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Cass County Board: County offers funds for County Road 77 trail

BACKUS — Lake Shore City Council and Trail 77 Team succeeded Tuesday in obtaining $20,000 from Cass County to pay a portion of the cost for phase one of a planned recreational trail along County State Aid Highway 77.

Trail 77 Team has engaged Short Elliott Hendrickson to plan and engineer the trail, which is expected to connect with the Paul Bunyan Trail and have links to trails in East Gull Lake and Nisswa.

The city has pledged $3,000 to the project and the Initiative Foundation $11,000 of the expected $34,000 phase one cost.

Though CSAH 77 is a heavily traveled highway, hikers and bikers currently try to use the edge of that road for their recreation. Trail planners see a designated trail as a much safer alternative.

Kevin Lee, North Memorial Ambulance Service, reported to Cass County Board Tuesday that Longville Ambulance Service served 219 patients in 2011, down from the 288 people transported in 2010.

Revenues and expenditures were down due to lower patient volumes, Lee said. The Longville Service took in $651,404 and spent $542,033 in 2011 for a 16.8 percent margin.

Lee said the service had a paramedic working on every shift during the fourth quarter of 2011 even though the service is rated as part-time paramedic. This year is the third in a row for Longville Ambulance rates to remain the same, he said.

Five years ago, the county established an ambulance service taxing district for Longville and surrounding townships and engaged North Memorial Ambulance as the contracting service provider. The first five year contract ran out Jan. 1.

The contract with North Memorial automatically will renew beginning this year with two-year increments unless the county or North Memorial notifies the other of intent to cancel the contract. The county board also renewed land and building leases.

Cass County commissioners voted to support the city of Bemidji’s offer to become the site of a new veterans home. The closest veterans homes to this area are currently located at Fergus Falls and Silver Bay.

Sanford Health, owner of the hospital and attached clinic in Bemidji, has donated 15 acres of land and offered to share such services for economic efficiencies as mechanical system, laundry and dietary.

Administrator Robert Yochum told Cass commissioners he expects federal funding and/or state bonding money to pay for a north central Minnesota veterans home once a site is selected.

Kim Minton, support services supervisor, reported the senior transportation program gets heavy use.

Volunteer drivers usually are dedicated people who want to provide their service as long as they remain healthy enough to do it, Minton said when asked if higher gas prices will result in fewer drivers. The drivers are paid the IRS mileage rate and no wages.

One problem Minton did encounter in the last year was that Medical Assistance denied Cass’s claims to pay for no-load miles. This meant the county budget had to pick up that difference.

She said in a rural county, people willing to drive may not live close to people who need a ride to medical appointments or other services. Drivers sometimes have to travel several miles before they have a client loaded in their car. The county cannot get Medical Assistance reimbursement for eligible clients until they are in the car.

Even so, Minton said she only had to spend $68,000 or 80 percent of the $84,000 budget in 2011 for senior transportation program.

Older people not eligible for Medical Assistance can use the program by paying toward the volunteer transportation service, she added.

Currently, Minton is seeking new drivers for the Pillager and Cass Lake areas.

Cheryal Lee Hills, Region Five executive director, reported that agency has improved its financial position from having a $128,823 deficit in 2007 when she became director to having a positive balance at the end of 2008, 2009, 2010 and $36,618 balance at the end of 2011.

The board approved Hills’s recommendation to consolidate a Crow Wing County economic development revolving loan fund with one Region Five also has administered for Cass, Morrison, Todd and Wadena Counties.

Hills said this will save her office administrative costs and leave more loan fund money available for those who borrow from it.

Since 1986, Region Five has made available $7,274,935 in 231 loans in Cass County, of which $5,442,037 principal has been repaid. These loans leveraged another $63,539,810 in private funding and $17,857,599 in public funding to create 3,881 jobs, Hills reported.

Only 14.61 percent were written off, she said. There currently is $446,459 available for lending.

Region 5 also loaned seven Cass County residents and five Crow Wing County residents at 3 percent interest money to improve their failing private sewer or water well systems under a separate revolving loan program in 2011, Hills reported.

One more loan is pending in Cass and another in Crow Wing County. One Crow Wing application was denied.

Applicants must provide proof of ability to repay, but there is no income limit.

Cass will receive $345,026.38 this year from the Chippewa National Forest 25 percent fund generated from timber sales on land within that forest.