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Commissioners reject wheelage tax proposal

MORRIS – The Stevens County Board of Commissioners declined to move forward with a local wheelage tax to help support county road and bridge infrastructure.

In 2013, the Minnesota legislature authorized each board of commissioners to impose a $10 wheelage tax on each eligible motor vehicle in the county starting in 2014. County Engineer Brian Giese presented the option to the board in July, noting that the deadline for making the decision on the tax for next year was Aug. 1.

The Association of Minnesota Counties estimated that a $10 wheelage tax would bring in about $95,000 annually. During a prior discussion, Giese told the board that the money would be used for county road and bridge infrastructure, including the county’s gravel road system.

On Tuesday, Giese presented the board with a resolution to implement the wheelage tax. However, the resolution failed to get a motion or a second, effectively killing it without further discussion.

Stevens Traverse Grant Public Health grounds go tobacco free

The board voted 3-2 to make the grounds at the Stevens Traverse Grant Public Health office in Morris tobacco free.

Amy Reineke, health educator with Douglas County Public Health who works with all five counties that are part of the Horizon Community Board, told the board that considering the policy is part of her work on a $150,000 Tobacco-Free Communities in Minnesota grant.

“We want to practice what we preach,” said Reineke. “This is just a great opportunity for you guys to set an example for our public health buildings.”

The new policy prohibits the use of tobacco products on any Stevens County Public Health property or within a 20 foot radius of any entrance or air intake, and vehicles owned or leased by Stevens County Public Health and any personal vehicles on public health property. Public health already prohibits tobacco use inside the building.

Commissioners Donny Wohlers and Phil Gausman voted against the new policy, citing concerns for neighbors of the property. Gausman pointed out that when Stevens Community Medical center initially enacted a tobacco free grounds policy, people would go across the street to smoke.

“I personally don’t like sending people off to the neighbors place to [smoke]. It’s a legal thing,” said Wohlers.

Commissioners Bob Kopitzke, Jeanne Ennen and Ron Staples were in support of the policy change.

“You don’t want somebody that comes to visit your building to stand outside and be smoking when people are coming in and out – it’s a health place,” said Koptizke.

“I’m all in favor of getting people to not start smoking or quite smoking. I think it’s a step in the right direction,” added Staples.

The policy only affects the public health building; the county tobacco policy will remain the same for all other county buildings.

Human Services preparing for Minnesota’s health exchange

The Stevens County Human Services office will likely serve as “in person assisters” when Minnesota’s health insurance marketplace, MNsure (, opens for enrollment starting Oct. 1, 2013.

Human Service Director Joanie Murphy told the board that staff can be reimbursed $70 per individual who enrolls in a qualified health plan through the program.

“Low income people see us as a resource already for lots of different things,” said Murphy. “I anticipate that we will get lots of calls, questions, people coming in just wanting some assistance.”

Murphy also estimated that Stevens County will see an increase in the number of residents that qualify for medical assistance because the eligibility criteria for the program was expanded. Although counties are “hiring left and right” in anticipation of the expanded programs, Murphy told the board that at this time she is waiting to get her staff at full strength before assessing what additional help might be needed.

Other business

• The board approved purchasing a scanner for document imagine in the Human Service Department for $4,336 through Marco. IT Director Scott Busche said the scanner was comparably priced and will be compatible with digital documents created in other counties and the state of Minnesota.

• The board accepted a donation of $10,920 from the Fraternal Order of Eagles for the Ag Society to be used for maintenance and building improvements at the Stevens County Fairgrounds.

• The board authorized County Engineer Brian Giese to sell two wheel loaders. A 1989 Fiat-Allis was sold for $23,601 to Paul and Larry Moser of Morris and a 1977 Fiat-Allis was sold for $5355 to Prairie Trailer of Morris.