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Talks continue for five-county public health department

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MORRIS - The Horizon Community Health Board - an organization comprised of officials from Stevens, Traverse, Grant, Pope and Douglas counties - is continuing to move forward on a proposal to develop a five-county public health department, Stevens-Traverse-Grant Public Health Director Sandy Tubbs told the Stevens County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

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A restructuring committee has been meeting monthly since March to explore the possibility of a broader public health department, focusing on six important areas - governance, programs and services, budgets, personnel and staff, community partnerships and facilities, said Tubbs.

There have been good discussions about several of these areas, said Tubbs, but the committee has not tackled some big questions. For example, they still have not determined how staff might be organized in a new department.

"The intent is not to reduce staff in any way," said Tubbs. When a draft organizational chart was prepared, the number of full time employees remained almost the same, although there were some possible changes in which positions would be needed, she said.

Tubbs said she hoped to return to the board in November or December with a recommendation from the committee about whether to move forward with the restructuring or not. If the restructuring moves forward, Stevens-Traverse-Grant Public Health would dissolve and be replaced by the five county organization by January 2014 at the earliest.

Viking Library System makes allocation request

After four years of flat funding, the Viking Library System is asking for a 2.5 percent increase in funding from each county, Viking Library System Director Peg Warner told the board Tuesday.

The reason for the increase is simply rising costs across all areas, but specifically gasoline, supplies and materials, said Werner.

Werner also presented the board with the library systems 2011 annual report, which included information from a study commissioned by State Library Services.

This year, State Library Services commissioned a return on investment (ROI) report for public libraries across the State of Minnesota. A study completed by the University of Minnesota's Duluth Labovitz School of Business and Economics determined that for every $1 of taxpayer investment in libraries, there is a $4.62 ROI for the community.

"When we ask for money, so often we're not seen as revenue producing because we're not ... but there's a tremendous impact for having that building and having those services," said Werner.

The study also found that the social ROI for libraries was high - 66.9 percent of households indicated that public libraries are a very important part of the community, and 91.3 percent found that funding should stay the same or increase.

Werner did her own study to determine the ROI for Stevens County's investment in the Viking Library System. In 2011, Stevens County contributed $53,439 to the system and took advantage of $254,843 in services - an ROI of $4.77 for every dollar.

Other business

• The board reappointed Judy Thorstad as county assessor for another four-year term.

• The board approved hiring two eligibility workers for the Human Services department - Kim Gullickson and Megan Copeland.

• Acting as the County Drainage Authority, the board approved a partial abandonment of County Ditch 17. The petition for partial abandonment was submitted by Roger DeCamp, Rosella DeCamp and Blake DeCamp. The DeCamp's wanted to abandon a portion of the ditch in order to install a privately-funded tile system on their property.

Because the portion of the ditch was found to "not serve a substantially useful purpose" and "is not of substantial public benefit and utility," the board voted to allow the abandonment.

• The board approved a professional services contract with the City of Morris for dispatch services. The five year agreement includes a payment reduction of five percent per year until the City will no longer be paying for dispatch.

Sheriff Randy Willis told the board that other agencies in Stevens County - University of Minnesota, Morris police, the Hancock Police, and Stevens County Ambulance Service - do not pay for dispatch services. Most counties across the state manage dispatch services and do not charge other agencies for dispatch services, Willis said.

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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