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Cook County Connections: The Year in Review

Dec 06, 2019 09:22AM ● By Editor
Photo:  Cook County MN

By Interim Administrator Rena Rogers from Cook County MN - December 7, 2019


Much of government work is transactional, process oriented and somedays down
right mundane. But within this structured framework there is always the opportunity
for creativity, collaboration and leadership to improve the way we deliver services.
2019 has been an eventful year filled with opportunities and challenges, some of
which are highlighted below.

Long Term
2019 saw two long term initiatives/issues finally resolved:
  • The County and the Forest service completed the BWCAW Land Exchange, a reflection of extensive work by our Attorney and Assessor’s Offices, GIS analyst, and others.
  • 911 Service redundancy was finally achieved through a partnership with CenturyLink, TheNortheast Service Cooperative, True North Broadband, and the State of Minnesota, assisted by Cook County MIS, the Sheriff’s Office, and Emergency Management. The result: no more County-wide 911 outages!
These issues, of course, were replaced with new challenges: Thye-Blatnik (BWCA Payment in Lieu ofTaxes) proposed payment reduction and the impacts of increased vacation rentals.
The Assessor’s Office has been involved in addressing these issues – and in finishing the fifth year of assessments in our quintile, bringing Cook County in compliance with the Department of Revenue’s schedule for property assessments. Land Services took on the challenge of trying to understand the scope of increased vacation rentals through the Vacation Rental Licensing Project. During the next few years the county will require the licensing of vacation rentals, ensuring that health and public safety issues are being addressed. This project will be reassessed by the Board after two years.

Collaboration
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. – Helen Keller

This year Cook County departments have collaborated with the City of Grand Marais, the State of Minnesota, North Shore Health, ISD 166, other county departments, and many other groups. Following are a few notable examples of what those partnerships accomplished:
  • Revised Tobacco Ordinance that prohibits the sale of all tobacco products to individuals under the age of 21 in Cook County-licensed facilities. Public Health and Human Services took the lead on this initiative, which proactively addresses the vaping issue in our schools.
  • Community Health Assessment, in which Public Health convened community partners to look at health data and develop priorities for improvement. This provides useful data for the organizations working on quality of life initiatives.
  • Restorative Justice, which began taking referrals in 2019. The goal of this volunteer-government partnership is to address conflict and harm with a restorative and victim-centered approach. This initiative has been a success in part due to leadership from our Attorney’s Office.
  • Winter Parking Ordinance that was passed by the City of Grand Marais this fall. The Highway Department and the Sheriff’s Office collaborated with the city on this project, and deputies have communicated with vehicle owners in a manner that encourages compliance.
Projects
This year the Highway Department took on a couple of long-awaited projects: CSAH 17 in Grand Portageand the South Shore Drive project. The weather impacted the completion of the latter, but this projectwill be completed during the 2020 construction season. Additionally, the Highway Department has received $2,498,000 in state and federal transportation grants that will be applied to multiple projects from 2021 to 2024.

The Recorder’s Office partnered with the GIS division of the Management Information Systems office on the Public Land Survey System Project. This project uses surveyor information to improve our GIS data based on original public surveys. The project outcome is valuable to surveyors and property owners. Also featured are historical and current surveyor notes, which are viewable online.

Working with the Highway Department, the GIS division also created an online version of the county highway map that can be used offline to track your location. More map apps are planned soon.

Three significant capital bonding projects will come to a successful close by the end of this year:
  • Hovland Public Works building – Space for all equipment at that site, reducing maintenance and replacement costs
  • Community Center improvements – Playground upgrades, ice skating rink and warming house, which will provide great recreational activities for Cook County families and children
  • Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center improvements – Roof and window replacement at the Courthouse and window replacement at the Law Enforcement Center, reducing utility and building maintenance costs. Installation will be a significant project coordinated by our Maintenance Department before the end of the year.
The final capital bonding project is the replacement of the outdated 911 hardware and software at the Sheriff’s Office. This project should be complete next spring.

Proactive Leadership
One of the challenges facing all counties is the rising cost of foster care due to increased use of opioidsand methamphetamines. Cook County Public Health and Human Services has made the case that proper staffing of social workers proactively addresses the fallout from societal issues like addiction: between 2012 and 2018, Cook County’s foster care placement costs dropped from $418,000 to $221,000 per year due, in large part, to this change in staffing.

Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan
Several plans with significant potential impacts were developed and approved by the Board this year:
  • The One Watershed Plan now has an approved work plan and funding in place.
  • The Emergency Operations and the Hazard Mitigation Plans that provide 1) a roadmap in the event of a disaster, and 2) proactive steps to mitigate the impact of a disaster are complete and approved.
  • The Auditor’s Office is preparing for the first ever Minnesota Presidential primary election, developing communication and training for voters and election judges.
New Faces = New Opportunities
Government is made up of people. Some notable changes include:
  • The Veterans Service Office is now staffed fulltime by Pat Strand.
  • Mike Keyport is our new emergency manager and comes with a wealth of experience and local knowledge.
  • Krysten Foster will return as county engineer: the Shared Highway Engineer Services Agreement with Lake County has been renewed.
  • Pamela Dixon is our new HR director and is already bringing needed changes to our processes and policies.
  • The Board is beginning the process to hire a new county administrator, which has already generated a good discussion about roles and leadership. These discussions will continue into 2020.
Additional information about county programs and initiatives is available on the county website,

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service
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