BEMIDJI-Costs associated with televising Beltrami County meetings was a dividing factor for the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

The idea was brought forward by District 2 Commissioner Reed Olson, who's advocated to televise the county's board meetings and make that available for online streaming. At Tuesday's meeting, Olson reiterated his reasoning for the idea.

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"Given the size of the county and the difficulty to make it to a 5 o'clock meeting for residents, having it at least online should go without saying," Olson said. "Of course there's going to be a cost. But, I think it's money well spent to increase participation and openness."

Estimated costs of the equipment and staff time to install and broadcast the meetings were presented Tuesday, with the total coming to $99,641, which includes:

• Boardroom equipment, $36,641.

• Conference room equipment, $25,000

• Video storage, $20,000

• Server, between $8,000 and $10,000

• Staff time, $10,000.

Other challenges to broadcasting the meetings were presented, as well. For example, commissioners were informed the city of Bemidji is able to broadcast its meetings thanks to a franchise agreement with Paul Bunyan Communications and Midco. Additionally, Public, Education and Government, or PEG, access channel fees, are paid by cable customers to the providers and then turned over to the city.

As the county doesn't have those advantages, it would have to cover any costs associated with accessing a channel to broadcast.

"I think we've made a lot of effort to be open. Our meetings are well known, we have our newsletter to address major issues and business the county is dealing with, before every meeting one of us is on "Chat About" (a local radio program) and every meeting is covered by the media," said District 1 Commissioner Keith Winger. "I think this cost is just way more than we can afford."

"My concern is with ongoing costs. It's not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but it's still money," District 5 Commissioner Jim Lucachick said. "When I brought it up nine years ago, we opted to go to the newsletter, and we get that to every constituent for 9 cents. So, I'm hanging my hat there until there's an inexpensive, guaranteed way where we can serve everybody."

In his remarks, District 4 Commissioner Tim Sumner said he was in favor of broadcasting meetings.

"If we're talking about money and costs, we spend a lot of money on other projects that I question. I inquired about this my first time around and in this last election I campaigned on it," Sumner said. "If we're talking about the people we're serving, the district I represent probably has the most difficult time getting to 5 o'clock meetings. So, to me, it makes perfect sense to broadcast the meetings. I'm going to push for this and advocate for it any way I can."

After discussing the issue, a motion was made to have staff continue looking at costs and logistics of installing equipment and broadcasting the meetings. The motion failed in a 3-2 vote, with Sumner and Olson in favor and District 3 Commissioner Richard Anderson, Winger and Lucachick voting against.


Child placements dominate legislative update

During Tuesday's work session before the regular board meeting, the board was visited by District 5A and District 2A Reps. Matt Bliss, R-Pennington and Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, as well as District 2 Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids.

The local legislative delegation was informed about challenges facing the county's Health and Human Services Department.

Both Health and Human Services Director Becky Secore and Social Services Director Jeff Lind explained to the legislators the biggest issue facing their department is financial burden stemming from out-of-home placement for children.

According to Lind, the number of placements has steadily climbed the past few years. One of the driving factors of the increase, Lind said, is the rise in placement because of substance abuse by parents.

County Administrator Kay Mack shared financial impacts from the rise in placements-since 2010, the county has had to spend $12 million from the human services fund balance, plus, by the end of 2017, they had to spend an additional $3 million from the general revenue fund, with all of it driven by placements. Mack said the trajectory is pointing to unsustainable support for placements.

To respond to those challenges, staff informed the legislators of a number of priorities that can be handled at the state level. One of them is related to permanency placement.

According to Secore, the process for determining permanency starts with licensing a family. When it comes to relative placement, it often takes up to six months to complete the licensing process. Once a family is licensed, the county can then proceed with determining permanency for the child.

However, the process for placement in that home takes an additional six months following the foster care licensing. Therefore, the county is hoping the Legislature can remove the required six-month timeline before permanency can be finalized, reducing the overall time a child is in limbo.

Another point brought forward to the legislators is the county's support for the Red Lake Nation Indian Child Welfare Initiative. The plan by Red Lake allows total authority and responsibility for all child protection services within the Red Lake Nation boundaries. Secore said the initiative promotes sovereignty for Red Lake and would separate services and finances from Beltrami County.

Along with foster care, the subject of supporting mental health initiatives was brought forward.

Mack said Beltrami County is supporting legislative efforts this session to address gaps in the behavioral health system. According to Mack, the county is focused on an increase of permanent supportive housing for those with mental health issues and the creation of regional health crisis programs.