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Emergency Manager completing certification requirements

Brian Halbasch has been Hubbard County Emergency Manager for nearly two months. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Hubbard County's new Emergency Management Director, in two months, has nearly become fully certified.

Brian Halbasch surprised county commissioners Wednesday when he reported of 30 classes needed for certification, he has already taken 25 necessary.

And he saved the county time and travel expenses by taking the coursework online, he said.

"I'm really impressed," said Sheriff Frank Homer, whose department absorbed the Emergency Management responsibilities earlier this year when they were split off from the Veterans Service Officer position, which was filled full-time by Gregory Remus.

Certification, Halbasch explained, means a director is fully trained to direct an emergency response to any incident.

Halbasch also reported the county likely won't get aid for spring flooding like it did last year.

"We had roads that were flooded on a Friday but were dried up by the weekend," he aid of a dozen trouble spots in the county.

Halbasch is also working to finalize a disaster mitigation plan and will apply for a $4,000 grant to conduct a Haz-Mat training exercise, required each year under Homeland Security guidelines.

The funds will be used to recoup overtime expenses for employees that participate in the training.

Last year, a mock drill was conducted at Lamb Weston RDO.

Meanwhile, Halbasch also reported the county will get almost $3,000 more than it did last year from the state Homeland Security department. It is in line to get $18,553 for 2010.

In other county action, the board:

n Discussed behind closed doors a recently served lawsuit filed by a man named Anthony Bessette that arose out of a domestic matter in Wadena County. The complaint has not been filed in U.S. District Court, so no other information was available.

Bessette was charged in Wadena County with a criminal sexual conduct incident involving children, but Wadena County prosecutors dismissed the case.

The lawsuit apparently arose from that, and Wadena County is also a named defendant. County Attorney Don Dearstyne said he has forwarded the matter to the county's insurer and said he could not comment on the case.

n Received a formal letter from commissioner Don Carlson removing himself from any dealings concerning the Eagles Landing Resort variance that is the subject of a lawsuit against the county, the Board of Adjustment and the DNR.

Carlson is president of the Middle Crow Wing Association that is one of the plaintiffs in the litigation.

In his letter, Carlson said he would remove himself from any discussion by the county board or Planning Commission, which he sits on.

"I don't know if I want to sit next to anyone that's suing me," commissioner Cal Johannsen joked.

n Reviewed a quarterly report from county Social Services indicating requests for Income Maintenance rose dramatically in March.

The department has experienced an abnormal turnover in personnel and that worries Social Services Director Daryl Bessler.

Although new employees are on board already, they must go through extensive training to deal with the financial matters they deal with in making determinations of welfare eligibility.

"People are holding onto their resources so they won't have to pay for their care," Bessler told the board. "They want to leave (those assets) to their loved ones."

Bessler said social/financial workers "have to scour the manuals" to find the legal backing to get welfare clients to disgorge their assets.

But Bessler said having employees away at training means the department can't process welfare applications as speedily as it has in the past.

"These figures are not encouraging at all," he said of the 225 new requests for assistance in March. "It suggests we are not bottoming out on anything."

He admitted that applicants "are frustrated that things are not happening fast enough. We're not able to provide the quality of services we're used to providing," he told the board.

He requested permission to expend some overtime to bring employees in on a Saturday to get caught up on paperwork.

"Some of these cases are getting way out there," he said. "We're starting to see more and more unhappiness."

But he said cases can lag if the paperwork isn't thorough and often times, an applicant's family or authorized representative has to provide documentation, particularly in the cases of elderly or mentally handicapped individuals.

As of March 2010, the department's 10 social/financial workers had an average caseload of 225. That compares to eight workers in 2000, which has an average caseload of 142.

Not all the intake requests result in an award of benefits, but each case must be processed nonetheless, Bessler said.

n Was invited to a meeting for septic system contractors Thursday. That information meeting was conducted by Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf and his staff.

It was mainly informative, to let contractors know they will use the septic system ordinances that have been in place since 1996.

The county passed a new ordinance that was a year in the making, but because the state didn't finalize its own rules for septic system installation, the county board rescinded that new law and reinstated the old one.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has drafted 82 pages of revisions to the state laws and reopened the public comment period, Buitenwerf told the contractors.

Many voiced concern that if they install a new system this year, they want to be able to assure customers they will be in future compliance. Buitenwerf assured them they likely would be.

"We're not going to require homeowners to take out a second mortgage to pay for a new septic system," he said. "That's just ridiculous."

Because there are separate bills working their ways through both Minnesota chambers, Buitenwerf suggested the contractors should contact their legislators to give input on the pending legislation.

Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, authored the House bill.

Many of the contractors indicated they have been taking ongoing classes to educate themselves on potential changes to the septic system laws.

"And how many of you are crystal clear about what's going on?" Environmental Specialist Scott Navratil asked the crowd.

Not a single hand went up in the room of 50 people.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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