."

But he said the food stamp monies, paid by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "is quite a help to grocery stores" in the region.

Bessler also reported that Hubbard County's Heartland Express is collaborating with Paul Bunyan Transit to provide more bus service to the northern part of the county and southern Beltrami County, using a Heartland Express bus.

-Heard from Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer that crime overall is down, leaving commissioners wondering why both the county attorney and court system have asked for additional personnel.

Homer pointed out that more serious crimes were declining, so the jail is perennially overstaffed and underutilized.

Homer said the serious felons have been sent to state facilities.

But he said the tough economy is also resulting in an upswing in domestic disturbances.

"There's aggravation, agitation within the homes," he reported.

And it is that rising domestic violence that Hubbard County's public health department and St. Joseph's Area Health Services to apply for a grant to begin building a culture of nonviolence in the community with hopes of stamping out domestic abuse altogether.

Raeann Mayer, project coordinator, told the board there are many types of violence the program hopes to address: child abuse, elder abuse, textual harassment and bullying by schoolchildren and spousal abuse.

'It's not an intractable problem," she said.

-Authorized a governing template for the county to administer conservation easements that landowners want to set aside in perpetuity for environmental reasons.

-Purchased an optical jukebox for the recorder's office for $14,000 that will store archival records.