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New location for government offices should be chosen carefully

As reported in last week's edition of the Pine Journal, Carlton County is inching closer to a final decision on its preferred site for the construction of a new Human Services Building. This is a project and site selection that has, for the most ...

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As reported in last week's edition of the Pine Journal, Carlton County is inching closer to a final decision on its preferred site for the construction of a new Human Services Building. This is a project and site selection that has, for the most part, received very little attention and input from the public and business community.

The county has been working for the better part of a year on its space needs for its human services, law enforcement and other governmental offices. The buildings that house each of these service areas currently have conditions present which may justify future improvements and/or new facilities. Due to the high estimated costs for these facilities, the county has opted to initially focus its attention on its Human Services facility. Most of these offices are located in downtown Cloquet and Moose Lake.

The county commissioners will be considering the recommendation of its site selection committee next week. In evaluating five different locations, the committee has ranked the redevelopment of its current location in downtown Cloquet as its fourth best site. The preferred location is near the existing County Transportation Building on Highway 61.

As the mayor of Cloquet, the citizens of Carlton County should be concerned about the direction this project is heading. I would offer the following points of concern:

  • The move would result in the loss of over 100 jobs in our business community.
  • With core downtowns moving further away from retail and towards more service sector jobs, the loss of these service sector jobs will be very difficult to replace.
  • County statistics reflect the larger share of users are from the Cloquet area and the logic of relocating such facilities away from the main users makes no sense.
  • With transportation costs rising, the ability of the many area users of this facility will be taxed further whether it's the cost of public transportation or the cost for their personal vehicles when gas exceeds $4 per gallon.
  • People without personal transportation would need local Dial-A-Ride. While the Dial-A-Ride system may be able to be adjusted to provide service to such facility, there currently is not a regular route or timely schedule to drop off and pick up at the proposed location. Such a schedule may require the county to provide additional site improvements to accommodate users and dependents that could be at the site for an extended period of time until a bus arrives.
  • The county is looking at a series of wells to provide water to this facility. The provision of sufficient water in this part of Carlton County is challenging as is well understood by the businesses currently located along Highway 210 that have been required to drill multiple wells to meet demand.
  • In moving the facility away from the county's main population center of Cloquet to a rural area within the county, why is the relocation of all existing county functions in Moose Lake or elsewhere not being considered as a further cost savings measure?

The city of Cloquet and a variety of local organizations including the Cloquet Chamber of Commerce and other individuals have been discussing the site options being considered as part of the proposed Human Services/Government Center facility. While the city has had opportunity to provide input into this selection process, we believe that the criteria used to determine a preferred site have not taken into proper consideration the negative impact of relocating this type of business from our community and the impact on the users of the facility. The loss of jobs, the loss of sales at local shops and service providers, and eventual negative impact on the tax base of our community have not been properly evaluated. The long term cost of such a facility to the taxpayers of our county will out-weigh any increased short-term costs related to site development in downtown Cloquet.
The city of Cloquet has offered on several occasions to partner with Carlton County to work to develop the new governmental center in downtown Cloquet. This partnership could include the investigation of road closure, road realignment, land acquisition, etc. The city is willing to assist the county in the development of a project that will benefit all of the taxpayers of Carlton County.

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From current information obtained from county officials, the total cost of constructing the new facility is estimated at $15-20 million. I would strongly encourage citizens of Carlton County, area businesses and the users of county human services and its related departments, to contact the county commissioners to express your thoughts regarding the final site location. To move such a facility to a location which removes it further from the constituency that uses it most frequently does not seem a prudent expenditure of tax dollars. I would further encourage the county commissioners to take the time necessary to make their study and plans more public so valuable input from business and citizens can be obtained along with the examination of the proposed funding, cost of the project, and other related issues. With a project of this magnitude and importance, there is no reason to rush to a decision without all of the information being available and considered for each site.

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