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Region 5 director reports to Cass board

BACKUS — Cheryal Lee Hills, Region 5 Development Commission director, reported on some of the work the region has been doing.

She said the region paid off the balance of a 2006 loan in March this year. The region currently has six full-time staff. The five member counties pay a third of its operations, with the balance coming from grants and other sources.

Region 5 serves Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena Counties and local governments in those counties with assistance in planning, securing grants and coordinating joint projects.

One newer project, which would be funded at least in part with a grant Region 5 is seeking, would enable Pine Rive-Backus School and Leech Lake Tribal College to install solar panels.

Hills discussed the Sprout nonprofit organizational effort to assist local food producers with increasing yields and reaching more local markets for their produce.

Region 5 has worked with member counties to study transportation needs along the Highway 201 corridor.

Tuesday, Cass County commissioners asked to include in this market study not only consideration of the existing public transportation services, but also Cass’s two volunteer driver programs. Both volunteer programs operate with some county subsidy.

The senior transportation program matches volunteer drivers who are paid only mileage with older residents who need a ride to doctor and other appointments. Cass’s similar volunteer driver program is for veterans who need a ride to veteran medical facilities.

Administrator Robert Yochum reported the board’s solid waste committee, comprised of Commissioners Neal Gaalswyk and Bob Kangas, recommended the board refer to a 1998 settlement agreement a request from Jim Kopachek to remove old tires from property he owns.

Kopachek several years ago was a contractor who operated the county’s solid waste facility. He currently maintains the tire pile is left over from a time when he operated the facility and that the county should pay for removal from his property.

However, an agreement he and county officials signed in February 1998 states “All claims related to past or current Cass County Transfer/Processing Facility operations agreements are waived.”

Land Commissioner Joshua Stevenson informed the board his department has been working on a vegetative management plan for land near Widow Lake in central Cass where an old stagecoach road has been identified. About three-fourths of a mile of the trail in on county administered land, he said.

The road shows evidence of deep wagon wheel ruts, he said. Dr. Scott Anfinson, state archaeologist, has been contacted regarding the area.

Stevenson said it is believed the road was used from 1880 to 1905. Some tools and old wagon parts have been found in the area. He said he expects any artifacts archaeologists find will be donated to a museum similar to the Cass County Historical Society.

Stevenson reported a coalition of recreational trail users has requested a letter of support for mapping Cass’s forest access roads and trails connected to the U.S. Forest Service forest access roads/trails in the Chippewa Forest.

The county’s current practice is all its roads and trails are open unless posted closed, while the federal and state policies are the opposite. This could lead to confusion for the public, he suggested, if both the local road/trails were included on a state and federal map.

Stevenson said the county chose its policy, because it appeared the cost to post all trails would cost the county about $40,000 per year to maintain.

Stevenson said he expects some objections from the public where people have used some trails historically, but would be prohibited if the trails were to be added to this map. He also said he expects some objections from local residents.

The county will seek public comment through all townships affected before making a decision.

Administrator Robert Yochum reported county employees have been working with tribal officials to follow up on a January meeting the board had with Leech Lake Tribal Council on ways the two governments can further cooperate.

These included potential future sharing of court and/or detention facilities at Cass Lake, updating a joint law enforcement agreement, future capital plans for road improvements, lake level management and soil and water conservation district initiatives.

Tim Richardson, central services director, reported he received 26 responses to requests for proposal to update the county website. He has narrowed the applicants to seven. He plans to interview these applicants by April 22 before making a recommendation to the board in May.

The board approved purchasing 39 window roller shades to replace blinds that were installed in court offices and courtrooms in 1989 and 1990. The current blinds are crumbling from age, he said.

Bay Carpet and Tile of Walker submitted the bid for $8,872, including installation. The only other bid received ran $13,376.34.

The board approved amending the Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s lease for office space in the land department building in Backus to allow for a two-year notice two cancel the lease. This is an increase from a 60-day notice.

Seven property tax abatements were approved, most of which were for homestead qualification for the properties, which had been overlooked through clerical errors. One was a result of property value lowered due to a fire on the property.

Hackensack American Legion donated $300 to the veterans transportation program.

The board approved a memorandum of understanding with Minnesota Teamsters Public and Law Enforcement Employees Union representing patrol and jail staff, which extends an agreement from the labor contract that expired in 2011 through the end of this year.

It allows employees to set aside their accumulated sick leave up to 400 hours to be paid into a post-retirement health insurance plan.