DEBS -- Members of the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners left their usual digs at the County Administration Building Tuesday evening and went on the road to hold their meeting at Roosevelt Town Hall in the tiny town of Debs.
Commissioners Craig Gaasvig, Reed Olson, Richard Anderson, Tim Sumner and Jim Lucachick sat in the Roosevelt Town Hall for the board’s meeting on Aug. 3.
“I just want to thank the Roosevelt Town Board for allowing us use of your beautiful town hall adjacent to the historic town of Debs, which is named after one of the more fascinating characters of American political history,” Board Chair Olson said during his opening address.
This cross-county visit gave many community members the opportunity to bring their concerns before the board. As often happens when people are free to discuss whatever is on their minds, the topics of discussion were varied.
More than a dozen community members stood in front of the board Tuesday night. Concerned citizens brought issues forward relating to road maintenance, vacation rentals, pandemic restrictions, lawn maintenance and waste fees.
One topic that kept popping up throughout the meeting was road maintenance. Early in the meeting, a man from Solway brought concerns to the board regarding a stretch of road in poor shape.
“We’ve got a five and a half-mile stretch on County Road 16, which is south of Solway in between County Road 5 and County Road 14, and it is really rough,” he said. “That road is in tough shape.”
The man then listed a number of other concerns for the board, including his frustrations with the court system after his garage was broken into last year, concerns about ATVs not being allowed at the Mississippi Headwaters and solid waste fees.
Next, a man addressed the board regarding concerns about the maintenance of county roundabouts. He said the grass, clover and weeds were so high on some roundabouts that they were impeding the vision of drivers.
“I guess one of my gripes is taking care of the roundabouts,” he said. “It'd be really nice to see somebody mow it.”
The man said in some cases, the growth has been 4 to 5 feet high.
"You're a five-year-old kid driving a bike, trying to cross the roundabout. How safe is that?" he asked. “A year's gone by and nothing has happened. You guys need to maintain the roads. It looks terrible, it's unsafe.”
A man from Solway spoke up about concerns regarding the lack of immediate plans for restoring County Road 16.
“I looked through the five-year (maintenance) plan on the website today and County Road 16 isn't on that. I drive the road several times a day,” he said. “I've been living on it for almost 20 years now.
“I guess I'd like to understand some of the criteria -- I know there are bad roads, a lot of other bad roads in the county and I get that, but I guess I would say ours is right up there with ones that I see on this list. I can’t imagine what (County Road 16) would look like five years from now.”
More citizens raised concerns about the state of County Road 5. “I think County 5 was the big one for this crowd,” Olson said.
Commissioner Gaasvig tried to shed light on how roads are scheduled to receive maintenance.
“There's a method to the madness of which roads get done when. Bruce has a tough job making these decisions because there's never enough money to go around,” Gaasvig said of the county public works director, Bruce Hasbargen.
Commissioner Lucachick tried to put the issue into perspective, telling the crowd that if all of the costs of all of the roads that need maintenance were added up, the cost would be near $80 million.
“We've been trying as a county board to get that game plan together,” he said. “It seems like it's a never-ending deal -- you’ve got $80 million worth of repairs, and you can only do $6.5 to $7 million a year, and as it takes $6.5 to $7 million to repair it, it comes off the $80 million but something else goes back on top of it.”
Citizens also echoed concerns raised in previous board meetings, regarding disruptions caused by vacation rentals such as Vrbos and Airbnbs.
Hagali Township Supervisor Rob Ingersoll addressed the board praising them for taking resident concerns about vacation rentals seriously.
“As a township we support those people and I’m glad to hear it's a front-burner issue for the county,” he said.
A motion was approved unanimously by the board to convey a piece of land as a school forest to Solway Elementary School. The Solway school has been using a tax-forfeited parcel along U.S. Highway 2 as a school forest since the 1950s, according to board documents, but for various reasons the parcel was never conveyed to the district as a school forest.
In recent discussions between the county and the Bemidji school district, a new 17-acre site has been identified and agreed upon in Eckles Township, immediately southwest of Grant Creek Horse Camp.
With amenities such as vault toilets, potable water, and picnic tables at the Horse Camp, this is an attractive location for a school forest. The Natural Resource Management Department will construct additional trails at the site and relocate the school forest sign from its current location to the new school forest.
Commissioner Lucachick encouraged the room to keep an eye on the Beltrami County website for more information on the upcoming veterans home groundbreaking, which he said will likely take place around the third week of August. Lucachick said the first residents will be welcomed into the home in the fall of 2023.
The full Aug. 3 Beltrami County Board meeting can be viewed on the county’s YouTube channel.