All the news is good this week for Carlton CountyIt seems the news just kept getting better and better at Monday afternoon’s meeting of the Carlton County Board.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
It seems the news just kept getting better and better at Monday afternoon’s meeting of the Carlton County Board.
“I can reassure you there will be a state veterans cemetery in Northeastern Minnesota,” said Dave Swantek, director of the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery near Little Falls. “The state’s position on this is unchanged.”
Last week, the preliminary plan to locate the proposed cemetery on land at one end of Jay Cooke State Park reportedly fell through, in part due to a reluctance by adjacent property owners to sell portions of their land that would enable expansion of the width of the access to the site. Though Swantek clarified there were never any purchase offers from the state on the table, the situation merited further consideration of other possible sites in the area for the cemetery. With some 21,000 veterans in Northeastern Minnesota living outside a 75-mile radius of the existing state and federal veterans’ cemeteries, the Carlton/St Louis county areas are considered prime locations for a new state cemetery.
Though a feasibility study was currently under way to study the Jay Cooke site, Swantek said the latest roadblock is by no means a major setback to the plan.
“The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) is not interested in exercising eminent domain to gain additional ground,” Swantek said, “so we are already moving forward in looking for other options.”
Eight members of Carlton County Chapter 18 of the Disabled American Veterans were on hand at Monday’s meeting, encouraging the MDVA and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to continue to look for ways to make the Jay Cooke site work out for the cemetery project, possibly through further discussions regarding land purchase prices with the existing land owners.
“I would hate to see it die on the table if there are people willing to help make it happen,” commented Commissioner Tom Proulx.
In the meantime, Swantek and Carlton County Veterans Officer Duane Brownie stated they have been contacted by numerous land owners in the county and are actively working at coming up with additional site proposals.
In a second round of good news, Dave Lee, director of Carlton County Health and Human Services, announced to commissioners that the Chemical Addiction Recovery Enterprise (CARE) program (formerly known as Liberalis) located in Carlton has been granted a six-month grace period to increase its population and hopefully keep its doors open for good. The state-affiliated program abruptly received notice two weeks ago that it would not be reopened after damages from a burst water pipe forced it to be temporarily shut down in January. At that time, many of the 22 existing clients were relocated to a similar facility in Brainerd.
Carlton’s CARE program, unique in the fact it is the only one in the state designed strictly for women that is served by an all-female staff, employed some 31 staff members, many of whom would have been out of a job if the facility was closed down.
In a hurriedly assembled meeting last Friday, however, officials were able to stem the tide of that action – for the time being, at least.
“With fast action by commissioners, politicians and community partners,” said Lee, “a lot of information was presented to representatives of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (MDHS) and we were able to clear up a lot of issues that had not been completely evaluated up until now.”
The state mandates that the CARE programs around the state be operated as self-supporting “enterprises,” covering their costs of operation through user fees. When the client population at the Carlton facility dropped to 24, down from the 31 required to meet expenses, it sent up a red flag to state officials, leading to the decision to close it. The resulting outcry from county and regional governments, CARE employees and patients themselves was heard far and wide.
County officials argued that the county has poured significant economic development dollars into keeping the program in the county and pointed out that the flow of communication has been hampered by four changes of administration and a name change as well. Others pointed out that the local program is the only one of its kind in the state and that it is open to clients from throughout the state.
“When new information becomes available, and with this degree of community support expressing the need and demand,” commented Dr. Read Sulik, assistant commissioner for chemical and mental health services for the MDHS, “it makes perfectly good sense to work with the community.”
In coming months, the local program (which is yet to be reopened) will work with Carlton County Economic Development Director Pat Oman on better marketing around the state, and Lee and his staff will work toward streamlining and improving contract procurements for the facility.
The final stroke of good news for the county was delivered by Oman, who informed commissioners that a proposed bill has been pulled from the Minnesota House of Representatives that called for the relocation of some 750 prisoners from the Moose Lake Correctional Facility to a private facility in Appleton, Minn. Oman said if the bill had made it through the legislature and gained approval, some 425 regional jobs would have been at risk at the Moose Lake facility.
“After the bill was first introduced,” said Oman, “state representatives started getting an earful, not only from our county but from government heads across the region.”
Oman explained that the Carlton County Board submitted a resolution of support to keep the prisoner population in Moose Lake, and 16 similar resolutions were submitted from governmental entities across the region from as far away as Baudette.
Oman said a partner bill introduced in the Senate will now likely be pulled as well.