Cass County Board: Several organizations receive ARPA funding

$265,000 in American Rescue Plan Act grant funding goes to seven groups.

Cass County Courthouse in Walker.
Cass County Courthouse in Walker.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

BACKUS — With approximately $265,000 left to spend in American Rescue Plan Act grant funding and requests totalling over $400,000, Cass County officials have some tough decisions to make.

Cass County Board of Commissioners heard from seven different American Rescue Plan Act grant applicants at the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21. County Administrator Josh Stevenson suggested the board hear from all applicants and then make a decision at the end to allow for the board to better accommodate everyone.

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The first request was from the organization My Neighbor to Love Coalition with a request for $75,000. The request is to assist in the building of subsidized housing complexes for people experiencing homelessness due to hardships. One of the main concerns from the commissioners was that the housing is located within Crow Wing County, and with that county receiving the tax dollars from the property the commissioners have a hard time justifying funding the organization despite the building assisting people that work in Cass County.

The second request was from Gary Dietrich, representing the Hackensack Game Changers Child Care Team. Dietrich said they were requesting a total of $108,000 to assist in creating a child care facility in Hackensack. Before COVID Hackensack had three in-home day care facilities, Dietrich said, but since COVID all three have had to close. Mann Lake Bee & Ag Supply, the main employer in the area, has agreed to possibly assist in funding this day care in order to entice future employees. The location of the child care facility would be in the lower level of the United Congregation Church in Hackensack and the funding would assist in making renovations to the facility. The current plans are to renovate the area to run one pod of day care, which would accommodate 12 children with one provider or 14 children with two providers. Dietrich said there is hope to possibly accommodate another pod and any funding that is received would be used toward renovating the additional pod for future use. He also said the church is very supportive of the child care facility and has offered the space at about a 50% rent reduction.

A third request was submitted in writing for $50,000 to assist the Remer Area Ambulance Service in the purchase of a new ambulance. The oldest truck in the fleet is 15 years old and scheduled replacement is every seven years. With COVID, the replacement of the truck was put on hold, the ambulance service reported. The replacement cost is $188,875 with other committed funding in the amount of $138,879.


The fourth request was from Pine River Backus Family Center for the amount of $50,874 to assist in the hire of a third employee to provide home visiting support to families in Cass County. This program partners with Cass County Child Protection to identify and support families with the highest risks. Currently, the program works with families from prenatal to when the child is 2 years of age. The center’s retention rate is around 91%, retaining 20 out of 22 families. The majority of the time a family is not retained is due to them moving out of the county. In order for the program to expand and grow they are needing to hire a third person, but the program does not have enough funding.

The next request was from Arvig Telephone Company, doing business as TDS Telecom, in the amount of $100,000 to assist in providing broadband internet to underserved areas. The five local exchange service areas include Backus, Hackensack, Pequot Lakes, Pine River and Woman Lake. An Arvig representative said Cass County is ranked 79th out of 87 for broadband access. Arvig is currently planning to apply for a Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Grant in the state’s 2023 grant round, with an application due date of March 2. Any money received from the county would help with the application process in acknowledging the county is supportive of the project.

Barbara Mann with Balsam Moon Preserve presented the next grant request in the amount of $3,000 to assist in expanding programs provided to the public on alternative, sustainable living. With this funding the organization plans to offer programs to include a soil regeneration project, alternative root cellar design, expanding the children’s story walk through the woods, humane chicken butchering, foraging for wild edibles and other classes. Mann said the board has approved a budget of $13,187 to fund this expansion and currently they have $2,800 in their checking account and they have secured another $2,500 matching grant from Sourcewell.

The final American Rescue Plan Act request was from Northland Community School, represented by Interim Superintendent Mary Yakibchuk. The request was to assist in paying for a full-time health/attendance paraprofessional for the 2023-24 school year in the amount of $15,000. Yakibchuk said after COVID-19 school officials realized there was a need to have a full-time health paraprofessional on staff to help relieve office staff. Also, during COVID a lot of families kept their children home due to that option, but since then the school has noticed a decline in attendance and would like to have a staff person dedicated to assisting families in making sure their students attend school.

After hearing all requests, the board discussed the pros and cons of each. Commissioner Jeff Peterson said he would like to fund all the requests in full, but did state the ones he felt most important. Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk said he was grateful for the input and made a motion fund the requests as follows:

  • $7,500 to My Neighbor to Love Coalition
  • $108,000 to Hackensack Game Changers Child Care Team
  • $50,000 to City of Remer and Remer Area Ambulance Service
  • $50,874 to Pine River Backus Family Center
  • $30,610 to Arvig Telephone Company dba TDS Telecom
  • $3,000 Balsam Moon Preserve
  • $15,000 Northland Community Schools

The motion passed unanimously.
The board also heard the fourth quarter report from Kevin Lee with the Longville Ambulance Service. Lee said revenues were $4,654 favorable to budget, with expenses also being favorable to budget by $17,598. However, overall the net margin for the fourth quarter was a loss of $18,751. Lee thanked the board for approving the subsidy increase for 2023 and is projecting the 10% margin goal will be met next year. Due to problems with the vendor that compiles the customer satisfaction reports, no satisfaction score was available for the fourth quarter, but a letter from a patient in Longville was included with a positive review and saying they were grateful to have the service available.

In other business, commissioners:

Heard a report from the Opioid Settlement Committee, where the recommendation from the committee was that the commissioners be the chief strategists when determining how opioid settlement funds are used. The board approved the recommendation.


Approved a 25% increase retroactive to Jan. 1 to Grinning Bear, as an interim solution, to move materials from transfer stations at May Township, Walker/Hackensack and Slagle’s to the Pine River Transfer Station and approved a total increase of 7.4% requested from Waste Partners for both the Transfer Station and Recycle Bin agreements retroactive to Jan. 1, which would be a projected increase of $80,000 in 2023.

Heard the annual report from Executive Director of Cass County Economic Development, Mike Paulus regarding economic development in Cass County. Paulus told the board the $430,000 Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development-funded Main Street Revitalization Grant received was used to target a main street business for Tractor Supply Store in Pine River. Paulus also mentioned a total of 798 hours were given to consulting Cass County business owners which resulted in $13,200,000 in capital raised to fund company growth.

Awarded a contract to Steinbrecher Painting Company in the amount of $45,365 for the Deep Portage drywall replacement project.

Awarded a contract to Helmin Construction,Inc. in the amount of $158,949 to clear trees in order to begin on the County State Aid Highway 70 project in East Gull Lake.

Approved the Leech Lake 200 snowmobile race Feb. 25-26 along the Leech Lake water course with Cass County Sheriff’s Department staffing for emergency purposes.

Approved a 10% cash match up to $41,500 for the Northern Waters Land Trust grant application to the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for the acquisition of the 67.2 acre Wold property on Lake Leavitt, which will be donated to Cass County to be managed as county forest land.

Established a public hearing during the regular Mach. 7 meeting for the second reading and final adoption of the land use ordinance for Cass County.

The next meetings are as follows: Commissioner’s board meeting 9 a.m. March 7 at the boardroom in the courthouse annex in Walker; and commissioner’s board meeting 9 a.m. March 21 at the Land Department meeting room in Backus.


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