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Crow Wing County Board splits on dollar limit

Crow Wing County commissioners were pressed to find common ground this week. At issue was whether staff could submit letters of support to receive grant money when the timeline made it impossible to

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Crow Wing County commissioners were pressed to find common ground this week.

At issue was whether staff could submit letters of support to receive grant money when the timeline made it impossible to get board approval first.

Board members couldn’t agree on a dollar limit for a grant and expect the issue to return at a future board meeting. The issue arose when Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment was on a tight timeline to submit a grant application. It was a modest amount with about $6,000 possible for Crow Wing County. But it left Community Services Director Kara Terry with a quandary. The board has been explicit in not wanting to issue letters of support and in pre-approving any that might be warranted. Timing was exceptional as the board had an extended period between meetings. The request for the letter of support came on Tuesday with a Friday deadline. Crow Wing County had to pull out of the grant package. But Terry said she didn’t at first realize the grant related to dollars the county had previously expressed interest in getting. Terry said she didn’t make the connection they were talking about the same pot of funding. So in this case, the county wasn’t out in the cold but to prevent a future issue, Administrator Tim Houle and Terry brought the matter before the board’s committee of the whole.

“I don’t want staff people writing letters on my behalf because this is the policy making board for the county,“ said Commissioner Paul Koering.

Board members recalled a letter of support given in the past to a methadone clinic when the board didn’t know anything about it. Koering said it wasn’t about micro-managing.

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Houle noted if the board wanted to allow grant dollars to come in as long as services were consistent with the county’s mission, commissioners could set an upper limit. Staff could then send the letter and notify the board.

Commissioner Paul Thiede suggested sending a letter that says approval is pending and then bringing the matter forward to the board. Houle noted in the Rural Minnesota CEP case the board wouldn’t have met again for two weeks. Another consideration would be potential harm to a third party applying for a grant for the county when it wasn’t really committed to support.

Thiede suggested a limit of $10,000. Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said the county hires the best people it can who are then closest to the situation. Not being able to trust their judgment, Nystrom said, means there is bigger trouble than the grant issue.

Koering said it was more a matter of trust but verify. The board has an oversight obligation, he said.

Houle’s advice was for the board to major in the majors not in the minors. Setting a $10,000 threshold was too low, he said. Houle recommended $50,000.

Nystrom agreed. Thiede again supported $10,000. Board Chairwoman Rosemary Franzen said she would rather err on the side of doing the job well than letting something get by. Koering said they were looking for a number. Nystrom said they were looking for guidelines. Franzen was in favor of sending an email to the board members and to proceed if no one objects.

Houle said without a dollar figure that throws the door open wider. He said not setting a dollar limit was a bad idea.

Koering and Nystrom supported a $40,000 limit. Thiede countered at $20,000.

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“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Nystrom said, adding if Commissioner Doug Houge was there he would likely have created a majority for the $40,000. Houge doesn’t typically attend the committee of the whole.

The issue is expected back before the full board.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz .

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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