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Four borrowers leave unpaid loans of $245,187 in their wake

Though Carlton County has had a fairly decent track record in economic development loans over the years, there was some not-so-good news to report at Monday’s adjourned session of the Carlton County Board.

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Economic Development Director Connie Christenson asked commissioners to approve $245,187 in unrecoverable loans made to four businesses that were either foreclosed on by the bank or were unable to make loan payments for some other reason. In all four cases, Christenson explained, the county had no liens attached to the loans and she recommended they be relegated to bad debt.

The businesses included the Cozy Café in Carlton, with an unpaid balance, including interest, of $55,000; Esko Liquors, $96,105; Lambert’s Auto, $90,636; and homeowner Neil Polling, Dalles Ave., Thomson, $3,244. The first three received county economic development loans through the county’s Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Agency funding, and the fourth received a matching grant for a Small Cities loan through the Economic Development Authority.

The board unanimously supported removing the loan accounts.

In other business at Monday’s meeting, commissioners approved a request from County Planner Dennis Genereau asking to enter into a purchase agreement with Paul Vernon for a property he owns at 317 Chestnut Ave. in Carlton.

Genereau said the County Building Committee has been working on a plan to purchase the property for some time, but added that a recent incident moved the plan ahead somewhat. He explained the county is currently leasing space at 310 Chestnut Ave. from the city of Carlton to house the Extension Service offices of the 4-H coordinator, the food and nutrition specialist, the bi-products specialist, the coordinator of the Homemakers Groups and Master Gardeners, and support staff. He said Extension has an employee who was off work for medical reasons, and when she returned to work the limitations of the building were unable to accommodate easy access to her workplace, since Extension’s second-floor offices are not ADA-accessible.

Genereau went on to say the city of Carlton requires a 30-day notice to vacate the space, but he recommended the Extension office be relocated to the new building as soon as the purchase agreement is signed. This would require leasing space from Vernon for a period of up to two months at a cost of $2,200 a month.

The purchase cost of the building at 317 Chestnut Ave. is $185,000. The county is currently paying $2,000 a month for the leased space at the 310 Chestnut Ave. location.

Genereau said since the Extension Service would require slightly less than half the 3,000 square feet in the new building, the plan is to also house the Restorative Justice program and a probation officer there, and possibly the Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) as well. Commissioner Dick Brenner suggested that a representative of the SWCD be invited to next week’s Committee of the Whole to discuss the proposal.

The Board unanimously approved the request for a conditional use permit for Jacqueline Mattson to operate an auto repair, towing and sales business on property in Silver Brook Township, with several conditions attached.

Heather Cunningham, director of planning and environmental services, updated commissioners on the outcome of the Jan. 16 hearing at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) regarding Enbridge’s application for a route permit and certificate of need for its proposed Sandpiper Pipeline. Cunningham said the PUC ruled that the route application was complete but indicated additional information is needed in the certificate of need. Cunningham said the needed information involves “trade secrets” that Enbridge will have to figure out a way to supply to the PUC before the application can be deemed complete and move on to joint informational meetings between the Department of Commerce and the PUC.

Commissioners agreed to serve as sponsor for Phase Two of Thomson Township’s Safe Routes to School Plan, which would add an additional half-mile segment to the phase of the trail recently completed. The township plans to apply for funding for the trail for the 2016 funding year. If the application is approved, the federal government will cover 80 percent of the trail costs with the township picking up the balance.