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County board talks security, asks for threat assessment

Shane Plautz was promoted to Hubbard County sergeant last week.

Courthouse security was a subject Hubbard County Commissioner Dick Devine brought up just days before a mass shooting in Arizona that claimed six lives and gravely wounded a U.S. Congresswoman.

"I have some misgivings about the other end of the courthouse," Devine said to Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes at Wednesday's county board meeting.

Public shootings at governmental meetings have occurred in Minnesota counties and across the nation. Devine asked Aukes for a threat assessment.

The county board has occasionally met with angry constituents, but Devine said the potential is there for the Board of Adjustment or planning commissions to also encounter danger when zoning and variances can be emotionally charged issues.

"Others have taken it more seriously than we have," Devine worried.

"The cameras we have in place, are they being monitored?" asked commissioner Cal Johannsen.

Indeed, said jail administrator Sherri Klasen. Court bailiffs monitor them from the first floor of the courthouse and dispatchers monitor them from the law enforcement building next door - if two dispatchers are on duty. A single dispatcher is normally too busy. But Klasen also cautioned the board there are security cameras on the courthouse first floor only.

Aukes said his staff would look at the security issues and report back.

And commissioner Lyle Robinson said the county's insurer should help the county implement some proactive measures as part of its risk management services.

n New Hubbard County commissioner Kathy Grell renewed her campaign for the county to take the lead in obtaining broadband coverage and pressed the board to regularly discuss "long-term directional things, economic development."

Board chair Greg Larson agreed.

"We have some real opportunities on some broadband initiatives and I think we should take advantage of it," Grell said. "It is dear to the hearts of the Progress Park Rapids group as regional stewards" of a broadband initiative.

"It's an economic development issue, a way to level the playing field," she added.

Much of the county is without high-speed Internet coverage due to the cost of locating the infrastructure around lakes and rugged terrain.

A longtime board member of the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission, which has taken the lead on such issues, Grell is now the county's representative on the same commission.

She has urged the board to step into a leading role as federal lawmakers make broadband a high priority for rural areas.

"Unless you start making some noise we will be passed over all the time" for funds and initiatives, Grell warned.

Larson said it might be worthwhile for the county to regularly schedule discussion of those topics at the twice a month board meetings. Grell said she would make a presentation and urged the board to invite other entities into the discussion.

In other business the county board:

n Heard that requests for income maintenance are still rising while actual intake requests may have plateaued.

But that means more people that need public assistance are staying on it longer term, Hubbard County Social Services Director Daryl Bessler said.

Minnesota's early entry into an improved Medicaid program will mean local offices will gear up for a "fast track enrollment" March 1, Bessler said. Statewide, it is estimated 95,000 Minnesotans will be eligible for the program, with 100-175 Hubbard County residents eligible under an expansion of the Medical Assistance program, Bessler said.

"It's a manual conversion process that could take six months," Bessler said of the paperwork required.

The expansion replaces General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC), which was all but obliterated in 2010 and provides services through only four Twin Cities hospitals.

Local Social Services caseworkers will also add chronic management disease services to their repertoire to head off potentially expensive problems associated with chronic ailments.

And the department will look into "telepsychiatry" so that a shortage of mental health professionals does not impede treatment to stabilize mental health patients.

Bessler said web cams and laptops are replacing ITV feeds that have been used in the past to provide long-distance mental health care.

And, Bessler said there could be transportation coming for mental health holds. In the past Hubbard County deputies have performed those duties, taking them off the roads and out of the area.

Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center is looking at leasing a squad-type car to transport mental health patients.

And, Bessler said, mileage reimbursement is available for sheriff's deputies who transport mental health patients to hospitals. He urged the Sheriff's department to make a claim for the federal restitution.

n The new Land Commissioner, Mark Lohmeier, reported his first timber sale went well, but suggested changes in appraising the base price of the tracts auctioned off.

The county auctioned 669 acres of jack pine, aspen and birch Tuesday for $307,000. Average bids were 62 percent above the base appraisal. Local loggers always bid much higher than the county appraises the tracts. Commissioners wondered "why we're putting it artificially low," Lyle Robinson asked. "We should be marking it at what we're willing to sell it for."

Lohmeier said he based starting prices of timber at state rates, but said other formulas such as a three-year average, might follow the market price more closely.

n The board approved participation in the Minnesota City Participation Program to access funds to assist first-time homeowners. All three Park Rapids banks use the program. The city actually used 112.2 percent of what was allocated last year. If some cities don't use all their funds, the monies are refunded to a common fund for other users to re-apply to.

n The board also approved the hiring of Janet Thompson as coordinator's assistant. The position was left vacant when Debbie Thomson assumed the county coordinator job last month.

Thompson has been an administrative assistant at the Environmental Services Office since 1999.

n The board also learned that deputy Shane Plautz has been promoted to the role of sergeant in the Hubbard County Sheriff's Department.

A former officer at White Earth, Plautz has been a deputy and jailer at Hubbard County for the past five years and has been instrumental in the training of his fellow officers. He was selected over many of his co-workers who applied for the position.

n The Sheriff's Department was also authorized to retain a consultant to assist with the radio conversion to narrow band. The $24,350 cost to develop a participation plan is covered by a grant, Aukes told the board.

GeoComm, a St. Cloud company, will help the county transition to the state Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response program and upgrade its VHF needs. The ARMER 800 MHz is part of the Statewide Radio System. GeoComm will determine a technical design plan for the county, including equipment needs and costs, and provide tech support throughout the public safety communications conversion mandated for 2013.

Sarah Smith

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

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