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County spending pared back, donations are scrutinized

Transfer station employee Roger Just helps a customer with a load. The trash chute they're dumping in has become a safety hazard and will require an estimated $20,000 of immediate repairs. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Hubbard County officials reviewed the way the county appropriates money for economic development and how donated money is spent at Wednesday's board meeting.

The issue of donations arose when Randy Griess, the county's Sentencing to Service supervisor, requested permission to enter into a Joint Powers Agreement with the Minnesota DNR for cleaning up area public accesses. The STS program has performed the work for several years.

Last year state cuts to the STS program halved its operating revenues locally. Commissioners have complained the work done for the DNR should be compensated, then, because the state cannot expect the program to assume its work for free.

Since 1987, STS crews have performed work for the DNR, townships and charitable organizations. In light of the cutbacks, the group used to accept donations for equipment and spend it as needed. Now it essentially bids jobs and sends out invoices when a job is completed.

The DNR under the joint powers agreement would pay STS roughly $12,000 annually for keeping the public accesses, Heartland Trail and campgrounds clean. Signing the agreement doesn't put STS under contract with the DNR, Griess said.

County Attorney Don Dearstyne said the county could proceed preliminarily, but he needed to check the legality of the county signing the JPA.

That prompted questions about the donated funds. The STS program, Explorer program and K-9 program all get donated funds, generally in return for services rendered.

But those funds are segregated into donated accounts and rolled over year-end. Donations are not counted as revenues.

Commissioner Kathy Grell questioned whether the revenues and expenditures in those three programs should be recorded with all departmental revenues and expenditures so department heads know if each program is showing a profit or loss.

"It has to do with the transparency of it all," Grell said. "Money tells a story."

Griess said he didn't want to see the leftover donations thrown into the county's general fund at year's end when they've been rolling over regularly for future use. Then each group would have to come before the county board to get permission to spend its own money, he maintained.

The board said it would take a look at donations next month when it reviews all departmental fees and charges. Grell urged the programs that receive donated funds to develop capital plans for the future.

n The issue of regional economic development appropriations arose as the county approved a resolution that will allow the Hubbard County Housing & Redevelopment Authority to jointly use tax levy moneys with the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission.

The county levies for HRA funds and allots the HCREDC an annual appropriation. The entities have been collaborating for the past few years under the theory that economic development and housing go hand-in-hand.

"Strong economic activity and strong housing support are essential," Grell said, urging levy support for the two agencies until they can become self-sufficient.

"If industry is to grow it will need adequate housing," said HCREDC director David Collins.

At the present time, both entities would keep their directors and boards. HRA is created by state statutes; HCREDC is a non-profit entity under IRS code.

The two have recently put on housing summits and drafted a comprehensive housing plan for the region.

Grell, who sits on the board of both entities, said getting MAHUBE involved would allow the trio to train people in green jobs and expand the weatherization work MAHUBE does with federal grants.

The board agreed in principal with the working arrangement, but left it to the two entities to work out funding, management and future needs.

In other business, the board:

n Considered whether to charge for calling board special meetings.

Auditor Pam Heeren brought the matter up. Last week, the board had to call a special meeting to renew Headwaters Country Club's annual liquor license due to an oversight by the club.

Heeren estimated the cost of calling the meeting at around $300 and suggested the county charge in the future.

"We shouldn't be spending $300 to hold a special meeting when someone screws up," commissioner Cal Johannsen said.

"Jeff Anderson (HCC's manager) didn't expect us to do it for nothing," Heeren said, presenting the board a check from the Country Club for a $250 donation to parks and recreation.

The issue will be taken up next month when the board reviews all county fees.

n Decided against hiring an outside consultant to help the Natural Resources Department formulate another 10-year plan for harvesting timber on tax forfeited lands. The work will be done in-house, saving the county $40,000.

Forestry officials will project timber cuts for the near future with help from the University of Minnesota and possibly hire summer interns to conduct an on-the-ground survey of what has been harvested under the prior plan.

Land commissioner Mark Lohmeier said his office wouldn't want to proceed indefinitely without an overall forest plan, but for the next five years, the county can continue to harvest under the old plan, projecting into the future.

Lohmeier said timber sales are structured for both big logging outfits and for the "little guy" operations that use a single logger or two, while trying to balance the interests of environmentalists and loggers.

n Authorized the county to work with St. Joseph's Area Health Services and the city to make improvements to Lindquist Park, with each entity contributing $5,000 toward the costs.

The board also authorized the addition of a disc golf course to Heartland Park, which should be completed by next year. The cost is around $1,800 with the Frisbee baskets for each hole being made locally.

n Decided to look into alternate ways to dispose of the county's tree and brush pile besides burning it. Solid waste supervisor Vern Massie said no matter which direction the wind is blowing from, the burning smell permeates businesses along Highway 34 and prompts numerous phone calls complaining.

Massie said the county should look at offering the trees to a forestry or logging company for use as biomass.

Also, Massie said the DNR is reluctant to give the county future burn permits because of the complaints.

n Will get bids to repair the dump chute at the south transfer station. The chute is hanging at a precarious angle and the catwalk is unsafe to walk on.

Refuse haulers use the chute to dump garbage down, but years of trucks backing into it have compromised its structural integrity and safety, Massie said. The cost of repairs is estimated at around $20,000.

n Tabled a request by Sheriff Cory Aukes to install laptop computers in all the squad cars until he is satisfied the bid includes all the necessary mounts. Hubbard County is the only one in the region not using laptops, he said. Once installed, deputies will be able to bring the computers into the squad room to complete their work if necessary.

n Reviewed Hubbard County Social Services' caseloads for income maintenance. For the first time in a year, the number of people receiving income maintenance fell but intake requests for services increased. As an 11th caseworker comes on board, director Daryl Bessler said caseloads are becoming more manageable, reducing the burnout.

In the last decade caseloads have risen from 151 per worker to 229. That's actually down from around 250 with the hiring of another caseworker.

Bessler also reported some bright spots in the Social Services budget at the first quarter of the year. Total expenditures are at 20 percent, although revenues are at 15.6 percent. Children's services have been declining, which Bessler sees as a positive sign.

n Set a board work session for May 11 to discuss county fees, courthouse security and census data.

Sarah Smith

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

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