Barrows to retain Crow Wing County Board chairmanship

It’s a departure from recent county tradition to reappoint the chair to another year in the position.

Steve Barrows
Steve Barrows

By unanimous vote, Crow Wing County Commissioner Steve Barrows will remain the county board chair in 2021, with Commissioner Doug Houge continuing in the role of vice chair.

During its annual statutory and organizational meeting Tuesday, Jan. 5, the board voted 5-0 in favor of Commissioner Bill Brekken’s motion to appoint Barrows to the post. Brekken also made the motion for Houge’s appointment.

It’s a departure from recent county tradition to reappoint the chair to another year in the position. Typically, the board elevates the vice chair from the previous year to chair the next year, following a rotation through all board members. But that tradition was upset in 2020 by the ouster of Paul Koering as chair shortly after he publicly acknowledged his support of a candidate seeking to unseat fellow commissioner Houge in a different district. The 3-2 decision saw Barrows move from vice chair to chair and Houge filled the vice chair spot.

Doug Houge


The role of the chair is mostly honorific with the primary duty being running county board meetings. The chair’s signature is also attached to all approved resolutions and other documents on behalf of the rest of the county commissioners.


  • County board sets levy, budget for next year The property tax levy will increase by 4.97% in 2021, meaning the county is expected to collect a total of $41,262,480 next year from those who own property. While still an increase over the 2020 tax levy, it’s a smaller increase than each of the last two years — 6.99% in 2019 and 6.95% in 2020.
  • County preps to distribute state COVID-19 relief funds Of the $242 million in the bill, $114.8 million will head to counties for grantmaking, distributed based on population. This means Crow Wing County would receive over $1.1 million.
  • Effort to name nameless Crow Wing County stream falls short Stretching from Mine Lake near Barrows before entering and exiting Crow Wing Lake on its way to the Mississippi River, the watercourse flows through one of Crow Wing County’s agricultural ditches known as Ditch 14. 
  • With compromise on trails, conservation project moves forward In June, Crow Wing County commissioners tabled the acquisition in favor of seeking a 'no net gain' compromise from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council allowing the county to build new trails if it removed an equal length of trail elsewhere.
  • County services to go all virtual, buildings to close to public again At Thursday’s meeting, the county administrator shared data showing the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in the county. He noted in one week’s time, there were 560 new cases in the county, which accounts for nearly 28% of all the confirmed cases recorded among county residents since March. He pointed to the impacts of this rise throughout many sectors of the community, including school districts and hospitals.
  • County sets backup plans for plowing if the coronavirus strikes Anderson Brothers Construction Co. of Brainerd and Pillager-based Hengel Ready Mix and Construction both agreed to provide workers with Class A commercial driver’s licenses for emergency work if COVID-19 sidelines county employees.

Barrows ended the meeting Tuesday by thanking the board for reappointing him and staff for weathering the difficult year.
“I’ll take this opportunity to thank the board for the support to be the chair in 2021. I appreciate that,” Barrows said. “And hopefully we will have a quieter 2021 than we did 2020. It’s interesting, we started 2020 with some issues that we needed to deal with on the finance side, and then we get the pandemic and we thought we were going to get through that at the mid-year point, and find out that it’s just one issue after another.

“To the staff and everybody, thank you very much for everything you’ve done in 2020. And hopefully we will have a little better year in 2021. Always cautious, but thank you very much for everybody’s effort.”

In other business, the county board:

Awarded the 2021 printing and publishing bid to the joint bidders Brainerd Dispatch, Pineandlakes Echo Journal and Crosby-Ironton Courier for first publication of required legal and financial statements, including county board and board of appeal and equalization proceedings, the delinquent tax list and public notices. Second publication of the financial statement was awarded to the NewsHopper. The NewsHopper submitted bids for both first and second publication, but the first publication bid was not accepted by the county board. The vote was 4-1 with Koering opposed.

Named the Brainerd Dispatch the official newspaper of Crow Wing County for 2021.

Approved the per diem rates for citizen committees. Residents serving on committees will receive $75 per meeting with the exception of the planning commission/board of adjustment. Residents serving on that committee will earn $125 per meeting and $75 per site visit. These rates are the same as 2020.


Made 2021 Association of Minnesota Counties delegate appointments. Delegates this year are Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson and Community Services Director Kara Terry.

Issued no objections to Barrows’ reappointment of commissioners to the same committees as the previous year, including those part of the Association of Minnesota Counties.

Issued no objections to Barrows’ reappointments to citizen committees.

Approved the hiring of Morgan Hanegraaf, social worker for community services.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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