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BELTRAMI COUNTY: Commissioners earmark conservation funds for Kelliher

BEMIDJI -- Beltrami County commissioners approved allocating up to $420,000 to the city of Kelliher at Tuesday's board meeting.

The city is in need of repairs to its water and sewage lines. Standard monthly utility costs should not exceed 1.5 percent of median income; according to data gathered by the county, Kelliher's 2013 rates were 101 percent of the recommended share of median income.

The entire project requires an estimated $2 million for water improvements and $1 million for sewer. Half the water portion is for the tower, which needs to be evaluated as it may be of historical importance. Beltrami County's contribution will cover 13 percent of the project cost.

"I almost swallowed my tongue when (Commissioner Tim Sumner) said what they were asking for," said County Administrator Kay Mack. "But I don't know it isn't one of the better uses of the funds."

Mack explained the consolidated conservation funds are intended for such a project. The fund balance is currently $804,000.

"When you have it, let's use it," Commissioner Jim Lucachick said. "This is the definition of what government should do."

The city of Kelliher's share is $1,071,938 -- $551,114 for water and $520,824 for sewer. Other funding sources include $1.3 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which covers 45 percent of the project. A small cities grant of $600,000 and $672,000 from the city of Kelliher along with $420,000 from the county complete the funding sources. Commissioners approved the request contingent on the project being completed. It will also affect future funding requests in the Kelliher and Waskish area in upcoming years. The project is expected to be done in 2015.

Election year

Commissioners Jack Frost and Richard Anderson's terms expire this year. No mention was made at Tuesday's board meeting about re-election, however, nothing was said about not running either. Filing opened Tuesday and will remain open until June 3.

Frost represents District 1, which includes the cities of Bemidji (Ward 5), Turtle River and Tenstrike and Summit, Port Hope, Taylor, Birch, Turtle River, Sugar Bush, Moose Lake, Frohn, Ten Lake and Unorganized Brook Lake townships. As of Tuesday evening, two candidates filed for District 1: Frost and Matt Bliss.

Anderson's District 3 includes the cities of Solway and Wilton and the townships of Alaska, Bemidji, Buzzle, Durand, Grant Valley, Hagali, Jones, Lammers, Liberty, Maple Ridge, Nebish, O'Brien and Roosevelt. Anderson was the only candidate who filed for District 3 as of Tuesday.

Jodee Treat has filed for re-election as auditor/treasurer and Sheriff Phil Hodapp has filed for re-election, as well. County attorney Tim Faver will not be running, Annie Claesson-Huseby has filed for that position. Two soil and water management seats are open with no candidates yet.

State Reps. Roger Erickson, DFL-Baudette, and John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, and State Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, also attended Tuesday's meeting. The legislators gave updates on topics at the capitol including investing in education and jobs and the $1 billion dollar bonding bill that includes funding for various area projects.

Persell said attention should be paid to aquatic invasive species and that the St. Anthony Falls lock closure was approved at a federal level, which is the first in line to keep carp out. Electric barriers have also been proposed.

"We have some significant funding going into AIS with a bulk of that coming down to local government," Persell said. "It should bode well or at least give us an idea of what we're up against."

Veterans homes were also discussed. A hierarchy in which a veteran with a Purple Heart or Silver Star would receive preferential placement did not sit well with commissioners, representatives or the senator, all of whom agree the funding hangup is on the federal government level. In 2013, there were 800 veterans waiting for admittance into a veterans home.

"Something must be done now," said Commissioner Joe Vene. Vene said the lack of veterans facilities is impacting not only the Bemidji area but Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth reservations.

Erickson's seat in House District 2A is up for election this year, there were no filings as of Tuesday night. Persell filed for re-election in District 5A and will be running against Laverne Pederson.

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PTAC meetings debated

Commissioners weighed in on the ongoing Park and Trails Advisory Council (PTAC) conflict.

In 2006, a Beltrami County advisory committee was formed to provide recommendations to the county board and Natural Resource Management Department on matters that pertain to planning, programming, evaluating and funding of park, trail and recreation facilities and programs. Since that time a timber sale was made in which trees were harvested in the Movil Maze and Three Island park areas and legacy stands have been implemented to preserve trees.

The committee has been meeting quarterly; a year ago the PTAC was adjusted to meet on an as-needed basis as determined by the Natural Resource Management Director, Richard Moore. Moore has seen no need to convene the PTAC members.

Commissioner Lucachick, who is on the parks and trails advisory committee, proposes the committee have the opportunity to meet to make recommendations.

"Right now, I feel like for the past year we haven't gotten public input," Lucachick said.

Commissioner Frost, also on the parks and trails advisory board, is of the opinion the concerned citizen based group does not need to be included on every policy decision. Commissioner Anderson said the PTAC has in fact been given the opportunity to provide feedback.

"PTAC members and others have had, and will continue to have, an opportunity to see as well as give input to natural resource management staff," Anderson said. Three tours were hosted by the county commissioners between May 2013 and March 2014.

Commissioners Joe Vene and Sumner agree they need to learn more before taking a stand on the issue.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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