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Security, jail fees top board agenda

Mahube director Leah Pigatti, at left, and Family Development Director Marcia Otte have refined a program to deal with the long term homeless population. They are seeking another five-year grant to continue. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Hubbard County residents and seasonal visitors now have an added incentive to be law abiding.

Staying in the county-owned B&B will now cost defendants $10 per day.

The Hubbard County board approved a "Pay to Stay" program for the county jail Wednesday.

It not only allows the county to seek reimbursement for a day's occupancy in a cell, but also for medical and dental expenses.

Commissioners worried that collecting the money might be more of a hassle than it's worth, but Sheriff Cory Aukes said such debts can be attached to items like income tax refunds.

"Most of them don't work or file taxes," was the board response.

Aukes said he'd try it as a pilot project to recoup some of the costs of running the facility and see how it goes.

If collection efforts outstrip outstanding bills, the county may rethink the charge.

The county will also send three bailiffs to a courthouse security workshop in Alexandria.

Courthouse security has long worried commissioners.

"We're behind the curve here," commissioner Dick Devine said. "We need to get caught up on courthouse security."

Aukes' department recently conducted a threat assessment for the courthouse and office building. The results will not be publicly released.

But Aukes did recommend employees using electronic key cards to access the buildings. They are used in the Law Enforcement Center.

Boardroom security was tight Wednesday as opponents of the County Road 37 project once again voiced their objections to the project.

The emotional tone of the arguments against grading and eventually paving the Natural Resources Road along the south side of Lake Kabekona has reached an angry point.

Maddy Lawrence said 101 signatures have been collected on an e-petition representing 30 parcels along the roadway, all objecting to the project.

"We are still here and we are still fighting," she told the board, which took no action.

An armed bailiff stood quietly at the back of the room as a precaution.

In other business, the board:

n Decided to use magnesium chloride on its roads next season, saving $100,000. County engineer Dave Olsonawski said the minerals work the same as the calcium chloride the county has used the past decade and the savings made it worth the try.

The county awarded the bid to Dustcoating, Inc., of Savage, which will apply the magnesium once county crews have prepared the roads. The cost is $275,480.63, of which the townships will pay $38,815.75.

Like calcium, the magnesium stays on the road bed and doesn't leach into the soil. In 10 years, Olsonawski said the county has never killed any grass with the salts.

n Delayed action on a comprehensive forest plan that would cost $40,000. Commissioner Kathy Grell led the opposition to the plan, maintaining the county has not evaluated the last plan to see if it fulfilled its objectives.

And, Grell pointed out, much of the report will be duplicated since "soil conditions have not changed" and historical data would simply be repeated.

She questioned the cost and suggested appointing a small committee to review the last plan.

"These things sit on a shelf," she said of the reports.

Two companies responded to a Request for Proposal to prepare the plan for the county, using more sophisticated GPS data than the county has.

"You're more qualified than they are," commissioner Lyle Robinson noted to Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier. "We'd be paying out a bunch of money and doing all the work."

"We have really old popple that needs to be harvested," commissioner Cal Johannsen said.

Lohmeier replied that much of that wood borders private property, is inaccessible and the county would have to send out a survey crew first to establish boundary lines, delaying the process.

The county has 138,000 acres of forestland including 116,000 acres of actual woods, Lohmeier said.

n Authorized the Environmental Services Office to purchase orthophotography services that will entail aerial photographs of the county. The contract for $49,270 will be awarded to a Wisconsin company.

The new higher resolution photographs will enable the county to move some boundary lines around.

"Would we solve problems or create ones?" Robinson asked.

The photos will be taken "leaf off" foliage to better see roads, buildings and other defining characteristics.

County Recorder Nicole Lueth thanked the board for investing the money.

"We'll be able to see forest roads and easements," she said. "We're getting calls all the time."

Lueth said prospective homebuyers would be able to see what's on lands that are for sale as the photos are made publicly available.

The detail of the photos "will help the land survey office determine boundary lines," Olsonawski said.

"It's something our taxpayers can use and appreciate," Lueth said.

n Once again delayed a comprehensive discussion of raising county fees. The board worries that county employees must perform public services, which are not for-profit activities.

But if the county is losing money providing those services, board members may be willing to raise some fees after a thorough review of the actual costs.

Board members also don't want county employees to get bogged down billing for services. A comprehensive look will be undertaken once all departments have submitted fee requests.

Grell said she doesn't want fees to rise to the point where it will deter people from following the rules, particularly building permit fees.

n Gave a blessing to Mahube to undertake a second five-year survey of the homeless population and apply for grant resources.

The tri-county agency received a grant in 2006 to study and provide support services for the long term homeless.

The $850,000 Department of Human Services grant provided caseworkers to serve the homeless population with rent, transportation and incidental funds.

"The (2006) grant was a shot in the dark," admitted Family Development Director Marcia Otte, noting Mahube now has many offers of groups wanting to partner with it for the next grant, using Mahube's "proven model. It's a difficult population to serve."

"We have five years of history," Mahube director Leah Pigatti said. "We know what works, what doesn't."

The women said 1,911 households were served under the 2006 grant with more than 4,600 beneficiaries.

Of that number 680 households were stabilized in the northwest consortium of Minnesota counties.

It's cheaper to help families maintain their homes than it is to constantly move, incurring deposit fees and moving expenses, the women said.

The agency will give an update on the grant progress and partners May 4.

n Briefly discussed the current census numbers and possible redistricting. Because the final numbers and locations of Park Rapids' population are not known, it is unclear if Commission Districts 2 and 3 will move. Those are the districts that incorporate the city. The planned annexation of part of Henrietta Township in 2012 could also be a factor in realigning the districts, commissioners said.

n Discussed the county's sporadic purchase of computers and software. The County Attorney's office had requested the purchase of two desktop computers to replace aging laptops the attorneys use now.

The county has a separate committee that oversees all technology purchases.

The philosophy is that equipment won't be replaced until it's necessary.

"It's been working for us," Lueth told the board. "We've been getting by."

The board approved Lueth's office purchasing a server for about $12,000 and software maintenance updates for its ArcGIS licenses for $12,700.

n Approved payment of dues to an organization called Lexipol, which develops policies and procedures for law enforcement agencies and reduces liability premiums if those agencies follow the manuals. All Minnesota counties have enrolled in the program.

n Learned the county is as healthy as it was last year.

The second nationwide County Health Rankings study undertaken by the University of Wisconsin found Hubbard County in the upper third of Minnesota counties.

Sarah Smith

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

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