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County board approves veterans service officer

Jerrold Bjerke will assume the role of full-time Hubbard County Veterans Service Officer on June 12. Hubbard County Commissioners approved Bjerke taking over the position from current veterans officer Greg Remus, who will remain on as assistant for the next year. (Jean Ruzicka/Enterprise)

Jerrold Bjerke will assume the role of Hubbard County Veterans Service Officer June 12; Greg Remus, the current officer, will serve as an assistant for the next year.

"He’s very, very qualified," Remus told Hubbard County Commissioners, "even though he’s Navy," the Army lieutenant colonel joked of Bjerke’s military background.

Bjerke held the highest of the enlisted ranks in the Navy, Remus said.

Bjerke has served as senior advisor for two naval nuclear power plants, managing 450 personnel. As a nuclear classifier, he coordinated with four organizations in the management of more than 8,000 service records.

The senior instructor provided classroom instruction in the operation of a naval nuclear reactor. As a force nuclear career counselor, he managed careers and development of 1,200 personnel on six naval ships.

"The intent of this (request) is to have the supervisor in the office on a full-time basis," Remus explained. "I am willing and recommend this action occur for the good of the county and the veterans."

Remus cited the past year’s accomplishments, which included collaborating with the Vets Center of Duluth for a first-ever Post Traumatic Stress Disorder family seminar and the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War event in Park Rapids.

Many veterans attending the event noted this was the first time they had been positively recognized for their military role in this war.

After the meeting, Bjerke said he was "very happy" that Remus has remained the VSO during the transition. "He’s my sounding board."

Initially, Bjerke sought advice from Remus on many issues. But that has evolved from a "this is what I’m thinking," to "this is what I’m doing.

"It was great to have a military presence as I transitioned to the civilian world," Bjerke said. "It’s been a great year, a great fit."

A support network has formed in the county, they agree. Retired military now take care of each other.

On a national level, women are now recognized "as doing the same things men do," Remus said.

"That’s changed in the last 30 years," Bjerke said. "There were no females on the ships. We have seen a progression of women entering the military."

Now when a woman enter a vet’s clinic, they ask for her ID card, not her husband’s, Remus said.

"The ultimate goal is assisting Hubbard County veterans get the benefits they have earned," Bjerke said. "A lot of people have done great things for us."

Bjerke will supervise four positions, two in the VSO and two in 4-H and Extension.

Remus reported to commissioners that the number of families and professional contacts from social workers is up considerably from the past year.

During the first quarter of 2016 the VSO recorded 1,298 contacts with veterans and/ or dependents in various claim support action. This compares with 1,191 for the same period in 2015, an increase of nearly 9 percent.

"We’re losing World War II vets," Remus told commissioners. In the first quarter this year, the VSOs saw 38 WWII veterans, compared with 74 during the same period last year.

The VSO will be hosting a Veterans Fair Aug. 5, with legislators and the community invited to talk about issues that former members of the military face.

In other action, commissioners:

- Learned the response to the prescription drop boxes at the sheriff’s office has been "unbelievable," hundreds of pounds of pills are now headed to an incinerator, as opposed to being flushed down toilets or "on the streets."

Hubbard County was one of the first in the state to institute this.

The drop box is located in the entry of the Law Enforcement Center.

- Approved a low bid of $1,378,671 from Central Specialties, Alexandria for mill and overlay on CSAH 4 from Highway 34 to Lake George and on CSAH 25 (the county’s amount is $1,143,697 and township amount is $234,974).

"These are great prices," county engineer Dave Olsonawki told commissioners. "I haven’t seen this in years." Six bids were received. The project will be funded from reserves and state aid.

- Approved an amended right-of-way map for the truck route from Highway 71 near RDO west and north to Highway 34. Work is expected to begin this summer.

- Approved an easement request for Joseph Scharber and Ellen Scharber of Sleeping Fawn Resort, at no charge. The road, a mile and a half east of Emmaville off CSAH 24, had evidently been a township road at one time, which Scharber maintains, land commissioner Chip Lohmeier reported.

- Agreed the county will act as sponsor for Itascatur’s application for Grant-in-Aid funding of $3,300 for the maintenance of 7.5 miles of Soaring Eagles cross country ski trails.

The county will also act as sponsor for the Forest Riders Snowmobile Club’s maintenance of Two Inlets Snowmobile Trails.

The construction and maintenance of trails are funded through the Minnesota Trail Assistance Program grants, with approval from the DNR.

- Learned the highway department has begun distributing calcium chloride on county roads.

- Reported minor amounts of lead were found in the about-to-be demolished Park Rapids water tower. A request for bids will be forthcoming with demolition possibly this fall.

- Were reminded of the proposed five-year highway construction programs, to be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 13 in the board room and at 7 p.m. Monday, June 20 at the Helga Town Hall.

- Accepted a $6,375 federal boating supplemental grant for additional sheriff’s department patrol hours.

- Approved reclassification of the sheriff’s department office administrator and accountant position, duties changing over the years. This will be sent on to committee for review, as will job descriptions of the administrative assistant, jail sergeants (formerly team leaders) and communications supervisor, a new position but not a new hire.

- Reviewed Social Services’ income maintenance unit caseloads, which continue to climb, 3,428 in May 2015 compared with 3,934 in April 2016.

- Learned Hubbard County currently has 1,085 child support cases open, having collected $890,550 through April 30. The collection threshold is 70.98 percent, which Hubbard County surpassed with 73 percent.

- Reviewed the auditor/treasurer’s proposed schedule for budgets to be developed by department managers, expressing approval.