Come In We're Open

With Gov. Tim Walz announcing last week that the “Stay At Home” order would expire May 18, the new target date for reopening many businesses became June 1.

However, local governments are sending letters to the governor in hopes of reopening earlier. The latest in line to contact the state was Aitkin County, which approved a letter May 15 to be sent by both email and hard copy.

The letter reads:

“On behalf of the Aitkin County Board of Commissioners I am reaching out to you today in support of our local business community. I’d like to begin by commending you and your executive team for exhibiting strong leadership, communication, and collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Your daily briefings, dissemination of public health guidance, and coordination of supplies have helped Aitkin County prepare to protect our citizens.

“While Aitkin County has thus far been spared from the broad wave of infections seen throughout the state, we remain prepared to address the significant impact this pandemic has caused. The business community has also been preparing to develop plans to open safely using CDC and MDH guidance.

“As you are aware, our small, rural businesses are in crisis.  Employees are ready to get back to work and employers are asking to use a measured, responsible, voluntary, and deliberate approach to opening.  Due to the low number of COVID cases in Aitkin County and the preparation that local businesses have taken, employers are asking that they be allowed to open now versus June 1 in an effort to save their livelihood and provide much-needed income to their employees.

“Rural counties have prepared well for the wave of COVID-19 that thankfully has not overwhelmed our systems and we will remain ready. We know that one size does not fit all when considering these plans. What we need now is commerce and the ability for rural businesses to provide services for the sake of the survival of our small-town economies and families. “

The letter is signed by Aitkin County Board Chair William Pratt, County Commissioners Mark Wedel, Laurie Westerlund, Anne Marcotte and Don Niemi, county attorney Jim Ratz, State Sen. Carrie Ruud and Congressman Pete Stauber.

The City of Garrison also directed a letter to the state in the last two weeks, which was discussed at the city council meeting May 12.

That letter was more focused, however, on the lack of local government aid (LGA) that Garrison is receiving, and was composed after Walz’s participation in the LMC webinar in late April.

The letter was written by Mayor Loren Larson, and addressed the fact that Garrison receives zero funds from the LGA program – and that Garrison has several properties within its limits that pay little to no property taxes.

“Our operating costs continue to increase about 4% each year,” Larson wrote. “We are in need of about $90,000 to $100,000 in street repair. We need a new fire station to be within code requirements.

“It is unrealistic to continue to raise taxes on our aging residents and businesses that are barely hanging on due to loss of revenue from the lake situation,” he added. “Mille Lacs is a fishing lake and it is full of fish.”

Larson invited the governor to come visit Garrison to review the situation, as well as look over the LGA funding formula.

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