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The Regional Report: Breezy Point ranks high in tax-forfeited properties; Motley police and fire chiefs leave posts

AITKIN

Budget cuts are in the pipeline for the Aitkin School District, which has been spending at a deficit, the Aitkin Independent Age reported. The school board approved cuts totaling about $600,000 for the 2018-19 school year, including the elimination of staff positions. Among those is the assistant principal position at Aitkin High School.

Aitkin High School will undergo renovations this summer, the Aitkin Independent Age reported. The school board approved up to $3.1 million from long-term facilities maintenance bonds for the construction, which is set to include updates to classrooms, hallways, special education classrooms and support areas, bathrooms, commons and flooring. The district will pay for the project using its long-term facilities maintenance revenue, meaning the work will not require an increase in property tax levy.

BREEZY POINT

While accounting for less than 2 percent of Crow Wing County's square mileage, the city of Breezy Point finds itself a leader in a troubling category. The Echo Journal reported 462 of the county's 1,200 tax-forfeited properties are within the city's limits—nearly 40 percent. Mayor Tom Lillehei told the Breezy Point City Council he wants to begin a working group to develop solutions for the problem, which currently represents nearly $130,000 in special assessments going unpaid to the city.

A proposed change to Crow Wing County's all-terrain vehicle ordinance prompted the city of Breezy Point to respond, the Echo Journal reported. City council members agreed to send comments to the county, stating it would not support the change permitting some ATVs to drive on county road shoulders—unless the county considered permitting golf carts to do the same. The city has about 400 golf carts licensed to travel on city streets.

CROSBY

Serpent Lake has an uninvited guest lurking in its waters, the Crosby-Ironton Courier reported. The lake will soon be treated for curly leaf pondweed, an invasive aquatic plant. The treatment is expected to run from May 1 through June 15 and will use an herbicide targeted toward the invasive species, certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

MILLE LACS COUNTY

Despite the objections of Mille Lacs Soil and Water Conservation District, Mille Lacs County commissioners approved a noxious weed control plan using, in part, chemicals, the Mille Lacs Messenger reported. The county previously relied on "targeted spot mowing" for weed control in its ditches, but commissioners saw chemical control as an option improving efficiency and reducing costs. Because the county does not employ anyone licensed through the Minnesota Department of Health to apply chemicals for weed control, it will contract with a private company. Landowners may opt out of chemical treatments near their properties, but must control weeds in those areas themselves.

MORRISON COUNTY

Morrison County is suing a number of opioid manufacturers and distributors, the Morrison County Record reported. Although the only plaintiff in this particular case, Morrison County joins a number of other jurisdictions seeking relief against drug companies over the impacts of the opioid addiction epidemic. In a 131-page complaint, Morrison County accuses the companies of lobbying for doctors to prescribe more opioids through deceptive marketing practices. The complaint also alleges distributors filled so-called suspicious orders to Morrison County pharmacies—orders that should have been flagged due to their size. A representative with a trade group representing prescription drug distributors told the Record the county was targeting the wrong culprits with its lawsuit, and should instead be addressing root causes of the crisis.

MOTLEY

The city of Motley will have two new leaders in its police and fire departments, the Staples World reported. Fire Chief Todd Judd resigned, citing personal reasons. Judd intends to remain a member of the fire department. The Motley City Council appointed 1st Asst. Chief Kyle Frisk to the chief post, promoting Brad Olson to first assistant chief.

Police Chief Ron Smith announced his retirement from law enforcement following 29 years in the field. Smith said he will continue to be part of the Motley community and was looking forward to serving it in other ways.

Smith was recently the subject of discipline by the city council. In February, Smith was ordered five days without pay, six months probation and his privilege to take home a squad car was revoked, according to the Staples World. Smith's conduct included violations of the city's employee manual requiring annual firearms training and a section dictating an officer be "properly armed for the protection of society and themselves." The discipline also centered on violations of the city's personnel policy.

NISSWA

Have something to say about police body cameras? The Nisswa Police Department is seeking public comments about possible use of the cameras by its officers, the Echo Journal reported. To comment, contact Chief Craig Taylor at craig@nisswapolice.com.

ONAMIA

Budget cuts will hit the Onamia School District next year, as its existing 10-year operating referendum will run out, the Mille Lacs Messenger reported. Cuts planned include staff positions within the district—although an increase in impact aid revenue means cuts will not be as deep as the school board proposed in a preliminary budget.

PEQUOT LAKES

In a change, the Pequot Lakes City Council indicated willingness to support installation of billboards in city limits along the newly constructed stretch of Highway 371, the Echo Journal reported. The council agreed to amend the city's ordinance, allowing two-sided billboards on city-owned property along the highway. Now, a committee consisting of two council members, the Pequot Lakes director of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce and some business owners are tasked with presenting a plan to the planning commission. The plan would ultimately return to the council for approval.

Prompting the change of course was outcry from some business owners, who've stated business is down in the community since the bypass was constructed.

PILLAGER

The 2018 Citizen of the Year in Pillager almost didn't accept her award, the Staples World reported, because she was busy doing the very thing that led to her recognition—volunteering. Jamie Hauge was selected for the honor, in recognition of a long list of volunteering efforts the Pillager woman has undertaken. She spearheaded the Pillager Coats for Kids program, serves on the Pillager Fair Board and is a member of the board for the Pillager Family Center, among others.

-- Compiled by Chelsey Perkins, community editor. Perkins may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow her on Twitter @DispatchChelsey or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dispatchchelsey.

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