Although not on the regular agenda, Rep. Dale Lueck (R-10B) gave the Aitkin County Board of Commissioners his opinion on a couple topics affecting the county at the regular meeting of the board Dec. 8.
Lueck said he’s working on a bill to help the county resolve the issues caused by the pending dissolution of the Central Minnesota Community Corrections, of which Aitkin County is a member. Aitkin County is looking to operate as its own Community Corrections Act, but would need legislative action to do so, as a CCA must have a population of at least 30,000.
Aitkin County Administrator Nathan Burkett hopes the Department of Corrections wouldn’t oppose change in legislation, and would place Aitkin County under a “planning county” status that would allow more time to get legislation passed.
Lueck also talked about broadband coming to the county, reporting that Aitkin County will see an expansion of the service through CenturyLink, as it will be spending significant federal funds within the county in the next few years.
Commissioner Anne Marcotte said she spoke with someone at CenturyLink and was shown a map of where the work would take place – around Hill City and Aitkin – not in outlying areas that need coverage the most. She also said the work wouldn’t be done until 2017.
Great River Road
John Welle, county engineer, presented the Great River Road project to the board, asking for a resolution to transfer $1,096,529 from the general fund to cover the cost of the second phase of construction, which is now complete. The funds would cover 20 percent of the construction cost as well as right of way acquisition and external warrant costs for the project. The remaining $3,838,314 in construction costs is being covered by a combination of federal grants and state aid construction funds.
The first phase of construction resulted in over $819,000 being transferred by resolutions in 2009 and 2010. The third phase, reported Welle, is delayed indefinitely at this time. There is no grant money available to cover the approximately $6 million cost.
During his administrative report, Burkett brought up a touchy subject with the board regarding the dissolution of the CMCC.
“There will be liability with making personnel decisions going forward,” stated Burkett. While he doesn’t foresee the current six staff already working for the CMCC having any employment issues, there are specific clauses that some CMCC staff have benefits owed them for three years or even a lifetime.
“We have zero post-employment liabilities in Aitkin County,” explained Burkett.
The board approved a resolution presented by Burkett to waive the 30-day notice of dissolution and the requirement to hold a special meeting considering a resolution to dissolve.
The board of commissioners approved a preliminary levy increase of 3.6 percent in 2016 at a hearing held Dec. 8.
The initial budget gap for 2016 was estimated at $1.4 million, caused entirely by projected cost increases.
The county has budgeted $609,974 coming out of the general fund in 2016 to help balance the bottom line.
In his report, Nathan Burkett, Aitkin County administrator, outlined the following factors for the levy increase:
• Salary, wage and benefit increases under current union contracts;
• General inflationary expense related to the purchase of products and services for the operations of the county;
• Increases in expenses because 2016 is an election year;
• Increase in requests for capital spending; and
• Requests for additional personnel.
The Sheriff’s Department will add one full-time employee in 2016, according to Burkett’s report. There are times at current staffing levels where it is difficult to ensure there is coverage for the dispatch center.
The Aitkin County Veterans Service Office will add a permanent part-time VSO. The addition will help with outreach by having office hours in communities outside of Aitkin, and will increase the number of veterans in Aitkin County obtaining benefits they have earned because of their service, states Burkett’s report.
There are several planned retirements throughout Aitkin County in 2015, but three positions were identified as not being funded or only partially funded. They are: computer specialist, assistant county assessor/appraiser and deputy county recorder.
The county made substantial changes to the benefit offerings to certain county employees. The new Aitkin County Health Care plan is designed to control costs for employee benefits in the long term and provide a better benefit to employees.
Under services, the county is required to provide for election administration. Because 2016 is a presidential election year, there is an even greater expense for the county, states the report.
The county is required to provide nursing services for inmates in the county jail, and the county’s contract costs increased significantly during 2015.
Although it is likely Aitkin County will realize the projected revenue at the jail for 2016, Burkett’s report said jail revenues vary and there are potential changes to sentencing guidelines that may change the demand for jail beds.
The estimated tax impact on a $100,000 homestead is $295 for the year; for a $250,000 homestead $990; and a $300,000 commercial or industrial property will see an increase to $2,433.
The final levy will be approved by the Aitkin County Board of Commissioners at its Dec. 22 meeting. The overall levy may go down, but cannot increase.
In other business
• Liquor license renewals were approved by the board, including one for Fisherman’s Bay, from which Commissioner Brian Napstad abstained.
• An SSTS Inspector contract between the county and Martin Joyce Septic Service, LLC, was approved for $350 per day, similar to the amount paid in 2015.
• $5,000 was placed into reserves in the Environmental Services Department for purchasing newer vehicles in three to four years.