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CARLTON COUNTY BOARD : Board debates budget process, supports pipeline

It’s never too early to budget, right?

Yes and no. In some cases, particularly when dealing with state allocations to county budgets, early might not be the best option, according to county accounting staff, who said budgeting too early might lead to double the work.

County Coordinator Dennis Genereau presented the Carlton County Commissioners with a proposed budget planning schedule — as recommended by the county’s finance committee — starting with a May 3 meeting when board members and department heads would discuss budget policy and direction, all the way through to a preliminary levy/budget meeting Sept. 26, to the Truth in Taxation hearing Dec. 7 and the final levy/budget approval Dec. 27.

Accounting staff members were good with most of scheduled dates, but expressed concern that the Public Health and Human Services Department (with an approximate budget of $18 million) wouldn’t be able to meet a June 24 deadline because the state has to wait until the legislative session finishes to determine how the various votes affect county services (among others), and then divide up those funds between all the counties in the state.

Susan Parson of the auditor/treasurer’s office also advocated for more preset discussion meetings, something Genereau said didn’t really need to be scheduled in advance, pointing out that there is time between meetings if further discussion is needed.

“I’m not really interested in spending five different meetings sitting down and nothing gets done until the last meeting, it just gets kicked down the road,” said Genereau, who also serves on the finance committee. “The idea with this is to get down to business and get it done.”

After much discussion, board members ultimately voted in favor of the schedule, with the caveat that departments not be held to strict deadlines if they can’t be met.

Adding to the possible confusion, county officials are also working hard to replace two of their most experienced and veteran leaders after the recent resignation of Carlton County’s Health and Human Services Director Dave Lee, and the resignation of County Assessor Marci Moreland, which is effective June 30.

On Monday, board members appointed Carlton County Auditor/Treasurer Paul Gassert to be acting health and human services director until a replacement is hired for Lee, who left to take the same position in St. Louis County.

Genereau said the county received three internal applications for the PHHS director’s position, plus about a dozen others. Because some don’t meet the qualifications for the job, he expected the field to be narrowed to closer to six or eight candidates.

Two commissioners — Susan Zmyslony and Dick Brenner — volunteered to sit on a selection committee for the PHHS position.

The board also voted to begin searching for a replacement for Moreland.

According to the county’s website, the county assessor is an appointed official by the County Board of Commissioners. The term is four years. The primary function of the county assessor’s office is to determine the market value and classification of all real property and certain types of personal property such as mobile homes and cabins on leased property.

Minnesota assessors must be licensed by the Minnesota State Board of Assessors.

In other matters Monday, the Board:

  • Heard from Enbridge representative and former Cloquet mayor Bruce Ahlgren, who requested board members sign a letter of support for the proposed Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project and Sandpiper pipeline. Routes for both pipelines would run through Carlton County. The board voted unanimously to sign the letter of support, which was also signed by commissioners in some of the other counties the pipeline will travel through.

  • Approved a bid for $2,689,000 for a road and bridge project on CSAH 8 in Holyoke, from low bidder from Hammerlund Construction, Inc. The project includes a 2.7 mile stretch of road, and includes grading, base, culverts and the Little Net River bridge replacement. Work will run from May through October with paving to follow in 2017 or 2018, Tardy said. Hammerlund’s bid was 27 percent under estimate. The county received a total of six bids, ranging from the approved low bid to the top bid of $3,694,320, which was .25 percent over the engineer’s estimate. The project will be paid for with $2.2 million in state aid construction dollars and $500,000 from a state bridge grant.

County Engineer Mike Tardy said the county has a larger-than-usual state-aid construction balance because of all the flood work the county did in 2012-13, which was paid for by other funding sources. Before allocating money to the CSAH 8 project, the balance was close to $7 million.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Tardy said, noting that he is also hoping to fix 16 miles of CSAH 4, at a likely cost of $2.5 to $4 million, which would mostly deplete those funds until the next annual allocation.

  • Approved a contract for a video platform that will support the development of an integrated network which will allow mental health providers, schools, jails, rural hospitals, law enforcement, trial providers and others to participate in telepresence visits over the video network.

  • Honored Susan Parson of the Auditor/Treasurer’s office for 25 years of employment with the county.