The Regional Report: New murals decorate Ironton; study supports affordable housing need in Staples
• A recommendation from a consultant has Aitkin County considering reorganization of its leadership structure, the Aitkin Independent Age reported. Gary Weiers of DDA Human Resources, a company of David Drown Associates, told commissioners they should consider combining the positions of auditor and treasurer and convert it to an appointed position. Weiers also recommended converting the recorder post to an appointed position.
• The North Star Center development project in Breezy Point, the future home of a Cuyuna Regional Medical Center clinic, was approved for tax-increment financing, the Echo Journal reported. The financing, intended to spur development through tax relief, was awarded to developer Whitebirch Inc. for up to $225,000 worth of public development costs. Tax-increment financing permits developers to pay the taxes on a property for the value at which they first acquire it for a set period of time, redirecting the difference toward the development project.
• An ongoing problem for the city of Breezy Point — what to do about its hundreds of tax-forfeited lots — was the subject of a city council workshop, the Echo Journal reported. On many of the properties, special assessments exceed the value of the properties themselves, rendering them nearly impossible to sell. John Dotty of Dotty Brothers Construction asked the council to consider forgiving assessments, noting his interest in exploring purchasing lots for affordable housing. The council explored a number of scenarios, expressing interest in reassessing the properties. This option, council members said, would make the properties more attractive to buyers upfront, without removing the assessments entirely. Instead the costs would be spread over time. City Administrator Patrick Wussow said he would present a reassessment policy at a July council meeting.
• Enrollment in the Crosby-Ironton School District is expected to drop below 1,000 students for the first time in six or seven decades, the Crosby-Ironton Courier reported. Projections place enrollment at 992 students for the 2018-19 school year. Superintendent Jamie Skjeveland told the school board decreased enrollment could drive a request for additional funding from the board, since funding is based in part on the number of students.
• Soon to join the Deerwood Police Department is Brady Houle, recently honored for his heroic efforts in saving a neighbor from a destructive house fire alongside his brother Zack Houle. Deerwood police Chief Mark Taylor told the city council his hiring, along with other top candidate Pete Kavale, was dependent on background checks. Both would work part-time for the department.
• Those running a cafe in Emily aren't concerned with sales or tips — they seek to serve those in need, the Echo Journal reported. The Community Care N Share Cafe, located at the Wesleyan Church in Emily, receives food from the Second Harvest Heartland Food Bank and through other donations, serving meals to anyone within a 25-mile radius of the cafe. Volunteers serve free meals every Wednesday except holidays, and recently reached 10,000 meals served. The nonprofit organization seeks additional donations to fund a certified food manager. Donations can be sent to Care N Share, P.O. Box 354, Emily, MN, 56447.
• Two new murals—reflecting the past and present—decorate the city of Ironton, the Crosby-Ironton Courier reported. One located on the west wall of Aide Home Care depicts the city's mining heritage, including depictions of actual miners of the city's past. Another mural, located on an apartment complex on the Crosby/Ironton city line, features a mountain biker riding on red dirt in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. Both murals are the work of Scott "Cornbread" Lindley and three other muralists: Mike Meyer, Wessel Nimmer and Justine MIddleton.
• A house fire near McGrath in southern Aitkin County claimed the life of a man, the Mille Lacs Messenger reported. The fire was reported June 16, in the midst of strong storms. McGrath Fire Chief Bob Dresser reported there was evidence of a lightning strike at the property.
• After a two-hour discussion, the Morrison County Board elected not to move forward with regulations of short-term vacation rentals, the Morrison County Record reported. Commissioners cited potential "unintentional consequences" of regulating the properties, including the changing of tax classification to a seasonal recreational property. Commissioner Greg Blaine said he believed properties acting as short-term vacation rentals should be regulated in the same way as businesses. Ultimately, the board decided to not to pursue regulations, but would save work of staff on the matter in case of possible changes in the future.
• The long-empty Sportland Corners property may be on its way to a makeover, the Echo Journal reported. The property, located at the corner of Highway 371 and County Highway 18, could be eligible for tax-increment financing due to blight. Should a developer be interested in the property, tax-increment financing would permit the developer to pay taxes on the property commiserate with its current value, rather than the value it would achieve with redevelopment. The Nisswa City Council approved funding for Widseth Smith Nolting to identify whether the property can be considered blighted.
• As part of its budget approval process, the Pequot Lakes School Board approved the addition of visual arts as a school-sponsored activity, the Echo Journal reported. The Minnesota State High School League activity allows students in ninth through 12th grades to be judged in 12 categories at the section and state level.
• A soldier from Royalton and one from Baxter received recognition in May for their heroic actions in saving another soldier using training in suicide prevention, the Morrison County Record reported. Spc. Joshua Guyse of Royalton and Spc. Matthew Aeschliman of Baxter both were honored by the American Red Cross for their actions. Upon receiving a call from a distressed soldier, the two traveled to St. Cloud to meet with the soldier, who eventually agreed to go to the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
• The Staples-Motley School Board will refocus its future planning efforts on a building accommodating all its district's students, the Staples World reported. The board announced its intentions to seek bond referendum approval of a kindergarten through 12th grade building in February 2019. Plans call for the building to be at the site of the current elementary school, adding on to that facility to increase its size from 47,000 square feet to 187,000 square feet. Preliminary drawings show a two-story addition for the high school and middle school, a new performing arts auditorium, a commercial kitchen and cafeteria, and six gyms along with a field house. The property would have room for a swimming pool as well.
• A study conducted by the Central Minnesota Housing Partnership supports the idea Staples is in need of affordable housing, the Staples World reported. The study comes as the housing organization seeks to build an apartment complex featuring affordable units. According to the study, 43 percent of Staples businesses planned to expand operations, but delayed expansion due to the lack of affordable housing for new employees. The study also found half of all workers in Staples drive at least 30 miles to work, and 30 percent of those commuters earn incomes below poverty level. The Staples City Council passed a resolution supporting the apartment project following a presentation of the survey.
• A new pavilion in Walker will serve as a venue for concerts and other community events, the Walker Pilot-Independent reported. Nearly 100 people gathered at the pavilion's grand opening in mid-June. The project was spearheaded by the Leech Lake Area Arts and Culture Alliance.
-- Compiled by Chelsey Perkins, community editor. Perkins may be reached at 218-855-5874 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @DispatchChelsey or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dispatchchelsey.