Cook County and Grand Portage leaders meet with Senator Hauschild for a legislative listening sessionFeb 13, 2023 09:42AM ● By Content Editor
By Laura Durenberger-Grunow - Boreal Community Media - February 13, 2023
On Friday, February 10, 2023, community leaders and representatives from local organizations and businesses joined together for a new legislature-sharing session.
Minnesota Senator Grant Hauschild and Orion DiFranco, the NE Minnesota representative for US Senator Tina Smith, were in attendance. Representative Roger Skraba was invited, but due to schedule conflicts was unable to make it.
The event took place at Skyport Lodge and Raven Rock Grill.
The purpose of the new legislature-sharing session was to provide Cook County and Grand Portage leaders and local organizations/businesses with the opportunity to share their needs and concerns and how the state and federal government can help.
Many common themes emerged from roundtable discussions - where each person in attendance was able to share their top items of concern with Hauschild and DiFranco. More in-depth, one-on-one sessions were scheduled for later in the day.
Linda Jurek, Executive Director of Visit Cook County and Cook County Chamber of Commerce, was the first of many to bring up the need for renewal of the 1% lodging tax, which is set to expire in November 2023.
Photo: Laura Durenberger-Grunow
Jurek also brought up the importance of addressing the housing crisis, which was echoed by Jason Hale, Executive Director of the Cook County HRA, Eric Humphrey, owner of the Lake Superior Trading Post, and many others.
Another common theme that emerged from the session was funding for the expansion of the Gitchie Gami Trail as part of the bonding bill.
One of the bigger concerns expressed by many was over the Paid Family and Medical Leave Legislation (PMFL). Mindy Fredrikson, co-owner of the Gunflint Lodge and a Board member for Hospitality Minnesota, explained the complexity of the bill by describing it as: “more complex than the federal program” while stating concerns about the administration aspect for small businesses.
The current language of the PMFL legislation would allow more people to be eligible for leave, and to be able to take up to 24 weeks per year.
Fredrickson and others expressed that for seasonal businesses in Cook County, staffing is already a big issue. The structure of the legislation currently would only exacerbate that issue.
All businesses and organizations who shared their concern over the language of the current legislation did express support for PMFL in general.
Robert (Bobby) Deschampe, Grand Portage Tribal Council Chairman, expressed concerns such as homelessness, the opioid epidemic, the Indian Child Protection Act (which is currently at the US Supreme Court), and watercraft safety related to the closure of the local coast guard station.
Deschampe was not the only person to bring up the closure of the Grand Marais Coast Guard station. Tracy Benson, Grand Marais City Mayor, shared how the closure impacts the Cook County Sherrif Department and Grand Portage, who now have to fill that void but lack resources to do so.
Benson also questioned what should be done with the building, which is currently vacant.
Commissioner Ann Sullivan brought up PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) at the federal and state levels. Sullivan explained that Cook County has many acres of land where no taxes are being paid, due to the current formula and how it is being classified. Many in attendance echoed Sullivan’s concern and shared that they felt the formula needs to be changed.
Other general concerns that were expressed were:
roads (including bus lines and the Gunflint Trail specifically)
school and education funding
free meals for students
community corrections funding formulas
funding for the new North Shore Waste infrastructure
environmental issues and maintaining the health of our area (land and water)
physical and mental health funding, chronic wasting disease
passage of the bonding bill