County gets 20-month jail sunset extension to 2023

May 07, 2020

By Sally Sedgwick


    In its April 28 regular board meeting, the Itasca County Board extended its discussion on how to lessen property tax impacts on businesses closed or jobs lost due to the pandemic, decided to continue the hiring process for four jobs within the Sheriff’s Department and heard the result of its request to the state for an extension of the sunset date for construction of a new jail.

    After extended discussion, the board decided not to change its policy on property tax payments. The only item it has statutory ability to change were late payment penalties, and extensions will be addressed on a case-by-case basis by contacting Treasurer Jeff Walker. Reasons should be related to the COVID-19 emergency.

    The Minnesota Department of Corrections has extended the sunset date for the new jail construction to May 2023 with stipulations. The board had requested a three year extension, to September 2024 due to the uncertain economic landscape following the pandemic and the likely scenario that the legislature will not pass any bills this session with local tax options. The latter would mean that a local sales tax could not be on the November ballot to begin funding bond payments next year. Commissioner Burl Ives pointed out that all properties under consideration for either jail option have sunset dates themselves, and these need to be extended.

    Kelly Chandler, manager of the county Public Health Division, and Marlyn Halvorson, county Emergency Management coordinator gave a weekly COVID-19 briefing, which includes the following information:

    • For questions to Public Health, please call the message hotline at (218) 327-6784

    • The county and First Call for Help have partnered on a new website,, to list pandemic resources, activities for adults and kids, and mental health resources. Mental health needs are emerging as a result of the stay-at-home environment.

    • Don’t delay seeking treatment for other conditions for fear of COVID-19.

    • Food shelves are open and ElderCircle has both grocery and pharmacy delivery available

    • There is a COVID-19 relief fund which can be accessed on the United Way or Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation websites.

    • The Itasca Economic Development Corporation is offering business help and webinars.

    • The area fire department mask drive was very successful, one department alone collecting over 900 masks.

    Residents were urged to continue diligence in sanitation and distancing. “It’s a whole community approach that’s going to get us through this,” said Halvorson.

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved commissioner warrants of $575,015.44.

    • Approved April Health and Human Services warrants of $1,468,139.99. Commissioner Ives asked about the record amounts in February and March for Foster Care/Out of Home/Family Support. Fiscal Manager Christine Krebs explained it was higher needs and thus higher placement rates at this time.

    • Authorized moving forward in hiring process for four employees of the Sheriff’s Department: radio technician, corrections deputy and programmer, and campground patrol. 

    • Approved a COVID-19 policy for employees.

    • Approved IMCare 2019 financial statements.

    • Awarded propane, diesel and gasoline contracts through April 30, 2021.

    • Awarded a pavement marking services contract to AAA Striping Services Company for $150,520.

    • Modified the unorganized township road list to reflect changes in selected roads; old designations CR 263, CSAH 36, CSAH 42 to new designations CSAH 94, CR 622 and CR 623. County roads (CR) are within the unorganized township road system.

    • Approved county services in snowplowing, grading and dust control with 33 townships and four cities. 

    • Authorized notice of intermediate and regular sealed bid auction of timber due by 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 11. Oral auctions are expected to resume when allowed.

    • Authorized high pressure AIS system at the Deer Lake AIS service station.

    The next regular board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 12 at 2:30 p.m. with public viewing on ICTV.

Changes to Itasca County Board meetings

April 16, 2020

   Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency, Itasca County has made several changes to County Board meetings to protect the public’s health and prevent spread of the disease.

    County Board members may be attending meetings via teleconference pursuant to Minnesota Statute 13D.021.

    Per Governor Walz’s executive order to stay home, in-person public participation at County Board meetings will not be allowed at this time. Instead, the public can watch the meetings online or on television. Additionally, the meetings will be broadcast live on KOZY 1320 AM and KOZY 93.1 FM radio.

    Live video on is available while the meeting is in progress and later available on demand on The meetings are also cablecast on government access cable channels as follows:

    MediaCom – Channel 7 with box or Channel 117-4 without box

    Paul Bunyan Communications – Channel 37

    Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; and Tuesdays at 5 p.m.

    Members of the public can submit Citizen Input electronically using the Citizen eInput form ( up until 1 p.m. on the day of the meeting. Submitted written citizen input will be read at the meeting with current parameters still in effect. Please contact Amanda Schultz, Deputy Clerk of the County Board, at (218) 327-7362 if you would like to submit citizen input but do not have internet access.

Itasca County Board approves grant application requests

February 06, 2020

By Sally Sedgwick


    At its Jan. 28 meeting, the Itasca County Board of Commissioners approved application for grant funding for up to $45,000 from a variety of sources for a second year of hosting a Changemaker Retreat and providing seed money and followup for projects. The purpose of Changemakers, according to Public Health Division Manager Kelly Chandler, is to support community efforts to address opioid and substance use and is a cooperative effort with the University of Minnesota Extension. 

    The board also approved a request for improvements at the Bowstring airport, including a 750 sq. ft. pilot’s lounge, new sewer system and 400 square foot skid-mounted shelter for the pilot camping area. The improvements will be funded privately. 

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved payment of warrants in the amount of $1,521,541.79.

    • Approved payment of Health and Human Services warrants of $1,002,430.75, which includes some vendor payments with December service dates. In response to a question from Commissioner Burl Ives, Fiscal Manager Christine Krebs confirmed that non-waiver social service payments are for mandated services and paid with county dollars.

    • Recognized new employees Kirsten Johnson (IMCare) and Chris Gunderson (MIS Department).

    • Accepted the resignation of Christopher Reed from the Nursing Home Board.

    • Authorized the bid process for a new ambulance for the city of Nashwauk, included in the 2020 county budget. All expense over the budgeted amount will be paid by the city of Nashwauk.

    • Approved a change in the Childcare Variance Policy to increase flexibility for providers serving families of children in care.

    • Authorized sale of county condominium interest within the River Road Juvenile Center to North Homes in return for a reduction in secure residential rates.

    • Approved the 2019-2021 collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME Local 580 representing Health and Human Services employees providing for a 2.75 percent increase effective Jan. 1 2019 and Jan. 1, 2020, and 3 percent effective Jan. 1, 2021. 

    • Heard an update from IMCare Director Sarah Duell on some of the oversight and audits the division handled during 2019 and is preparing for in 2020. Audits include reviews by state and federal agencies covering such things as accuracy and timeliness of reporting and quality, and a general external fiscal audit by CliftonLarsonAllen. 

    • Authorized application to the Minnesota Secretary of State Office for grants covering voting equipment up to $5,000 per precinct. This year precincts will have poll pads allowing voters to register and county administrators to monitor election progress in real time.

    The board recessed before a closed meeting re: courthouse security.

    The next regular meeting of the Itasca County Board will be on Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 2:30 p.m. in the Itasca County Board Room.

Itasca County Board approves new tobacco ordinance, sets 2020 meeting schedule and salaries

December 26, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick


    The Itasca County Board met on Tuesday, Dec. 17 with all commissioners present.

    Occasionally contentious, the lengthy meeting covered public input, salaries, board meeting schedule, budget setting and small business tax concerns. 

    Alexis Martire, IMCare quality director, spoke on the Opioid Project, a statewide initiative to reduce the number of new chronic opioid users. The study looked at those who had never used opioids but received a 21 day supply for a medical condition. Due to interventions at the pharmacy level, the county Medicaid population reduced its dependency rate by over 50 percent from 2012 to 2018. 

    A public hearing was conducted for an updated county tobacco ordinance. Public Health Division Manager Kelly Chandler said that the ordinance had not been updated since 2002, but surveys had shown that youth use of tobacco or e-cigarettes (vaping) was significant: 24 percent of ninth graders in the county, for example, reported use in the previous 30 days. Nicotine use is the No. 1 cause of chronic health conditions, she said, costing each household in Itasca County $753 per year in taxpayer funded medical costs. The new ordinance doesn’t ban any adult use, but raises costs of licensing fees and penalties for underage sales. 

    The board heard from residents that there is more and more data about the dangers of vaping; that vaping may have higher nicotine content than cigarettes and schools have “businesses going” among students; that youth is targeted through flavors, colors and stickers; and that teens don’t think addiction will happen to them until it is too late. Two retailers supported the ordinance but spoke about owners who train their employees and can’t be present all the time to enforce it. Fines should be paid by those who sell to underage customers, they said, not owners. Public Health said the division would provide training on request.     

    The commissioners discussed the removal of citizen input from the board agenda. Chair Davin Tinquist reported on an Association of Minnesota Counties conference session about the subject which talked about rules of decorum which should be followed if a public forum is used. Commissioner Terry Snyder recommended the topic be addressed in the Jan. 7, 2020 Work Session and invited the public to comment via email to County Administrator Brett Skyles at . Later in the meeting, resident John Casper pointed out that the board policy to allow citizen input was still in force. 

    He also requested that board meetings be held in the evening to allow more citizen participation and requested more detail when describing closed meeting agendas. After discussion about the start time for board meetings, the 2020 board schedule was adopted on a vote of 3-2 to maintain a 2:30 p.m. start time with work sessions on the first and third Tuesday and regular board meetings on the second and fourth Tuesday.

    Casper also spoke on the budget and paying for a new jail, saying that the Sheriff’s Office has logged almost $1 million in overtime. He believed that budget cuts could pay for a jail instead of a levy, as taxes are likely to go up with potential loss in major industry. County Treasurer Jeff Walker said that a levy or sales tax were really the only options to pay for a jail which was mandated by the state. He also pointed out some good budget news including increased interest revenues, more county program aid from the state than anticipated, a levy which only increased one-third of one percent, savings in a switch in health care plan, achieving budget or below budget targets as of November for the Sheriff’s Office and jail, and increasing amounts in general reserves. 

    Campground owner Tom Greniger spoke of the property tax burden to small businesses. His taxes are about $14,000 and his business is only operated five months a year. “We need to find a common ground for small businesses to survive,” he said. 

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $1,055,326.06.

    • Recognized new employees Amber Silliman (IMCare), Cory Smith, Ross Burt and Ryan Johnson (Transportation Department) and Rachel Evenson (Attorney’s Office); promotion of Micah Kral (Transportation Department); and Natalie Moren, transferred within Human Services.

    • Approved 2020 beer, liquor and/or tobacco license renewals.

    • Approved a contract with CliftonLarsonAllen for the 2020 IMCare external financial audit for $53,500.

    • Set rates for Health and Human Services contracted services/provider contracts and approved contracts for various nurse, director and advisor services.

    • Reappointed County Surveyor Guy Carlson for a four year term. 

    • Approved a 2019-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Itasca County Employees Association which includes a 2.75 percent cost of living adjustment in wages and changes in health and life insurance.

    • Signed a detour agreement with Minnesota Department of Transportation reimbursing the county about $3,118 for road life consumed during detours over a four month period for a Highway 6 improvement project in Deer River.

    • Approved the ADA Transition Plan for Public Rights of Way which was presented on Nov. 26. No public comments were received.

    • Set a Land Classification Meeting for Tuesday, March 10 starting at 10:30 a.m. in the County Board Room.

    • Authorized unanimously a 2.75 percent wage increase for 2020 (comparable to collective bargaining unit agreements) for the county assessor, engineer, surveyor, Veteran Services officer, county administrator and Health and Human Services director.

    • Authorized in a 4-1 vote negotiated Step and Cost of Living Adjustment increases of various amounts for elected officials including the county attorney, auditor/treasurer, recorder and sheriff. Commissioner Ben DeNucci pointed out that he appreciated merit-based criteria being included.

    • Froze unanimously the Itasca County Commissioner salary schedule in place since 2016.

    • Scheduled a Legislative Delegation Luncheon for Jan. 10.

    • Received an invitation to attend a January meeting of the local assisted living facilities.

    The board adjourned to a closed meeting to consult with its attorney on court action to register title to certain lots and nullify public access from County Road 326 to Trout Lake.

    The next regular meeting of the Itasca County Board is on Tuesday, Jan. 14 at 2:30 p.m. in the Itasca County Board Room with the annual organizational meeting on Jan. 7 at 2:30 p.m.

Itasca County Board

November 21, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick


    The Itasca County Board met on Tuesday, Nov. 12 with all commissioners present.

    During the public forum, five residents presented information. Mary Randall of Bovey objected to the nonpublic meetings of the jail task force, and said “We think [retired seniors] are being stretched to build a brand new facility.” She added that “We’d love to hear what’s going on.”

    The jail task force committee was taken up later in the meeting in an extended discussion. It was decided to create a committee made up of the whole board and schedule hearings around the county to gather public input. Commissioners Leo Trunt and Burl Ives emphasized the need for current data to determine things like how many beds were needed, transportation costs, etc. as well as a cost point that commissioners felt comfortable with. Ives pointed out that in 2007 the Sheriff had said that jail needs would grow 6 percent annually, and that had been accurate. The Department of Corrections has indicated that the county must be in compliance with state mandates by Sept.  1, 2021.

    Resident John Casper spoke on the jail issue, urging the board to use expertise within the community, recognize that the community could lose some of its industrial tax base and decide jail location before purchasing land.

    In the Sept. 24 board meeting the purchase of a potential site for a new facility was declined on a 2-2 vote, however the purchase agreement was extended. The board was asked to vote again and this time declined to purchase on a 2-3 vote with commissioners Trunt, Snyder and DeNucci opposed.

    Kelly Chandler, Public Health Division manager spoke on vaping (use of e-cigarettes) and the upcoming flu season. Vaping has been associated with 110 cases of lung injury in Minnesota, including three in Itasca County. A sample vaping device was passed around. A free flu vaccination is offered for those unable to afford one: call 218-327-2941. 

    Land Commissioner Kory Cease provided an annual report to the board. The department is not funded by levy dollars, but by activities such as timber sales. It manages 3,000 acres of county-owned timber land and 300,000 acres of state tax forfeit trust land. Cease reviewed 2018 timber goals and harvests where the department scaled 120,906 cords. Two auctions are held annually, in June and December. “We try to stay as true to our goals as we can,” he said. Commissioner Davin Tinquist pointed out the importance of adding a forestry extension position to address the falling volume of family-owned land harvests. The department also manages mining, gravel, recreational use, reforestation and education. 

    Guy Carlson, county surveyor, presented an update for the GIS Department. Highlights included 291 government corners certified this year, creation of 150 new addresses and progress in scanning both historical documents and private surveys for online archiving. Eight townships have been redrawn and a mobile/PC trails app is being created.

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $1,793,834.06.

    • Welcomed new employees Becky Tillma (Public Health Division, Health and Human Services) and Kathy Derickson (Sheriff’s Department).

    • Approved the contact embedding substance use professionals with law enforcement in the county.

    • Set Tuesday, Nov. 26 for a public meeting on a plan to ensure county facilities within public rights of way are accessible through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.

    • Approved billing for unorganized townships for 50 percent of road maintenance and 100 percent of repairs, replacements, betterments and special work.

    • Approved an easement in SW SE and NW SE Sec. 7, T55N, R24W for Northern Community Radio to access a tower site.

    • Accepted a $229,152 grant from the Department of Human Services for mental health screenings and/or treatment for children within the child welfare and juvenile justice system.

    • Accepted a $1,200 Changemaker Grant from the University of Minnesota Extension toward the Diversion Court process to maintain families together where parents are battling substance abuse. The program will start in 2020.

    • Accepted the final report presented by representatives of the local Future Farmers of American to conclude an Environmental Trust Fund grant of $5,020. The Grand Rapids FFA achieved national rankings for teams and individual in the 2018 national conference and 2019 state convention. Commissioner Terry Snyder pointed out that the annual support from the county was money well spent on future leaders. 

    • Accepted $15,198 in class action award for underpayment of Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) for the years 2015-17.

    The next regular meeting of the Itasca County Board is on Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 2:30 p.m. in the Itasca County Board Room.

Itasca County Board hears department updates, sets budget sessions

August 22, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick


    The Itasca County Board met on Tuesday, Aug. 13 with all commissioners present. 

    In citizen input, John Casper pointed out the difficulty on getting on the agenda for the board meeting and questioned disciplinary action for disclosing personal information. Chair Davin Tinquist confirmed he was on the Aug. 20 work session agenda. 

    The council heard updates from the Public Health Division, Veterans Service office, and Transportation Department maintenance and construction.

    Sarah Polhamus, public health supervisor reviewed the audit recently conducted by the Department of Human Services for the elderly and disability waivers programs, pulling 10 percent of files. Each file was required to have 53 measures (i.e. such as care plans). Results were compared to the 23 middle-sized counties in Minnesota. The county was seen to have a high need for the waiver program and to be operated with fewer staff than the average, conducting 1,460 assessments a year.

    Veterans Service Officer Luke St. Germain reviewed services over the last year. The Veteran population in the county is 4,103, with 70 percent 65 years and older. In June the Blue Water Act expanded those eligible for Agent Orange benefits to Navy veterans serving on ships off the coast of Vietnam and provides some benefits to spouses as well. Also in June, the Mission Act expanded community access to health care with approved non-VA providers. The Veterans Home in Bemidji should be open in two years. 

    Assistant County Engineer Ryan Sutherland presented a Transportation Department maintenance update saying overall it had been a good summer. Among other items he reviewed the street sign goal of replacing 1,500 signs per year reviewing reflectivity, uniformity and effectiveness. The department is reviewing how it de-ices roads and the possibility of using salt brine vs. chlorides to reduce use and minimize environmental impact. Changes would be targeted for the winter of 2020-21. Currently the department is down three mechanics out of 11 positions. Commissioner Leo Trunt commended the department for looking for better and cheaper ways to manage winter road maintenance.

    Transportation Engineer Rachel Metelak reviewed the road construction status for the season, pointing out that there is an interactive map linked to the Transportation Department webpage showing updates for current projects. Bituminous paving projects have been postponed to next year. 

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $3,771,663.43, of which about $1.5 million are taconite production pass-through monies.

    • Recognized new employees Kari Camara, Quinn Nelson and Lynn Cochran (Health and Human Services); and Tracey Schwartz (Recorder).

    • Authorized a 2019-2021 collective bargaining agreement for Teamsters Local 320 (probation officers).

    • Approved one day event liquor licenses. Commissioner Burl Ives expressed his concern on training, catering licenses, insurance and proper controls at events with liquor.

    • Approved agreements: with Core Professional Services PA for court ordered juvenile sex offender treatment services for up to $70,000 over two years; with Ross Resources, Ltd. for truancy prevention services in the four county school districts for up to $367,074 for a calendar year starting from Sept. 1; with Vicky Schoeller Fiduciary Services LLC for Guardianship, Conservatorship and Representative Payee services for up to $10,000 for the fourth quarter, 2019.

    • Approved a bridge bonding resolution required by MN Department of Transportation.

    • Approved an agreement with Bigfork Township to replace Bridge 7126 over Pelquin Creek on Pitzen Road. Engineering and bridge replacement costs will be paid from the state Town Bridge Account. The township portion will be $10,000 plus direct out-of-pocket costs such as for right of way acquisition.

    • Accepted a deed covenant to dedicate Gunn Park for public outdoor recreation use as required by the state Outdoor Recreation Grant.

    • Authorized staff to clear title issues on land for motorized trail access in Sec. 27, T56N, R24W.

    • Approved amendment to T-Mobile/Nashwauk Tower to update existing antenna equipment.

    • Approved a joint grant agreement with the City of Grand Rapids for a FAA grant for snow removal equipment at the airport. The county contribution is $9,856.30

    • Set budget work sessions starting at 11 a.m. on Aug. 20, and 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug. 21 and 22. 

    The board convened a closed session regarding courthouse security.

    The next regular meeting of the Itasca County Board is on Tuesday, Aug. 27 at 2:30 p.m. in the Itasca County Board Room.

Itasca County Board

July 05, 2019

By Sally Sedgwick


    At the June 25 meeting of the Itasca County Board, Auditor/Treasurer Jeff Walker presented the MN Safety Council Governor’s Award for 2018 to Itasca County. 

    The award looks at three years of injury data compared to national industry statistics, a 100 point safety program evaluation and implementation of a comprehensive safety program.  It has been awarded since 1934.


    There were 294 employers honored; 170 of which were meritorious achievement winners, including the county.  “The award is a direct result of Itasca County employees making a choice to be aware of their surroundings and work safely each and every day,” he said.

    Brynden and William Lenius from Bryndlewood Gardens have been selected as the 2019 Itasca County Farm Family of the Year.  They will be recognized on Thursday, Aug. 8 at Farmfest and on Friday, August 16 at 11:30 a.m. at the Itasca County Fair, Trailhead Building. The award was presented by Conley Janssen, chair of the Itasca

County Extension Committee. The farm produces fruits, vegetables, plants, cut flowers and eggs.

    A quarterly update on activities of the Itasca Economic Development Corporation was given by Tamara Lowney, president, and staff and consultants, who spoke on progress toward the IEDC goal of county awareness of what the organization does, where it is located and resources it has available. 

    Lowney anticipates award of a federal Economic Development Administration grant of $190,000 partially directed toward hiring of a recovery specialist and said a new IEDC website would be active during the first week in July. J.M. Longyear is expected to aggressively market its site at the former Itasca Eco Industrial Park at the end of July.  Sarah Carling of Community and Economic Development Associates spoke on the 11 communities she is visiting, the asset inventory of business properties and a commercial rental study.  

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $17,873,373.55 of which about $16,860,000 were apportionment payments.

    • Approved June warrants from the Health and Human Services Department for $1,405,997.28.   In response to a question from Commissioner Burl Ives, HHS Director Eric Villeneuve said that the county was on track for an annual total close to last year.

    • Recognized Jackson Purdie who has transferred from Health and Human Services to the Land Department.

    • Applied and accepted Minnesota Department of Public Safety Reimbursement of $94,005.38.

    • Accepted and will act as fiscal host for Essentia Equipment and Health Supports Grant to Deer River Schools of $8,000

    • Accepted three grants totaling $15,750 toward the Wood Kiln Project: $1,000 from Lake Country Power Operation Round Up, $9,750 from Minnesota Department of Agriculture Value Added Award and $5,000 from TransCanada Energy Community Investment.

• Approved a 5-year operating contract for the county transfer station and demolition landfill with Waste Management.

    • Approved the crossing agreement with Enbridge Energy and encroachment agreement with TransCanada/Great Lakes Gas for CSAH 93 road construction project. 

    • Approved a utility easement with Minnesota Energy Resources Corporation across tax forfeit trust land in Sec. 13, T 56 N, R 23 W.

    • Approved the 2019 lease agreement with Northern Minnesota Swap meet and Car Show.

    • Approved an amendment to     the Nashwauk Tower agreement with AT&T to replace equipment with 5G/firstnet compliant equipment.

    • Approved and accepted the 2019-2020 Housing Support Agreements for corporate, individual and supplemental services.

    • Approved a letter of support for the city of Coleraine application to designate Mount Itasca as a park of regional significance.

    • Heard a tobacco compliance educational plan.  Commissioner Ives spoke to the need to change the mandatory presentation.  Attorney Adam said county ordinance 065 would need to be amended to change the procedure.  Commissioner Ben DeNucci pointed out that no changes in the current store training procedures were described.  The plan was accepted on a vote of 4-1.

    • Adopted a resolution to submit Itasca Medical Care as the county’s choice for a Managed Care Organization for Families and Children and MinnesotaCare.

    • Held a closed session to discuss the ERP Iron bankruptcy.

County Board

August 23, 2018

    At the Aug. 14 Itasca County Board meeting, the board listened to an update from Kelly Chandler of Public Health who presented on the WIC program. 

    WIC, also known as The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children is a federal assistance program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The main objective of the program is to provide nutritional foods to pregnant women, breast feeding women, and children. 

    There are approximately 820 participants in Itasca County. Those who participate are given education about nutrition and health, and after completing the education are given vouchers to purchase foods that lead to better health outcomes for both the mother and baby. Chandler also informed the board of the costs of the program. It is approximately $63.90 for a child per month, $73.94 for pregnant women, and $97.68 for breast feeding women. 

    Chandler spoke about the importance of the program by saying, “Breast feeding is the most cost effective way to feed an infant, and it is the healthiest option for both mom and baby.”

    In other business, the board: 

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $2,680,564.31

    • Listened to an update on projects in the county veterans service office. 

    • Accepted emergency funding for storm damage in the county 

    • Approved a letter of support be drafted to bring fast charging electric vehicle stations to the county that would be operated by Lake Country Power.

County Board

July 19, 2018

    The Itasca County Board of Commissioners held its regular meeting on July 12 and took care of a number of routine items of business. The board: 

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $1,840,287.54

    • Approved an educational plan presented by Guyer’s Corner Store following failed tobacco compliance checks. 

    • Listened to an update from Health and Human Services Director Eric Villeneuve. 

    • Listened to a report from Towards Zero Death Coordinator Kim Johnson, who informed the board that seat belt use is up 7 percent in 2018 from 80 to 87 percent.

    • Approved a Purchase of Service Agreement between the county and Meds-1 Ambulance Service for paramedicine services for the period from July 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018. The total cost of the agreement is not to exceed $15,000.

Farm Family of the Year acknowledged by county board

July 05, 2018

   The Itasca County Board handled a number of routine items of business at the June 26 Itasca County Board meeting. The board: 

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $1,559,902.81

    • Approved Health and Human services warrants in the amount of $1,704,197.21

    • Listened to an informational presentation from Ross Resources, which does mental health prevention work. Kim Geislinger described her work with truancy prevention, and its connection with poverty, and high risk for dropping out of school.

    • Conley Janssen with county extension service presented the Itasca County Farm Family of the year, which was the Lavalier family, owners of Lavalier’s Berry Patch. 

Itasca County adult probation cases on the rise

May 16, 2018

    By Alli Bily


    At the May 8, 2018 Itasca County Board meeting, Itasca County Probation Director Jason Anderson presented information on recent crime and probation trends. 

    Anderson revealed that the number of adult cases has been on the uptick in the last five years, with 535 adult clients and 200 juvenile clients currently in the system. He also informed the board that while adult probation cases have been on the rise, juvenile cases have remained relatively stagnant. 

    What was of concern for Anderson with regard to juvenile cases, however, was the three-fold increase in juvenile sex offender cases in recent years. Anderson stated that this trend was troubling for many reasons. One concern is the financial burden that comes with these type of cases. Anderson stated that the treatment programs for these cases can often exceed $400 per day. 

    He also noted that the persistence of substance abuse problems and mental health issues complicate all probation cases.

    County probation has seen a significant uptick in drug cases in recent years. While drug offenses have remained relatively flat, changes in drug laws have meant that many of these cases, which were previously handled by the Department of Corrections, now fall to county probation. 

    “Drug numbers do not suggest an uptick in crime in Itasca County, rather this is a reflection of legislation,” Anderson said, adding that the change in law was not accompanied by any funding increases.

    One bright spot, however, has been a steady decline since 2015 in domestic violence related cases. This trend, said Anderson, could be attributed to programming to address such cases.

    In other business, the board: 

    • Approved payment of warrants in the amount of $281,178.29.

    • Conducted a conference call with County Lobbyist Loren Solberg, who discussed inadequate funding for rural Minnesota with regard to roads and mental health facilities.

    • Listened to a Public Health update from Kelly Chandler, who informed the board that Kim Johnson received a MAD award for towards zero deaths because of her work in environmental strategies to prevent drunk driving 

    • Listened to an Itasca Waters update from David Lick, who predicts that the increasing phosphorus levels have the potential to negatively impact tourism if these trends are not reversed.

County Board apprised of Hill Annex Park efforts

April 19, 2018

By Beth Bily


At last week’s meeting of the Itasca County Board of Commissioners, state Rep. Julie Sandstede updated commissioners on her efforts to keep Hill Annex Mine in Calumet open until its management can be transferred away from the state and to a local entity.

At issue is the historical state park, which the state has operated since 1988 but has contemplated ceasing operations in recent years. Long-term sustainability and the resumption of mining at the site have been identified as key issues. The DNR currently estimates there is as much as $43 million in tailings alone remaining on the site.

Rep. Sandstede has authored a bill that would keep the state park open through June 30, 2021 and allocate funding of $150,000 to Itasca County to develop a plan to transfer long-term management to another entity. The allocation, she said, would help local entities with costs such as legal fees while developing a long-term plan for the site.

In a news release issued last week by Sandstede, she outlined the importance of keeping the park operational.

“The folks in our region have worked extremely hard to come up with a solution that preserves this park, which has great educational, historical, cultural and scientific value,” Sandstede said. “Some people visit the park to learn about our rich mining traditions, while others visit to explore the fossils and other geological features. This is all worth protecting.”

  Sandstede’s bill went before the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee last Thursday. There was no action taken on the bill, however, it could be included in the Environment and Natural Resources omnibus budget bill later in the session.

The representative from Hibbing also has authored bills to address pit water levels from abandoned mining operations.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the minutes of the April 3 work session.

• Approved payment of warrants in the amount of $496,404.34.

• Approved a revised county wellness policy.

• Adopted a proclamation declaring April 9-13 as Boys and Girls Club week.

County Board updated on state legislative session

March 22, 2018

By Beth Bily


At last week’s meeting of the Itasca County Board of Commissioners, officials discussed issues of local importance via conference call with state Sen. David Tomassoni and County Lobbyist Loren Solberg.

Tomassoni noted that thus far, little movement has taken place on key issues. “We’re going through the early stages of the legislative session,” he said.

While key votes have yet to take place, the senator noted that school safety, in the wake of the Parkland school shooting tragedy, has dominated discussion.

While different proposals are being floated, Tomassoni voiced his own opinion on the matter. “I quite frankly think metal detectors have to be part of the solution,” he said.

Legislators are planning for a bonding bill with approximately $800 million to $1 billion allocated for statewide projects. Passage of a bonding bill requires 60 percent legislative approval.

Tomassoni also told commissioners that he believed a deal had been struck with the state Department of Natural Resources to keep Hill Annex State Park open for another two years.

Finally, prior to fielding commissioner questions, Tomassoni noted that the current situation in the state senate would be “worth watching.” He was referring to Michelle Fischbach’s move to the position of lieutenant governor, while retaining her Senate seat. With the Senate evenly split between the DFL and Republicans, that could give Fischbach, a Republican, the deciding vote - a situation Tomassoni said is likely to face a DFL challenge.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the minutes of the March 6 county board work session.

• Approved payment of warrants in the amount of $1,202,242.76.

• Listened to a family services division update from Becky Lauer, who apprised commissioners on the issue of child protection, as well as others.

• Listened to an update from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Arrowhead Regional Development Corporation on federal aid highway projects.

• Conducted two closed sessions - one regarding a security briefing and the second regarding pending litigation on the tax petition of The Lodge at Sugar Lake.

Layman: Taxes, school safety, broadband top legislative priorities

March 08, 2018

By Beth Bily


During a legislative conference call at last week’s county board meeting, state Rep. Sandy Layman discussed several areas which are top priorities during this year’s session.

Layman told commissioners that tax conformity, or an effort to bring state law in line with the recently enacted federal tax law overhaul. The focus, she said, is to ensure that state residents don’t end up paying more due to the federal changes.

Mass school shootings also are weighing heavily on the minds of state lawmakers, she said. “These are really complex incidents and we’re educating ourselves,” said Layman. “Our first priority is to protect our school children.” She added that emphasis would be placed on identifying those who pose a danger sooner in the process in order to prevent incidents from happening.

There will be a bonding bill this year, however, it will be smaller than the $1 billion bill from last session. Layman noted that there are five local projects that she hopes will ultimately be included in the bonding bill.

Broadband is a key issue for Layman, who called it key to rural economic development. Last year’s legislature allocated $20 million for rural broadband development/expansion. This year, one proposal calls for another $51 million spread over a two-year period be devoted to rural broadband. Of that total, $20 million, said Layman, “is to make up for what we thought we should have gotten last year” with the remaining $31 million allocated for the following year.

County Lobbyist and former state legislator Loren Solberg told commissioners that a comprehensive bill to address the state’s mental health crisis is also likely to be a key issue. The proposal calls for a regional approach to the mental health care crisis and would allocate $30 million to different parts of the state.

Finally, County Auditor Jeff Walker drew attention to HF1985, which deals with the valuations of investor owned utilities. The auditor noted that current valuation formulas, which apply to Minnesota Power’s Clay Boswell facilities, depreciate utility infrastructure, resulting in a 2 to 3 percent loss in the county’s tax base each year. The proposal, said Walker, would stabilize valuations. “It’s controversial, but we’re making progress,” he said during the legislative conference call.

In other business, the board:

• Approved payment of warrants in the amount of $686,415.27.

• Approved payment of Health and Human Services warrants in the amount of $967,640.31.

• Listened to informational reports from Health and Human services, IMCare and the County Aquatic Invasive Species program.

• Approved a contract with Scheff Logging for tree removal services on CSAH 45 in the amount of $50,202. The contract term runs from Feb. 27 to June 1 of this year.

County authorizes $1 million-plus land sale for aquatic preservation

February 22, 2018

By Beth Bily


The Itasca County Board of Commissioners signed off on a land acquisition that would potentially protect an environmentally sensitive area. The passage of the resolution authorizing that land sale, however, prompted resistance from Commissioner Burl Ives, who questioned the high purchase price as well as other factors involved in the transaction.

At issue was the sale of three parcels totaling 51 acres in Sand Lake Township, which were privately owned by Hugh Cameron. David Weitzel, Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Supervisor for the Grand Rapids area, told commissioners that the acquisition of shoreline along Bird’s Eye Lake and Sand Lake would allow the state agency to establish an Aquatic Management Area or AMA, the purpose of which is to “protect, develop, and manage lakes, rivers and adjacent wetlands and lands that are critical for fish and other aquatic life.” 

Previously, the state acquired parcels adjacent to the three through donation. The land acquisition by the DNR, which was approved by commissioners at last week’s meeting of the County Board, includes 3,300 feet of shoreline on Sand Lake and converts all the shoreline around Bird’s Eye Lake to public ownership, a move that was supported by both local landowners as well as the township and property owners associations. 

But the price tag being offered for that 51 acres raised the eyebrows of Ives, who questioned why the land was being sold for significantly more than its county assessed value. According to county documents, the sale price for the parcels was listed at $1.18 million, while the county assessed values for the parcels was less than $400,000. 

“Your dollar amount that you spent on purchasing this, as a private taxpayer, I wish it was my piece of property,” Ives told Weitzel. “I’m just amazed that my tax dollars are being spent this way for this much money.”

Funding for the land acquisition will come from Lessard Outdoor Heritage Funding, private donation, wild rice restoration funds and Reinvest in Minnesota dollars, Weitzel told commissioners.

Ives also questioned the wisdom in taking the land off the tax role. Although the county would receive PILT payments (payment in lieu of taxes) of $8,910 annually for the property, Ives suggested that PILT could go away at some point in the future. The tax payments for the parcels were about $3,600 per year.

Commissioner Davin Tinquist, supporting the move, noted that the sale was consistent with the county’s comprehensive land use plan and was widely supported by nearby landowners. “I’m going to support my district on this one,” he said.

Tinquist, Commissioner Ben DeNucci and Board Chair Leo Trunt voted in favor of the sale. Ives cast the sole dissenting vote while Commissioner Terry Snyder was absent from the meeting.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the minutes of the Feb. 6 county board work session.

• Approved payment of commissioner warrants in the amount of $1,522,506.65.

• Adopted the list of county legislative priorities for 2018.

• Authorized signing off on a letter to UPM Blandin acknowledging the market conditions which led to the shutdown of the No. 5 paper machine and encouraging the company to continue to invest in facilities here.

• Accepted a Family Group Decision Making grant award in the amount of $47,457.

• Listened to a presentation on tobacco compliance checks which took place throughout the county.

• Appointed Tinquist as the representative to the Northeast Minnesota Area Transportation Partnership, with Blackberry Township Supervisor Gary Johnson as the alternate.

Invest Early hopes to close childcare shortage gap

February 08, 2018

At the Jan. 23 meeting of the Itasca County Board of Commissioners, officials heard from Invest Early Executive Director Jan Reindl and Blandin Foundation Grants Director Sonja Merrild regarding the Invest Early Program and early child care needs in the area.

Reindl noted that the Invest Early program was now in its 13th year and serves 513 children ranging in age from six weeks to pre-kindergarten in 34 classrooms from Deer River to Keewatin. The program employs 152 staff and has an annual budget of $6 million, with funding sources that include the federal government, state, school districts and nonprofit sectors.

The Invest Early program has set itself apart, said Reindl, due to its shared services model. “We’re recognized at the state level for the collaborative work done with Itasca (County).” 

While the first 11 to 12 years of the Invest Early program were spent developing a model that’s morphed into the state’s largest rural early child education model, Merrild said executives are now turning their attention to the early childcare shortage - locally, regionally and at the state level.

A study commissioned in late 2016 by the Blandin Foundation found a shortage of 550 early child care spots in Itasca County alone. Regionally, that number comes in at around 5,000 while there’s an overall state shortage of 80,000 spots.

Merrild told commissioners that closing that gap for low income families will require partnerships among government entities, private business and philanthropy. 

In other business, the board:

• Approved the minutes of the Jan. 16 county board work session.

• Acknowledged the oath of office taken by Luke St. Germain, the newly hired Veteran’s Services Officer.

• Approved payment of warrants in the amount of $1,574,164.29.

• Approved payment of Health and Human Services warrants in the amount of $957,941.45.

• Accepted the minutes of the Health and Human Services Advisory Committee meeting of Jan. 11.

• Listened to an update on the IMCare Division.

Out-of-home placement costs still on the rise

January 18, 2018

Out-of-home placements continue to present budget challenges in Itasca County.

At last week’s meeting of the Itasca County Board of Commissioners, officials were presented with budget to actual figures from 2017. Business Division Manager Chrissy Krebs told commissioners that the county had overspent by $1.1 million.

The biggest reason for the discrepancy, Krebs said, was the rising cost of out-of-home placements for children. It’s an expense that county officials are mandated to provide yet have little control over. “Unfortunately, (many) are court ordered placements,” she said.

Last year, the county budgeted $3.5 million for out-of-home placement costs. The actual amount spent, however, came in at $5.2 million, Krebs noted.

Health and Human Services Director Eric Villeneuve noted that the budget for out-of-home placements hasn’t gone up since 2014, but actual costs have. The county spent $4.9 million, $4.9 million and $5.2 million in 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively.

“We have to budget for it or find a way to prevent it,” said Villeneuve.

Commissioner Terry Snyder suggested the county take a proactive approach, by making a list of state mandated services and their costs to the county. That list, he said, could serve as a useful tool when the county begins its lobbying efforts at the legislature this year.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the minutes of the Jan. 2 county board organizational meeting.

• Approved payment of warrants in the amount of $445,786.23.

• Approved health and human services warrants in the amount of $1,937,509.14.

• Authorized making an offer to Luke St. Germain for the position of Veteran’s Services officer.

County Board reorganizes for 2018

January 11, 2018

Last week, the Itasca County Board of Commissioners held its annual reorganization meeting.

Among the first items of business, was the swearing in of newly elected District 5 Commissioner Ben DeNucci. The board also selected a new chair, Leo Trunt, and vice chair, Davin Tinquist, for 2018.

The board designated the Grand Rapids Herald-Review as the county’s official newspaper for 2018 at a rate of $1.25 per square advertising unit. The Herald-Review also was awarded the bid for the county delinquent tax list at a rate of $1 per SAU, the lowest bid. The Scenic Range NewsForum (bid of $1.50 per SAU) will serve as the second location for the county’s financial statement and the Herald-Review (bid $1.25 per SAU) will serve as the first location. 

In other business, the board:

• Approved the minutes of the Dec. 19 board work session and Dec. 21 emergency meeting.

• Approved annual appointments to various county boards and committees. 

• Set minimum salaries for elected officials.

• Reviewed legislative priorities for 2018.

County elected officials get a raise

December 21, 2017

By Beth Bily


County Commissioners have voted to have their own salaries remain at 2017 levels for the coming year but boosted the salaries of other elected officials.

During a short discussion on elected officials’ compensation at last week’s meeting of the Itasca County Board of Commissioners, commissioners agreed that the salaries of elected officials should be bumped to keep the positions competitive in relation to the same positions in other counties. Itasca County’s elected officials include the auditor/treasurer, recorder, sheriff and attorney. 

Salaries approved by the board for 2018 were as follows: 

• County Attorney - $126,823.30 

• Auditor/Treasurer - $121,923.56 

• County Recorder - $79,459.36 

• County Sheriff - $115,228.30

Board Chair Terry Snyder noted that pay increases for elected officials had been discussed several times in work sessions and been mulled by the board for some time. The board previously gathered what Snyder described as a “pretty inclusive comparison” to other counties last year and those numbers were further refined this year by adding more counties to the salary analysis.

Commissioner Davin Tinquist, who supported the increases, noted that elected officials did not receive intended pay increases last year, only 2 percent cost of living increases. The board, he said, recognized the “need for adjustments” to keep salaries competitive.

While the board approved the salary increases, Commissioner Burl Ives cast the sole dissenting vote. Ives pointed out that the county attorney already had received a pay adjustment earlier in the year – following a lawsuit filed by County Attorney Jack Muhar in April alleging that the county’s compensation of his position was “arbitrary and capricious.” In July, a district court judge sided with Muhar and ordered the minimum salary for the position be set at $124,336.57. Back pay also was ordered by the district court. In 2016, prior to the cost of living increases, Muhar’s salary was $110,866.

Following approval of pay increases for other elected county officials, the board opted to keep salaries for commissioners in the coming year at the same level as 2017, or $34,499.60/annually.

Snyder noted that conditions for some residents of the county remain difficult. “My heart goes out to the 150 Magnetation employees that haven’t been called back and the 150 Blandin employees” (that will soon be laid off).

In other business, the board:

• Approved payment of warrants in the amount of $822,701.21

• Approved payment of warrants to be dated Dec. 29, due to the cancellation of the Dec. 26 board meeting.

• Denied a request for a one-time vacation time payout of 134 hours to an employee of the auditor/treasurer’s office.

• Approved entering a one-year agreement with CliftonLarsonAllen for an external financial audit of IMCare.

• Acknowledged Shoreland Stewardship award winners the Itasca County Family YMCA and KAXE.

County accepts domestic violence grant

November 02, 2017

    At last week’s meeting of the Itasca County Board of Commissioners, officials were updated on the county’s award of a domestic violence response grant.

    Jason Anderson, county probation director, noted that the county had received the $449,000 grant, which is disbursed among several agencies and organizations that work in the domestic violence prevention field. The county has been the recipient of the grant in the past, which is awarded through the U.S. Department of Justice.

    In addition, the three-year grant would provide a portion of the funding for a probation officer position. Anderson told commissioners that probation is a critical component in high-risk domestic violence cases. The board unanimously voted to accept the grant.

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved the minutes of the Oct. 17 work session.

    • Approved memorandum of understanding amending contracts with the county bargaining units creating a vacation balance deadline.

    • Approved payment of warrants in the amount of $979,303.51.

    • Approved payment of Health and Human Services warrants in the amount of $1,101,748.24.

    • Listened to a Health and Human Services update from Director Eric Villeneuve, who noted unused prescription drug disposal day would take place on Oct. 28.

    • Listened to an IMCare update from Sarah Duell who reviewed the 2016 audited financial statement.

    • Listened to a presentation on 2017 county fairgrounds events from Fair Board member Brian Carlson.

    • Approved sponsorship of the Aitkin-Itasca-Koochiching Community Health Board.

    • Approved a hosting service agreement with Kalleo Technology for the county jail in the amount of $150/month, with a $1,500 set up fee.

    • Approved an agreement with CorrecTek Essentials for electronic medical records at the county jail. The subscription service will cost $1,003/month with an initial setup fee of $5,629.80.

Itasca County Board of Commissioners

September 21, 2017

    At last week’s meeting of the Itasca County Board of Commissioners, officials received an overview of the School District 318 upcoming ballot question from Mindy Nuhring and Kent Koerbitz, who both serve on the District 318 elementary facilities taskforce.

    Nuhring explained to commissioners that the district was asking for the public’s support on a $74 million bond issue that would be used to build two new elementary buildings.

    Current facilities were being utilized beyond capacity and the district is experiencing a growth spurt, with about 317 student enrolled in kindergarten this year, said Nuhring.

    Commissioners were apprised of the methodology used to arrive at the plan which will be put out to a vote early next year. There were 20 options explored, according to district representatives.

    The plan adopted by the district calls for two new K-5 schools constructed with each building having a capacity of 750 students as well as the capability to expand to a capacity of 900. Cohasset would see a major overhaul under the plan and could house 300 students. There are currently about 1,800 K-5 students in the District. The plan’s cost is approximately $74 million.

    Commissioners took no action on the presentation.

    In other business, the board:

    • Approved the minutes of the Sept. 5 county board work session.

    • Passed a resolution designating Oct. 1-7 as 4-H week in Itasca County.

    • Authorized payment of warrants in the amount of $2,177,978.71.

    • Accepted a wellness court grant from United Way in the amount of $6,400.81. A full presentation on the program to the county board is expected later this month.

Itasca County Board

August 17, 2017

    At the Aug. 8 meeting of the Itasca County Board of Commissioners, the board addressed a number of routine items of business including:

    • Approved commissioner warrants totaling $758,309.28

    • Listened to an update from Alice Moren, executive director of Circles of Support, who reported about the Planting Hope / Community Picnic project.

    • Recognized the Menefee family and the Bar Bell Bee Ranch as the 2017 Itasca County Farm Family of the year for 2017.

    • Authorized the sale of the caretaker house located at the fairgrounds.

    • Authorized the county attorney’s office to apply for a two-year crime victims services grant in the amount of $70,000.

    • Noted that the Aug. 15 county board work session was canceled due to the lack of a quorum.

Itasca County Board

August 03, 2017

    At the July 25 Itasca County Board meeting the board listened to a presentation from the co-directors of the Kiesler House, Steven Loney and Amanda Okech. 

    The Kiesler House is a mental health services organization located in Grand Rapids and serving greater Itasca County. Its goal is to reduce and prevent psychiatric and hospital admissions of Itasca County residents. 

    Loney and Okech noted the success of the program was the result of overwhelming community support, and the need for the program. They added that there are many families in the area, particularly children, that are negatively impacted everyday as a result of mental illness. 

    The Kiesler House recently moved to a newer, much larger facility and Loney and Okech said there was a need for an increase in funding from Itasca County Health and Human Services, as the new facilities along with many people using their wide array of services has increased their costs of operation.

    Following the presentation, the board praised Kiesler House for its positive community impact.

    In other business, the board:

    • Listened to an annual report form Megan Christianson of Visit Grand Rapids.

    • Approved ICHHS warrants in the amount of $1.3 million.

    • Approved commissioner warrants in the amount of $4.7 million.

    • Approved OPEB (other post employment benefits) study as prepared by Siegel Consulting that showed a favorable drop in Itasca County healthcare liability of $40 million. 

    • Listened to an update from Itasca County Auditor Jeff Walker who stated, “many retirees are happy with the Medicare supplement health insurance plan.”

Itasca County Board

July 20, 2017

    At the July 11 regular Itasca County Board meeting the board addressed a number of routine agenda items. 


    • Approved payment of warrants in the amount of $2,006,384.73.

    • Listened to a report from Becky Lauer of the Family Services Division.

    • Listened to an update from Kelly Chandler of Public Health who discussed the internal implementation of a workforce diabetes prevention program. Chandler reported early success in the program, citing county employees having lost weight and lowered their cholesterol rates within the last four months. 

    • Listened to an update from Rachel Metelak, Transportation Engineer, who provided a Highway Construction update for July 2017.

    • Listened to Matt Pellinen, who provided a highway maintenance update for July 2017.

    • Authorized a change in allocation of an Eligibility Specialist position to a Case Aide in the Financial Assistance Unit of the Health and Human Services Division.

    • Scheduled a post-legislative luncheon with the local legislative delegation to take place on July 25 from 12-2 p.m. in the Itasca County Board room. 

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