Three separate departments of Aitkin County presented their budgets at the Aug. 24 Aitkin County Board meeting – with the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Department leading the way.
Sheriff Dan Guida came forth with a budget that asks for an additional full-time employee as Aitkin County gets ready to begin work on a Violent Crimes Enforcement Team (VCET) that will include Aitkin, Itasca and Mille Lacs counties.
Guida said that with the number of drug arrests already being made in Aitkin County, the time is right to begin additional enforcement. In addition, a recent dissolution of a team that was part Minnesota and part North Dakota means state funds for an additional VCET team could be available.
“They’ve had them forever,” Guida said about the state, adding that many of these teams are funded through grants and Aitkin County has been encouraged to apply for one of those grants. Guida said that drug activity in the county is ramping up. In 2019 there were 84 drug cases of gross misdemeanor or higher offense, while in 2020 there were 95. So far in 2021, there have been 62 cases and Guida believes the county is on track for 112.
There have been several high-profile busts in the county, including two where the county sheriff’s office paired with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the Mille Lacs County sheriff and the Mille Lacs Band Tribal Police.
“We did two events where we brought someone in to help us,” said Guida, who said at the county board meeting that the summer had been exhausting. “We ended up seizing a large amount of drugs and firearms.”
But the department will be on the hook for some portion of the costs. The amount will depend on how much funding the task force receives. Right now, Guida said discussions have focused on Aitkin County taking the administrative lead for the team, which will mean hiring an administrative assistant as well as the full-time officer. But the cities of Aitkin and Grand Rapids would be committing a full-time position as well, as would the Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Department.
Guida said that conversations about adding the Mille Lacs Band Tribal Police to the task force are on hold because of the pending lawsuit against Mille Lacs County over the reservation.
Guida said a dedicated task force would allow his department to pursue more tips and investigations.
“Part of our job is really tough. We can just keep following along as things happen and just be reactive,” he said. “Or we can take the hints that we get and try to make our community safer.
“I really feel like this Violent Crimes Enforcement Team will have an impact on our communities,” he added.
Guida said discussions are already underway with the other counties in question. The task force would likely get a two-year grant from the state of Minnesota, but he is unsure how much funding would be included.
He is hopeful, though, that the amount would be about $150,000 per year for two years.
Also presenting budget information were Aitkin County Land Commissioner Rich Courtemanche and Aitkin County Engineer John Welle.
Courtemanche’s presentation broke down the various departments within the Aitkin County Lands and Parks Department. He explained that the department has several different divisions of its budget, including consolidated conservation lands, forfeited tax sale lands, resource development, parks and trails and surveying and Geographic Information System mapping (GIS) work.
Among the highlights:
• This will be the second year in a row that the surveying and GIS will not use any levy dollars.
• Because of the several different departments and different funds with rules to “zero out” balances, Courtemanche said that an overall budget summary is difficult. If everything is totaled and forfeited tax sales are factored in, Courtemanche estimated that the department would be in the positive by $97,383.
The highway department, meanwhile, is looking at an overall decrease in its revenues and expenditures.
As of June 30, the highway department had spent $4,122,394 of its adopted 2021 $11,081,376 budget.
For 2022, Welle is proposing a budget of $10,067,764 for both expenditures and revenues. Roughly $4 million of that will be aimed at capital infrastructure work.