Also approves purchase of key equipment   

 With 19 issues on the consent agenda approved in short order, the Mille Lacs County Board entertained oral reports and concerns from several organizations and individuals during their first meeting of the month on Tuesday, April 2.

In recognition of April being Child Abuse Prevention Month, three women who are employed by the county to deal with issues concerning abuse of children, presented information on what they have done and are continuing to do in their field.

Jessy Vittum, the county’s child protection lead investigator, told the panel that she had investigated 332 reports of family abuse in 2017 and 278 reports in 2018. Amber Pogatshnik and Emily Funk who are involved with the “Family TIES (Together Interagency Education and Support) program in Milaca and Onamia, reported they dealt with over 800 situations concerning child abuse during the past two years.

The women also reported on special events they sponsor throughout the year, including wearing blue in Onamia and wearing blue ribbons in Milaca during April, helping to draw attention to the important issue of child abuse prevention and intervention in the area. Board chair, Roger Tellinghuisen officially thanked the women for their work.

Waste disposal issues

In conjunction with the board considering revisions to the county’s solid waste ordinance, the panel welcomed input from Roxanne Gerads, representing Jim’s Mille Lacs Disposal, a solid waste and recycling company serving Mille Lacs County. Gerads questioned at least eight items in the proposed ordinance, and said that many of those proposals would “put strong burdens on all of us small haulers.”

She specifically spelled out to the board the “huge expenses” involved in mandatory recycling pick-up her company is experiencing, saying that, with China virtually closing its demand for recycled material, there is no profit for anyone in the business of recyclable collection. “It is just not cost effective for us to be in this business” Gerads said, but her contracts with various cities and areas in the county mandates that her company pick up recycled items on a weekly basis for free.

The board thanked Gerund for her input, and invited her to attend subsequent meetings where revisions will be hammered out on the issues of waste removal in the county.

The Onamia creamery

On the agenda, with particular concern for the town of Onamia, was what to do with a tax-forfeited piece of property (the old creamery in Onamia) that Onamia’s city council had requested to purchase.

Currently the county is administering this property as mandated by the state.

Members of the board questioned whether or not this building was worth fixing up as the City of Onamia had claimed it was.

The board even pondered this site as a northern depot for county law enforcement in the absence of a continuing contract with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

But, after consideration, the board denied Onamia’s request-for-purchase and decided to authorize the submittal of a written request to approve a hold on this tax-forfeited parcel until they meet to decide what further action to take.

With regard to the purchase of abandoned buildings, the board reminded the public that counties are becoming more cautious about what tax-forfeited property they buy.

County heads

Michele McPherson, Director of Land Services of Mille Lacs County, spoke to the board with regard to the upcoming census in 2020. She asked the county to approve a resolution to back her attempts to get an accurate count from those living in Mille Lacs County.

She then shared some concerns about administering the census, citing the fact that students attending college outside the country and “snowbirds” who are gone months during the year, sometimes are missed during the count.

“It is a real issue for the county for all bodies to be counted,” Pat Oman, county administrator, noted.

When asked about the possibility of people being “double counted,” McPherson answered, “Yes. Especially children who are sometimes under-counted or double-counted” depending on where they happen to be living with respect to their parents.

Buying mode

Several pieces of expensive equipment were approved for purchase during the meeting, including the purchase of an armored, military-like vehicle, which would aid law enforcement swat teams in various situations they encounter.

Speaking in support of purchasing this vehicle, commissioner David Oslin said, “I’m going to borrow a line from former President Reagan who advocated ‘strength for peace’ to help our law enforcement personnel.”

The vehicle, brand new priced at over one million dollars, was coming to the county via a 1033 military government surplus program which subsidizes law enforcement agencies in need with equipment at no cost, except for the $11,300 the county will incur for transporting the vehicle to Minnesota from the west coast, and various maintenance procedures needed to be done on the vehicle. The $11,300 would come from the county drug forfeiture fund.

With special import to those around Mille Lacs Lake, sheriff Don Lorge went to bat for the approval of a Minnesota Federal Boating Safety Equipment Grant in the amount of nearly $58,000 for the purchase of a new water-safety boat to be used mainly on Mille Lacs Lake.

The boat, a 2019 Lund Tyee Magnum with Mercury 225 XL 4ST motor, equipped with a hummingbird navigational/side scan, will be used for placing and removing the over 200 buoys on Mille Lacs and for water patrol.

The board also unanimously voted to support the purchase of an ocular scanner for use in prosecution by county lawyers.

The board approved the purchase, despite being warned that this scanner had a record of unreliability in some court cases because it produced a number of false positives.

The $39,500 price tag for the scanner is funded by the 7th Judicial District and the board may choose to discontinue the program after two years.

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