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Forest development fund looking to reforest budworm devastated areas

The Hubbard County board is reluctant to give a blanket extension on 2011 timber sales to large logging operations. The theory is that smaller loggers, like Kent Dudley above, could have had a chance to bid some of the contracts and completed the work by now. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The county is still recovering from a serious budworm outbreak in its jack pine population that started seven years ago, Hubbard County Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier told the board last week.

He requested an increase in the tax forfeited land apportionment, which the board granted.

In 2011, the total proceeds were $353,000 and change. Of that forest development received $106,000; parks and recreation, the revenue fund and school districts each received $70,612.82 and the townships received $25,300.

But Lohmeier said those numbers are falling, down from $529,000 at the end of last year.

In part, timber sales commanded less money, land sales declined in value and permit sales also declined.

"We're still spending a lot more than we're taking in," Lohmeier told the board.

"With planting, we're still playing catch-up."

The department is reforesting to get lands back into production, Lohmeier told the board.

A concentrated tree-planting effort will occur again this spring.

But the county board also balked at giving a blanket extension to timber contracts by the Minnesota Timber Producers Association.

Winter cut sales expire March 15. And although the board has the authority to extend contracts into the next year Lohmeier recommended against it.

"You don't get better conditions than this year," he told the board. "We get these letters every year."

Lohmeier said giving a blanket extension could potentially affect 50 sales worth $1 million in timber.

"We can extend sales on a 'per needed' basis," he said. "The extensions must be given for good and substantial reasons."

And although weather conditions can be one of those reasons, other than swamp areas that didn't freeze, there are no weather-related reasons to extend timber contracts this year, he noted.

"I did see a skidder mired in the mud," commissioner Cal Johannsen said.

Extensions "benefit the great big loggers taking wood away from the smaller loggers that could have done it," Johannsen said in nixing a blanket extension.

Commissioners agreed with Lohmeier that to qualify for an extension, a logger must have made a good faith attempt this season to harvest the wood.

Otherwise it delays the harvest, injects an element of uncertainty into the county's timber harvest plan and "plays with the cash flow" into county coffers, Lohmeier said.

"If we have a big windstorm next summer that blows it all down..." he said.

The county has been trying to harvest as much old aspen as possible, which many of the recent sales include.

Commissioners agreed that extensions would be granted on an individual basis if the logger made a good faith effort to harvest the land this year and couldn't gain access.

In other action, the board:

n Approved applying for a grant to defray some election expenses.

"The Secretary of State sent out applications for the Help Americans Vote Act grant," auditor Pam Heeren said. "We can get up to $300 per polling place and we applied for that. We've gotten it before. It comes to $7,200 so we applied for that again this year."

Heeren didn't think there was any reason the county would get turned down.

"It would pay for maintenance on the machines, if nothing else," she said, "That's over $10,000 in itself."

n Entered into a spirited debate over the purchase of three new vehicles for the Sheriff's Department.

"You have 13 people that drive vehicles," commissioner Kathy Grell said of the fleet of 25 vehicles. "So what are you retiring?"

Aukes pointed out that with part-timers and ATV and boat/water patrols, nearly all of the vehicles are assigned.

Grell questioned "if we're buying three cars because we always buy three cars or if we need them."

"If I only needed two I would ask for two," Aukes replied.

The department needs two new squad cars and a new SUV for the K-9 unit, he explained.

"The K-9 vehicle is causing us some headaches," Aukes told the board. "Expeditions have not been good vehicles for us."

He said that model Ford seems to go through spark plugs frequently at a cost of $500 each.

The county is playing a zero-sum game when the repairs for county vehicles exceed the value of the vehicle, he said.

"I have personal feelings about squad cars," said board chair Dick Devine, a retired state trooper. "One hundred thousand miles on a squad car is not like 100,000 miles on a regular vehicle. We used to trade them at 60,000," he said of the patrol cars. "One hundred twenty thousand miles on a squad car is a lot of miles," he said, urging the purchase.

The board authorized the purchase of two Ford Interceptors that are all-wheel drive and an SUV at a cost of nearly $78,000.

Aukes said that cost does not include equipment costs, which will be from $12,000 to $13,000 per vehicle. And those are crucial costs.

Dep. Jeff Stacey, testifying in a recent trial, had an awkward moment on the witness stand when he admitted the dashboard camera in his SUV had never worked, so was unable to record valuable evidence from a high-speed chase.

The board also approved the Sheriff's Department signing off on a contract with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to enter into the statewide agreement to purchase narrowband radio equipment.

n Heard that Veterans Services continues to reach out to more veterans and bring each monetary help.

In the spring the VSO will start outreach to the Akeley area, Veterans Services Officer Greg Remus old the board.

Discussed imposing weight restrictions on area roads, but engineer Dave Olsonawski said it may not be necessary. The spring weather, and state restrictions, will affect whether the county places local restrictions on roads.

Allowed recorder Nicole Lueth to pursue the completion of a contract for new recording software, still stung from an investment in a company named Manatron, whose software never worked for the county. The county lost thousands of dollars on the deal.

The county also voted to retain Walker attorney Steve Baker as Examiner of Titles. Park Rapids attorney Mark Thomason has retired.

Lueth said the county hasn't budgeted in the past for this expense, since customers who request a title opinion bear the cost of that request.

But in instances where the county titles come into question, a $150 hourly rate would apply.

Titles held in torrance are those adjudicated through the county and would fall under the need of a legal review.

But torrance titles are unusual, Lueth said, because most landowners want a formal abstract, not a certificate of title from the Recorder's Office.

Sarah Smith

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

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