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Stevens Co. Commissioners authorize snow removal for Hancock, Framnas Township

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Stevens Co. Commissioners authorize snow removal for Hancock, Framnas Township
Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

Snow removal across Stevens County will likely be stressful this winter after the County Highway Department adds snow removal in the City of Hancock and Framnas Township to its regular routes.

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Although no contracts have been signed, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to authorize County Engineer Brian Giese to enter into contracts for snow removal with both municipalities despite concerns about county staff and equipment.

"We have to have realistic expectations about what your staff and your equipment can do," said Commissioner Paul Watzke. "That's got to be an understanding if we make this change - this is going to be very stressful, at least this season."

To help complete snow removal, Giese told the board he would have to hire part-time staff and take a chance on having the entire fleet of county vehicles working throughout the winter or contract with a private vendor to complete one of the 11 routes.

Long-term, Giese said the board will have to consider adding more staff and equipment to the Highway Department - especially if more municipalities in Stevens County request snow removal services.

Commissioner Jeanne Ennen said she liked the idea of partnering with a private vendor because it would eliminate the liability of a full-time employee but provide extra equipment as needed.

"In the long run, we're at a point where we can justify [adding staff and equipment]," said Giese. "I'm not asking for a commitment to that, but I certainly need to know that in the spring we're going to have some serious discussions about increasing our fleet and our staff."

"The way the situation looks now, we're not going to get out of the [snow removal] business, and I really see no reason to not move forward with this," said Commissioner Phil Gausman.

Framnes Township made a formal request to the board for services last month. The Hancock City Council had also previously requested services, but was denied unless other townships also wanted services. After their meeting on Monday night, the city council again expressed interest in county snow removal services.

Representatives from Framnes Township at Tuesday's meeting told the board that they had no other options for snow removal because their current vendor is no longer an option.

"Ultimately, the reason for the Highway Department is to maintain our road system, and our road system needs to be maintained," said Framnes Township resident Lori Weverly. "Framnas Township has no one. We are in desperate need of the service."

Veteran Justice Corps program discussed

Stevens County Veterans Service Officer Hugh Reimers presented the board with information about a possible program to help local veterans that find themselves in legal trouble - Veteran Justice Corps.

Veteran Justice Corps is a program with AmeriCorps, a national service program funded by Congress. According to the program description, "Veteran Justice Corps in an innovative pilot initiative designed to help U.S. Military veterans involved or at risk to be involved with the criminal justice system life healthy productive lives."

Reimers said he was asking the county to commit about $4,000 to pay a small portion of the salary and soft costs associated with receiving a half-time VJC member in the community who would work as a proactive force in helping veterans through the criminal justice system.

The hired person would likely work in Pope County with Judge Jon Stafsholt, who is heading an effort to form a Veterans Court in our judicial district.

"I've seen some disparate treatment between [veterans] who have had good defense attorneys and those who have had defense attorneys that are now aware that there are programs for veterans out there," said County Attorney Aaron Jordan.

"I could see some benefit to having somebody who was dedicated to getting veterans to those programs right away as opposed to just relying on their attorney," said Jordan.

The board will likely take up the issue at their next board meeting on December 12.

Assessments payable 2013 considered

County Assessor Judy Thorstad presented the board with some preliminary information about property assessments for 2012 (taxes payable 2013).

According to her estimates, the Estimated Market Value increase on agricultural land could increase about 18 percent and tillable land could increase, on average, about 20 percent. The average estimated market value per tillable acre is $3,829 and the average sale price per acre is $4,183.

Ag sales is the only market where the county is seeing any increase, said Thorstad.

"The rest of the markets in the county are staying about the same" said Thorstad. "We're fortunate in this county that the market is stable, for the most part, except for agriculture which is increasing."

Other business

In other business, the board:

• Approved an agreement with Stevens Traverse Grant Public Health for Stevens County to act as the fiscal agent for the organization. The county has done this for some time, but there was no formal agreement in place until now.

Per the terms of the agreement, STG Public Health will pay the county $750 per month, up to $9,000 per year.

• Approved warrants for Stevens County Human Services for $88,118.

• Approved commissioner warrants for a total of $123,053.

• Approved the sale of surplus Highway Department radios and radio equipment to the City of Morris for $4,000.

• Approved Chelsey Ehleringer and Dylan Curfman to fill two open seats for youth representatives on the Stevens County Extension Committee.

The board will next meet on Monday, Nov. 21 at 8 a.m. at the Stevens County Courthouse for a special meeting to work on the budget and meet with the county's elected officials.

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Kim Ukura
Kim Ukura has served as the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune since August 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris in 2008 with degrees in English and journalism. She earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010. Prior to returning to Morris to work at the Sun Tribune, she worked in trade publishing. She has been recognized by the Minnesota Newspaper Association for both business and public affairs reporting. 
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