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County Board hosts legislators : Skoe, Saxhaug, Persell hear commissioners’ interests

By Molly Miron, Special to the Pioneer

During their afternoon work session Tuesday, Beltrami County commissioners discussed with State Sens. Rod Skoe and Tom Saxhaug and State Rep. John Persell the outcomes the county is seeking from the 2013 Legislature.

Beltrami County Administrator Kay Mack discusses taxes with Rep. John Persell, Sen. John Skoe and Sen. Tom Saxhaug.

Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, cited the leadership positions northern Minnesotans have taken for the upcoming session. He is chairman of the Government Finance Committee, and Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, is chairman of the Tax Committee. Persell, DFL-Bemidji, is vice chair of the Jobs and Economic Development Committee.

Saxhaug encouraged the commissioners to communicate with them during the session. “Local input is always very powerful at the state Legislature,” he said.

Skoe said tax reform is vital. He also addressed concerns about the differences among school districts according to how much they can raise through operating referenda.

“Hopefully, it (reform) will lessen disparities in school districts ... and divisions in communities,” he said. “We as a state cannot continue to manage from crisis to crisis. We are going to try to fix that.”

Persell said he aimed to “really bring the focus to fairness,” noting that school funding for programs like early childhood education and all-day kindergarten provide major returns to communities.

Commissioner Joe Vene complimented Persell on his work with the Veterans Administration to obtain a veterans home for Beltrami County.

Commissioner Richard Anderson cited the need for support for road maintenance. “One of the big things I’ve been lending an ear to is our infrastructure has suffered,” he said.

Commissioner Jack Frost, who owns Joe’s Lodge, commented on the burdens of taxes and regulations on small business owners. Local government aid and payment in lieu of taxes are necessary, especially in Beltrami County where much property is tax exempt, he said.

Commissioner Jim Lucachick suggested setting up conference calls during County Board work sessions so commissioners and legislators can exchange information and ideas.

Tim Sumner, commissioner-elect for District 4 in the northern part of Beltrami County, asked what the state could do to make schools safer. Sumner said the issue is particularly in people’s minds after the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, which echoed the 2005 Red Lake High School shootings.

Skoe said the entry to Red Lake High School was changed through federal funding to make access safer. He and Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks cited the difficulties with cutbacks in treating people with mental health problems. Lucachick said he advocates for parity in attitude, insurance and treatment of both medical and mental health.

The legislators expressed gratitude for the commissioners’ suggestions and affirmed their intention to work for the area’s need. The 2013 legislative session will begin Jan. 8.