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County votes to replace aging 911 ambulance

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Stevens County will buy a new ambulance to replace a unit that sports a computer system the service's director called a "ticking bomb."

The county Board of Commissioners approved a request by Rick Wagner to purchase a new primary 911 vehicle. Wagner is with North Memorial Ambulance, which recently took over management of the county's ambulance service.

The new vehicle is expected to cost between $100,000 and $110,000. Wagner said the service's current 911 vehicle's computer system is getting old and that if it breaks down, repairing it could cost as much as $20,000.

County Coordinator Jim Thoreen said that in the past the county has sought to buy "demo" vehicles that are less expensive than one fully equipped, and the service can then equip it as it wants.

In other county business:

• Human Service Director Joanie Murphy reported that the county's Income Maintenance and Social Services programs took in more revenue than they expended in her Jan. 20 budget report.

Several factors played into the situation, including an October 2008 state takeover of childcare assistance payments, which lowered social services expenditures.

The county also received money to cover the loss of federal dollars for certain case management situations, but the county was able to bill for services, too. Another $26,000 came in through estate settlements, she said.

Overall, Human Services revenue was 110 percent of the budgeted amount, and expenses were 90 percent of budget.

That won't likely be the case for long, given the state's budget deficit, Commissioner Herb Kloos said.

"We got lucky this year," he said. "We won't be so lucky next year."

• The commissioners approved a $4,677 payment to the West Central Regional Juvenile Center as its portion of a budget deficit correction.

The WCRJC ran a deficit of about $152,000 and had to spread that amount to its 11 member counties.

Stevens County officials had anticipated a "kick-in" payment of about twice that amount in August. Commissioner Larry Sayre said its only the second time in several decades that the WCRJC has required an additional payment to correct a deficit.

• To make his office operation more efficient, County Attorney Charles Glasrud requested that the board issue flat reimbursements for copying costs and phone costs.

Glasrud also operates a private law firm, and his staff must make special efforts to separate costs for county business from private business.

The county provides Glasrud's office with a phone line for county business, but at times the line is accidentally used for private business or must be used for urgent calls. As such, his staff must review all calls on the bill and log which are for county business.

Instead, Glasrud compiled averages over the last five years and requested $150 per month to cover copying costs.

He also is requesting a $115 per month flat rate for phone charges, but first will determine if his office can obtain cheaper phone rates.

The commissioners approved the request for copying expenses and will address the phone billing at a later date.

"I believe these changes will save the county at least a small amount of money, and save everyone a lot of unnecessary work," Glasrud wrote in a memo to the board.

• The board approved a $2,000 payment to the Minnesota River Board for 2008 and 2009 dues. Due to a payment mistake, the county did not pay its 2008 dues last year. The commissioners also approved a $2,100 annual dues payment to the Minnesota Rural Counties Caucus.