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Stevens Co. Commissioners vote to sell forfeited truck

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MORRIS – The Stevens County Board of Commissioners voted 3 – 2 on Tuesday to sell a forfeited pickup truck and use the proceeds to partially fund a new vehicle for the Stevens County Sheriff's Office.

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At issue in the decision was whether the county keep the forfeited truck for use in the sheriff's office, or sell it and use the proceeds to cover part of the cost of a new vehicle.

Commissioners Ron Staples, Phil Gausman and Donny Wohlers voted to sell the truck, while Commissioners Jeanne Ennen and Bob Kopitzke voted against.

Earlier this month, Stevens County Sheriff Jason Dingman proposed purchasing the 2011 pickup truck that was forfeited from a Donnelly man with five DWI convictions. As part of the agreement, the county would have to pay about $16,000 for the vehicle from the sheriff's forfeiture fund – a move that would pay for a vehicle without using county tax dollars.

After some discussion on the proposal, the board voted to table the proposal until after a meeting with representatives from the city of Hancock to talk about law enforcement services on Wednesday, March 13.

Commissioner Ron Staples, one of the meeting attendees, said that although city council members in Hancock are interested in contracting for service from the sheriff's office, they are not interested in selling their new squad car for at least a year.

With that information, Dingman brought the vehicle issue back to the council at their meeting Tuesday.

“I have no strong personal feelings one way or the other, if we keep this forfeited truck or sell it to get something else – the ball's in your court,” Dingman told the board.  

Ennen and Kopitzke both argued that keeping the forfeited vehicle would be a good decision because it would provide a vehicle for Dingman without costing county taxpayers money.

Kopitzke also said he didn't have concerns about the feelings of the former owner, referencing a comment from Wohlers at an earlier meeting that it would be “kind of a slap in the face” for the previous owner to see the truck being driven in the community.

On Tuesday, Wohlers said he would prefer that Dingman drive a vehicle that matched the rest of the sheriff's office cars in case it needed to be used by a deputy.

Gausman echoed Wohlers sentiment: “I still stand by what I said earlier – I'd rather see [the truck] gone and a regular, matching squad added.”

Ennen said that she had brought up this question at several township board meetings. The consensus was for the county to keep the forfeited vehicle because it would come at no cost to local taxpayers.

Shortly after, Staples moved to sell the forfeited vehicle. Commissioners Staples, Wohlers and Gausman voted for the motion, while Commissioners Ennen and Kopitzke voted against.

Instead, the board authorized Dingman to purchase a Ford Police Interceptor Utility for about $26,000. This is the same type of vehicle that the rest of the department drives. It will be unmarked and not outfitted as extensively as a regular patrol car.

Dingman was instructed to use all of the money in the forfeiture fund to pay for the truck, approximately $19,000, and bill the rest of the cost to the county general fund.

Affordable Care Act could increase Human Services workload

Implementing provisions of the Affordable Care Act could mean increasing the workload of the Stevens County Human Services Department as much as 30 percent, Human Service Director Joanie Murphy told the board Tuesday.

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, expands the eligibility for medical assistance, a program administered by county agencies.

Although it's not clear how many individuals may now qualify, there are some estimates. There are currently 114 people in Stevens County that pay for MinnesotaCare, a subsidized health care program, that would be eligible for medial assistance under the new federal guidelines. There are another 262 residents who participate in other assistance programs that may be eligible for medical assistance.

Many of these new clients are single adults without children. Other residents may be eligible for a subsidy on their health insurance, or families could have different eligibilities for different family members, Murphy said.

“As a county agency, we have to think about how are we going to assist those individuals who may be in and out of our system. How much hand holding are we going to do?” said Murphy.

Although there may be one year of federal funding to help local agencies assist the public through these changes, counties are nervous about the funding because it may dry up, she continued.

“In the short term, it's probably going to be an increase in staff,” said Murphy. “Long term, if the system works the way it's designed to work … it might very well reduce the workload. It's just so hard to know at this point.”

Other business

• The board approved a grant contract with the state of Minnesota to develop a hazard mitigation plan and approved a service contract with West Central Environmental Services for $24,850 to write the hazard mitigation plan.

• The board authorized IT Director Scott Busche to re-advertise for an IT technician.

• The board approved a resolution in support of West Central Minnesota Communities Action's application to the Minnesota Housing Agency's Family Homeless Assistance and Prevention Program.

Executive Director Steve Nagle told the board that WCMCA has assisted 21 households in Stevens County with rent payments, deposits, mortgages and utilities for a total of $7,150 since 2007.  

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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