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Beltrami County Board: Washington lobbyist seeks $2,000 more

Beltrami County's lobbyist in Washington, D.C., wants $2,000 more than he requested, a move that could spark controversy Tuesday.

David Turch & Associates, which represented the county in lobbying Congress, completed its first year with a $30,000 contract and had asked for $34,000 for 2009. The County Budget Committee, however, recommended ending the contract.

The full County Board approved the contract at $34,000, with County Administrator Tony Murphy to negotiate a final contract with Turch that may be lower with less duties.

But commissioners will find at their regular meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the County Administration Building that Turch now is asking for $36,000 - $2,000 more than provided in the 2009 budget approved last month by commissioners.

The proposed agreement does include a termination clause for either party, with 30 days' written notice.

Commissioners have debated the merits of hiring a firm to represent them in Washington, with at least one constituent telling commissioners they should be able to call upon a member of Congress without going through an intermediary.

Board support of Turch has been strong, but that margin could slip as Jim Lucachick replaces Ron Otterstad as District 5 commissioner. Otterstad has been a supporter of Turch, especially in lobbying for funds for the Bemidji Regional Airport, while Lucachick campaigned on making the most use of locally available services without going out of town.

David Turch, appearing before the board last month, said this could be a unique time in Washington has President-elect Barack Obama prepares an economic stimulus package that could approach $1 trillion. Beltrami could gain in funding for transportation and airport projects, he said, as well as pushing the county's new proposal for a veterans home.

"We will work with you to develop a quick list," Turch said.

The proposed contract, which allows Turch & Associates to bill separately "all ordinary and reasonable expenses," would allow the firm to "advise, counsel and represent Beltrami with ... its affairs with the Legislative and Executive branches of the federal government."

It also allows the firm to "promote and represent Beltrami and its interests with federal legislative proposals which could have a substantial impact on Beltrami or the conduct of its operations."

The contract asks for $3,000 a month.

Also on the regular agenda is renewal of the county's contract with the state Sentence to Serve program. The two-year contract calls for the county to pay the state $226,380 to administer the corrections program.

The County Board meeting opens with the election of a 2009 chairman and vice chairman. Traditionally, the chairmanship is rotated among districts, which for 2009 would fall on District 5.

But as District 5 Commissioner Jim Lucachick is new to the board, that policy might be suspended.

The County Board opens the day at 2:30 p.m. as a reception is held for new Commissioner Lucachick in the board's conference room after he is sworn into office.

The board's 3 p.m. work session opens with a presentation from Lenore Barsness, new executive director of the Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center, to talk about "some of our plans for the immediate future."

Barsness, in a memo, said that "we see many opportunities to improve both services and business practices, but we also have made worthy achievements on behalf of the county constituents ..."

Commissioners will also discuss financing options for the jail efficiency upgrade project, estimated at $3.45 million, and consider authorization for a new Beltrami County Internet Web portal constructed internally.

Consent agenda items during the board's regular meeting include county bills and warrant payment listing, retroactive approval of bills paid, awarding of legal publications, approval of AFSCME contracts for 2009-10 and non-union compensation for 2009-10.

Both agreements call for 2.75 percent salary increases the first year and 2.5 percent the second year.