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Building security systems in Cass County will be updated

WALKER — Sheriff Tom Burch obtained county board approval Tuesday to spend up to $25,000 to update the county’s building security systems.

While these updates had been under consideration for some time, the need for swifter action follows a recent shooting incident at Cook County Courthouse.

Cass already has security cameras in many areas of county buildings and panic buttons in many offices, Burch said he believes newer cameras will give sharper images and that more offices could benefit from having fast-response buttons.

Administrator Robert Yochum said he thinks county staff could benefit from updated employee training on how to handle the public to diffuse potential difficulties in dealing with people.

Commissioner Jim Dowson, a former sheriff, suggested there could be some court security money available to help the county pay for improvements.

Sheriff Tom Burch said he would like to see fewer entrances to county buildings open to the public, so remaining entrances could be more closely monitored. He said he will report back in about a month with a suggested security improvement plan.

Reno Wells, Cass County Health, Human and Veterans Services director, has sent letters to fire departments in the county to notify them that the 2010 Minnesota Legislature made low cost health care insurance available to them.

Anyone volunteering on a fire department or ambulance service can apply as of Dec. 1 to sign up for Minnesota Care Basic Plus One insurance for adults through the state if the payments they receive for volunteering do not exceed $6,000 per year. It is not a family policy.

There are very few eligibility and verification requirements, Wells said, adding, the application form is only two-pages long. Cost for those who take the insurance will be $427 per month, he said.

So far, first responders are not included in the legislation.

Probation Director Jim Schneider reported to the county board Tuesday that transferring his departmental records to digital records on the county main hard drive is nearly complete. This enabled him to remove from his office and give to the sheriff’s department a huge paper file storage unit.

With the opened space in his office, the board authorize him to spend up to $2,500 to purchase a new work station unit, so a data entry employee working in an office with six people can transfer into his other office where three people work.

With the retirement of Hal Solem, who has been probation diversion program official for 15 years, the board authorized Schneider to replace that position with a qualified probation officer who would have certification to make arrests.

Health, Human and Veterans Services employees currently on staff will do some of the in-home visits Solem has been doing, Schneider said. The new probation officer will take on some of the existing probation officers’ work load as well as doing diversion program work.

While a newly hired person at Solem’s pay rate would cost the county $54,657 per year, compared with a newly hired probation officer at $60,177 per year, Schneider said the probation officer will qualify for state reimbursement, making the county’s cost only $42,726.

The board voted to pay people appointed to citizen committees $75 per meeting (the same as commissioner per diems) and mileage allowed under the county personnel rules.

The county uses the IRS rate each year for mileage. In 2012, the mileage rate will be 55.5 cents per mile for business.

County Engineer David Enblom obtained board approval to spend $150,000 from his 2012 equipment budget to purchase a new tandem truck with snowplow and to spend $40,000 to purchase a semi-tractor.

Enblom said tandem trucks he last bought new in 2007 have been a little underpowered and have required a significant amount of repairs, so he plans to buy the new truck at one level higher than the last model style. He hopes by doing that to get a more durable machine.

The highway department uses a semi-tractor to haul a trailer for moving heavy equipment around the county, he said. The tractor he will phase out with this purchase is a 1988 model purchased in 1991.

The board authorized Enblom to attend the National Association of County Engineers in Kentucky in April.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has asked Cass County Environmental Services Department to serve as lead local government for Phase 1 of the Leech Lake River Watershed Restoration and Protection Project.

It is a two-year project to compile and summarize watershed history and water quality data. From that, a comprehensive plan will be developed toward Phase 2. The project involves a $30,000 grant. It covers an area from Bemidji, through Cass County to south of Breezy Point in Crow Wing County.

The board approved accepting a conservation easement for property Richard Nelles owns in Crooked Lake Township near Outing. Cass currently manages seven conservation easements on private property.

“I’m a little reluctant to act on this for the tax benefit for one individual,” Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk said, voting against the easement.

People placing land into a conservation easement can deduct from their income taxes the difference between the current appraised value of their land done by an independent appraiser and the current value used to compute taxes.

While it does not change the county’s value used to compute taxes in future years, it does prevent the value from dramatically increasing as it would if a property were to be developed in the future.

Environmental Services Director John Ringle said he sees conservation easements as a good way to set aside land in sensitive areas where development might not be a good idea for the environment.

Nelles’s land lies adjacent to a narrow outflow area from the south shore of Washburn Lake. It has one building site and contains 38.6 acres. It has 1,194 feet of lakeshore.

The board authorized paying Deep Portage Conservation Reserve $3,650 for putting on a one-day program for Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School children. Attending were 60 students and 13 adults.

Cass makes available such environmental learning programs to any school district in the county and for home schooled children.