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Board shelves mini-truck ordinance for now

Hubbard County's proposed mini-truck ordinance allowing the small pickups on county and township roads has been tabled.

The board was on the verge of approving the ordinance, but Minnesota's Legislature now has three separate but similar bills going through the House side that may be headed for an omnibus transportation bill.

County officials said Wednesday they don't want a new ordinance superceded by a state law passed a few months later.

One bill would renew current state law by allowing counties to allow the trucks, but still outlaw them on state highways. Another would presume the trucks could operate in rural areas unless the county opted not to. A third bill would allow counties to permit mini-trucks, pre-empting cities and townships' ability to ban them. Board members agreed that bill stands no chance of passing.

"How long are we gonna leave these people hanging?" commissioner Cal Johannsen asked of a number of Hubbard County mini-truck owners that have lobbied for the right to drive in the county.

County Attorney Don Dearstyne said there would be no change in their status because they're currently not allowed to drive on state, county or township roads.

"If the state does nothing can we pick it back up?" commissioner Kathy Grell asked of the county ordnance.

"Absolutely," Dearstyne said.

In other business the board:

n Discussed some indicators of a mixed economic turnaround.

Auditor Pam Heeren said the county saved $5,800 on utility bills the first two months of 2012 over last year due to the warm temperatures.

"That's a lot of money. Wow!" remarked board chair Dick Devine.

In addition, requests for income maintenance are leveling off and intakes, forms that request assistance, have dropped significantly this month, said Hubbard County Social Services Director Daryl Bessler.

But other signs point in the opposite direction. The county renewed an agreement with one septic system inspector. In the past, two have assisted the Environmental Services Office. There's not enough building or remodeling to warrant a second inspector, officer Eric Buitenwerf said.

"We haven't seen a plat in years," commissioner Greg Larson said of new developments.

And commissioner Cal Johannsen said he's heard that for the first time in decades, farmers are outbidding developers for land.

n Discussed at length whether to give a family logging firm a break in a contract the bidder claimed they couldn't get to over the winter.

Summer logging has been an issue with the county board. Some favor it to keep the mills supplied year round with wood. The Norbord plant south of Bemidji, which takes much of the aspen, frequently shuts down due to a lack of wood. That's because a majority of Hubbard County contracts for logging are set for winter when the ground is frozen.

Logging contracts have become an issue for the county because increasingly, successful bidders are seeking extensions to complete the work. The county's forestry department has taken a hard line in enforcing the contracts and the county's extension policy to ensure fairness to all loggers.

Whether the ground is too spongy to allow heavy logging equipment onto it during the summer is something the board debated Wednesday.

Board members also discussed wildlife and trail use, which could conflict with summer logging.

In the end the board went against Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier's suggestion and granted the extension without a penalty.

The board has frequently questioned the strategy of how fast to cut the county's old aspen and how to maintain a wood supply for the future.

n Approved support of the Heartland Trail system, adding a trail to Itasca along with a route from Park Rapids to Moorhead.

Commissioners assured Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Katie Magozzi it's not an "either or" agenda for recreational trails.

The board has been looking into building a bike trail to Itasca State Park on county-owned tax forfeited land. Magozzi said plans to extend the current Heartland Trail system to Moorhead have been a priority for seven years and she didn't want the board to favor one trail over the master project.

Lohmeier said he's heard of legislation to add the Park Rapids-Itasca link to the master plan because of heightened DNR interest in the trail.

n Accepted a purchases of services agreement with Living at Home to provide respite care and to build handicapped ramps to keep elderly and disabled in the waivered services program in their homes.

n Approved Northwoods Dock & Lift installing a dock at the public access on Fish Hook Lake in Heartland Park to accommodate pontoons and handicapped access. The Let's Go Fishing program asked for better access for its passengers. That group takes groups on fishing excursions.

n Debriefed department heads on the leadership and lean thinking courses they just finished with M State. Most department heads gave the classes rave reviews; many asked for a follow-up course to put their lessons into practice.

The board did authorize Heeren and Coordinator Deb Thompson to initiate a "value stream mapping" of the county payroll process. The county is looking at centralizing the payroll process, which is now done by each department. A July 1 deadline is the goal to devise a streamlined process.

And the county is looking to go to a paperless pay system, in which employees could check their wages, benefits and other compensation via computer on an intranet site.

n Learned from Sheriff Cory Aukes a 2-year-old boy left his northern Hubbard County home with the family dog Tuesday afternoon through the dog door. Aukes said the boy was missing for two hours before the parents noticed. A search was launched using several agencies. The boy was found a short time later sitting under a tree with the dog, unharmed, about a half mile from home.

n Approved offering a mail balloting system that would be optional for townships for the 2012 election season. Heeren estimated the cost to roughly be $884 per township per election.

Some townships have voiced concern about the cost of hiring and training election judges and staffing precincts. The county has offered mail balloting in the past, but only a few townships have participated.

Sarah Smith

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

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