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Cass County Board: County personnel hold planning retreat

HACKENSACK--Newly appointed key Cass County personnel made their first presentations at the county's annual planning meeting last week, while some soon-to-retire department heads made their last.

HACKENSACK-Newly appointed key Cass County personnel made their first presentations at the county's annual planning meeting last week, while some soon-to-retire department heads made their last.

This year's planning retreat was held at Deep Portage Learning Center east of Hackensack. The county owns the environmental education center. Deep Portage Foundation operates it.

Joshua Stevenson, county personnel director and administrator-in-training until November, made the presentation for retiring Administrator Robert Yochum this year.

He said seven key personnel positions will change this year due to retirements.

The county's revenues and expenditures are about even this year after many years when the county was able to add a little to the reserve fund each year.

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Some of that change is due to the fact county personnel will receive a negotiated pay raise this year after several years of only step increases on the pay scale. The contract giving raises continues into 2017.

A change in the state's equalization aid formula still does not benefit Cass County. The county and Leech Lake Band are still waiting for state legislation that would shift more of the state sales tax collected on the reservation to the county. The county has sought that change since 1998, Stevenson said.

When he takes over as administrator, Stevenson said he proposes to streamline board packets for meetings with a new computer program, which costs $600. He also expects minor changes to the county personnel policy in 2017.

Assessor Mark Peterson reported a 46 percent increase in new home starts so far this year and 19 percent value increase in new construction overall. In the 2016 first quarter, real estate sales were up 7 percent and foreclosures down 9 percent.

Three of Cass's assessing office appraisers have completed additional training and certification the state will require by 2019, Peterson said. One is midway in the training. Two still need to take the training.

In other areas of the state, certified appraiser personnel poaching has occurred, because of the statewide shortage, Peterson reported. There is a risk a county could train employees, then lose them to a higher paying county, he warned.

He has not transitioned to using electronic devices in the field as appraisers do their inspections, because of poor wireless reception in many areas and because the appraisers can answer phones and take care of walk-in public at the same time if they do their paperwork in the office.

County Attorney Christopher Strandlie reported an increase in case filings, especially felonies. All court filing will be done electronically, effective July 1.

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There also is an increase in trials, with 17 cases tried so far this year, Strandlie said. This makes turning over case files faster a challenge, he added.

The Legislature failed this year to give counties money for additional county attorney time to handle the state mandated increased additional work on child protection cases, Strandlie said.

Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Anderson is looking at new computer programs to process property taxes and prepare forms to send to taxpayers. She said the state will pay the cost of the first statewide presidential primary election in 2020 after it dropped the caucus system.

Not only has Jennifer Schroeder been trained as the county's new payroll processer, but two other auditor-treasurer employees also have received training, so they can serve as backup to Schroeder when she is on vacation, Anderson said.

She expects a busy absentee balloting season this year as the state expanded that option for voters.

Central Services Director Tim Richardson reported the county, because of the volume it uses, is paying only 53 cents per gallon this year for propane to heat many of its buildings. He said he expects the cost to remain about the same this fall and winter. That is less than natural gas, he said.

On the digital side of his responsibilities, he said it is a challenge to keep up with complex new federal rules being issued frequently for data security.

Cass's mainframe computer is an AS/400, which processes millions of bits per day, but is very old. Richardson said the county will soon have to decide whether to replace its in-house hardware or to shift its data to a cloud service.

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Sandra Norikane, newly appointed chief financial officer, reported the county received in June $55,000 from the state for its April sales tax collection of the new county transportation tax. She said she believes this is an estimated amount, because it is an even number.

It could go up or down whenever the state reconciles actual collections, she said.

Norikane plans to shift the county's accounting system from cash to accrual, which she said will give a more accurate picture of actual expenses within a calendar year.

Cass has been good at being sure new assets purchased have been listed for insurance coverage, but she said she believes more could be done to reduce or remove coverage on older items the county owns or has put out of service.

Robert Sommerville, court administrator, reported the Legislature approved only $1 million of the $20 million requested for improving security in courthouses around the state. Any project approved under this funding also requires a 50 percent local match.

The Legislature increased pay for jurors from $10 to $20 per day and mileage from 28 cents to 54 cents per mile.

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Cass County 2017 Budget Timetable

  • Aug. 16-Department heads submit 2017 requests to Citizen Budget Committee.
  • Aug. 22 and 26-Budget committee reviews requests to prepare preliminary budget.
  • Sept. 2-Optional meeting, further review if needed.
  • Sept. 6-Cass County Board adopts preliminary levy, which can be lowered, but not raised.
  • Sept. 30 and Oct. 14 and 28-Citizen Budget Committee refines 2017 budget to fit inside levy.
  • November-County mails proposed property taxes to taxpayers, based on preliminary levy amount.
  • Dec. 8-6 p.m. Public hearing at courthouse to receive comment on proposed budget.
  • Dec. 20-County Board adopts final 2017 levy and budget.

(The county board appoints one resident from each commissioner district to serve on the Citizen Budget Committee. Two county commissioners also serve.)

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Environmental Services Director John Ringle said Soil and Water Conservation District money can be used to help pay for personnel in his office, because ESD and SWCD offer shared services from the office. More SWCD money is now available than in years past, he added.

ESD is working with townships, Leech Lake Band and the sheriff's office to resolve an increasing number of complaints about public nuisances on properties where people collect a lot of junk, but do not remove or screen it.

After the fact fees likely will increase in 2017. There have been no zoning fee increases in seven years, Ringle said. Solid waste disposal contracts will be reviewed before those expire at the end of 2017.

Melanie Wolfe, financial director for Health, Human and Veterans Services spoke for that department.

All people receiving long term care now will be tracked under the state's MNCHOICES software program. Their current county of residence will enter information rather than their county of origin, meaning Cass gained 35 additional clients to track, Wolfe said.

MNsure state insurance system continues to be hugely inefficient, Wolfe said, taking much more time to enter information and to use in general.

With more Vietnam veterans now qualifying for veteran services, service delivery for that program has risen, she added.

The state dollars are short, meaning more county cost for mandated child protection services and those for the mentally ill, according to Michelle Piprude, human services supervisor.

Wolfe said state support in general will fall short of the cost to provide the programs the state mandates for 2017. People will be able to apply for benefits by phone, but tape recordings of those applications will have to be stored for a record of them, she said.

County Engineer David Enblom made his last planning presentation before his retirement later this year.

He said state aid for highways is up 11 percent this year, partly due to the fact people are driving more as gas prices have declined. Cass will tap into more federal highway money as it becomes available.

The Legislature failed to approve its bonding bill this year, so there is no state aid for bridges or wetland mitigation for 2017 county highway projects, Enblom said. This could delay some scheduled Cass projects, he added.

Enblom said there is a shortage of Minnesota Department of Transportation certified engineering technicians in the state.

This could mean the county would have a hard time replacing its technicians in six or seven years when some current staff likely will retire. He suggested starting to train any interested other employees currently on staff to get certified before the retirements take place.

Kirk Titus, newly appointed land commissioner, made his first planning presentation.

He said customer contacts have increased for land sales and for the county's recreational trails. Timber revenue continues to decline.

Former Land Commissioner Joshua Stevenson said Cass's over mature aspen will be gone in eight years, so the county is now focusing on cutting more mature pine and hardwoods.

Titus said the county began to cut some of its young aspen this year, which is now 40 years old.

Cass submitted its eighth application for Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council funding to purchase more land and is seeking to manage the state's school trust land, Titus said.

Probation Director Jim Schneider has seen an increase in the number of juveniles on probation, which now stands at 100 juveniles.

That department's new program to assess from the time of their arrest the potential for offenders to reoffend is helping probation to set up services sooner, Schneider said. The goal is to help people break the criminal cycle.

There is a shortage of mental health services statewide, Schneider said, which makes getting services to those who need it more difficult. Private providers do not want to take the seriously mentally ill, so that leaves only state programs. Those are considered overloaded at this time.

Probation officers are finding 80 percent of adults in jail had some kind of child protection issues as a child, Schneider reported, making the renewed focus on today's child protection services even more important.

Child protection cases cover a range from neglect to child abuse to mental health issues.

Recorder Katie Norby reported the number of abstracts and Torrens documents filed in her office was down the first quarter this year, compared with 2015. Passport volume also was down.

She expects most recording to remain flat or down slightly into 2017, while applications for passports likely will increase in 2017 unless the Legislature approves Real ID.

Her office has indexed all deeds back to 1948 and is nearly finished digitizing all recorder archives.

Sheriff Tom Burch said the increased jail population is partly driven by a rise in drug activity and sex trafficking in the county.

The state guidelines change for drug offense sentencing will not only mean more users will be referred to treatment than jail, but also will mean informants will have to make four or five drug buys instead of two or three to get a conviction for drug dealers.

This means a longer time until they are charged and more money required to make more buys, Burch noted.

The new law delaying forfeiture of property by felons from the time of arrest to time of conviction will not make a lot of difference in Cass County, according to Burch.

On police body cameras, he said his department has used them successfully for several years.

 

 

Related Topics: CASS COUNTY
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