Marcum House, one of several buildings at Long Lake Conservation Center

Marcum House, one of several buildings at Long Lake Conservation Center, is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Aitkin County Land Commissioner Rich Courtemanche presented to the county board last week options to reduce the operating budget for the rest of 2020 due to the pandemic.

As the COVID-19 pandemic moves into summer and many businesses work toward reopening, the impact felt by Aitkin County’s Long Lake Conservation Center continues to grow.

LLCC, which serves as a nature education center, camp and outdoor recreation area, lost all of its spring activities and has canceled its summer camps due to the pandemic.

As a result, revenues for the center have dropped precipitously. At the June 9 Aitkin County Board meeting, Land Commissioner Rich Courtemanche came before the board looking for advice on how to handle staff for the remainer of the year.

Courtemanche presented three options: one, close LLCC and lay off staff for the remainder of 2020; two, retain only the education manager on reduced hours and to furlough maintenance until August, when LLCC could reopen to non-school groups and see relief funding; or three, an alternative to No. 2 that would retain admin and maintenance staff at reduced hours.

“Right now, all revenue streams have ceased through August,” Courtemanche said.

Aitkin County’s two employees at Long Lake – Anthony Miller in maintenance and Courtney Dowell, the education manager – are both on reduced hours each week, down from 40 to 32.

The options for reducing costs would include keeping both Miller and Dowell furloughed eight hours a week. The county is self-insured for unemployment, meaning it would foot at least some the cost.

In a typical year, LLCC would bring in between $600,000 and $750,000 in revenues – and has lost about $540,000 of that revenue so far.

With the three options, the center would still lose a minimum of $25,000 and as much as $176,000 for the remainder of the year.

In other items taken up by the board at the June 9 meeting:

• Aitkin County Jail Administrator Karla White gave a quick update on the jail situation, saying that occupants that could be safely released were due to the pandemic, and that the jail is just starting to arrest and bring suspects in again now versus stopping them and having them sign a promise to appear.

Primarily, felony offenses were arrested during the pandemic, she said, and the jail population had been down to just 20 or so inmates.

Now, the jail is back up to about 30 to 40 inmates, she said – but the jail still had room to quarantine people to limit any spread of the COVID-19 virus.

She was asked by board member Mark Wedel if any staff had been forced to reduce hours, and White said not yet, since staff had been moved onto other waiting projects.

• In the county administrator update, Administrator Jessica Seibert warned that the Aitkin County License Center has been “swarmed” since it reopened.

The center is operating by appointment-only, and due to a lack of staff, the voicemail for the phone line has been shut down.

People are encouraged to call back when they cannot get through, but she cautioned that appointments are running more than a week out at this point.

The license center number is 218-927-7057. Residents are still asked to handle tab renewals through the mail.

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