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Beltrami County Board: Veterans Service Office to be reorganized

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

After an announcement that the part-time secretary for the Beltrami County Veterans Service Office would be retiring, county commissioners considered how to reorganize the office.

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During an Oct. 4 Beltrami County Board of Commissioners meeting, County Administrator Tony Murphy said there is a growing need within the county for more outreach services to help military veterans.

Beltrami County provides assistance for veterans through its Veterans Services Office, located at 616 America Ave. N.W. It helps veterans and their dependents qualify for federal and state veteran benefits.

Murphy suggested the part-time position be replaced with a full-time position. He also suggested Veteran Services Officer Julie Harris, who attended the Oct. 4 meeting, work as an assistant veterans service officer with a primary responsibility to work one-on-one with veterans.

Murphy suggested the new, full-time officer be hired with the responsibility to lead the office and to provide the needed outreach activities.

He also suggested volunteers be recruited to staff the reception desk during regular business hours.

The county board approved these changes at its meeting Tuesday.

The job description for the full-time VSO position is expected to be revised and updated, but will have a salary range of $50,848.20 to $63,576.24.

This has been included in the proposed 2012 county budget.

The vacant part-time secretarial position for the VSO will not be filled. In addition, Harris will not receive a reduction in pay or benefits.

Construction of the Veterans Services office improvements is expected to be completed in November.

"We've been working on this for quite a few years," Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks said of the Veterans Services reorganization. "With that new person in there, they are going to be able to take advantage of all new grant money that we haven't been taking advantage of before."

Commissioner Jack Frost said he thought the reorganization "is great."

"I like the new direction," he said. "I'm pleased with the veterans outreach. I think we can have some great expectations for some good policy and program changes that will greatly benefit our veterans who have honorably served our nation."

Commissioner Jim Lucachick said while this approval of reorganization does not provide more immediate outreach services for veterans, "We're paving the way to fixing what needs some help.

"And Julie (Harris) gets to stay doing what she wants to do, which is meet face-to-face with those veterans and not have someone else come in that may not have that outreach she has," Lucachick said. I'm all in favor of this."

The reorganization comes at a time when the county is planning to spend nearly $80,000 to remodel the Beltrami Area Services Collaborative, Veterans Services and Natural Resources Management offices.

For more information on the county's Veterans Services office, visit www.co.beltrami.mn.us/Departments/Veterans/Veterans.html.

Veterans home

Also during Tuesday's County Board meeting, Commissioner Joe Vene presented a brief overview of a potential construction of a 90-bed veterans' home in Bemidji.

The Beltrami County Housing and Redevelopment Authority has pledged to provide a letter of intent to dedicate 22 acres of the former "Gordon property" for the construction of a Northern Minnesota Veterans Home.

The Gordon property is located behind the Bi-County Community Action Programs facility is located, to the east of the new low-income housing project that is being developed.

The community project is being pursued by the Northern Minnesota Veterans Home Task Force, which has been meeting for the past three years.

"It seems to me there will come a day when we will have a veterans' home in the Bemidji area, which, by the way, will serve a broad region of north and northwest Minnesota," Vene said. "This is not only a Bemidji project."

Without a site, the community will miss the opportunity for consideration in the biennial bonding bill, Vene said.

"This gives our legislators the vehicle to go to the Legislature to seek a $10 million approximation, part of a local match, which then will allow us to apply for federal money for the balance of the two-thirds of the facility. There's more to come on this."

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