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Commissioners vote to develop comprehensive zoning plan

MORRIS – Over the next 12 months, residents and stakeholders in Stevens County will be asked to think about what the future of the county may look like.

On Tuesday, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners hired consultant Ben Oleson of Hometown Planning to develop a comprehensive zoning plan for the county.

“The basic idea of a comprehensive plan is to have a discussion about how you want this county to change over time in terms of land use,” explained Oleson.

The plan, estimated at about $20,500, includes meeting with county staff, the planning commission, and a task force of local residents. Oleson will also conduct a web-based citizen survey and do one-on-one interviews with stakeholders to help develop the plan.

The discussion about a comprehensive plan began in 2012 during a debate about re-zoning property along Perkins Lake. Having a comprehensive plan may not have made that debate any easier, but it may have provided guidance in making those decisions, Oleson said.

Stevens County Attorney Aaron Jordan noted that there are several instances in the county’s zoning ordinance that make reference to a comprehensive plan, but since the county doesn’t have one those sections are basically meaningless.

Oleson estimated it will take between eight and 12 months to develop the plan. To start, Oleson will put together a work plan and discuss plans for the task force and stakeholder interviews with county staff members.

County will help tear down ‘Owl’s Nest’ in Hancock

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners will help pay for the cost of taking down the old “Owl’s Nest” building in Hancock.

On Tuesday, Hancock Mayor Bruce Malo asked the board to pay for demolishing the building, which is a tax forfeited property. Malo said the Hancock Economic Development Authority is not financially able to take down the building themselves.

“This is not something that we’ve just jumped into,” said Malo. “I think it’s a real health hazard.”

The low bid for demolition is $27,905 from Riley Brothers.

Stevens County Attorney Aaron Jordan told the board that the property belongs to the state, but through statute the county administers to the sale of the property.

Jordan said he couldn’t find any laws that indicated the county needs to tear the building down, but noted that in the past the county has taken some dilapidated buildings down in the area.

Although board members indicated they were concerned about the possible precedent of helping with the demolition cost, they voted to pay for 50 percent of the bid amount on the project.

Board rejects request for back pay

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners voted down a request for back pay for two employees in the County Recorder’s office.

In January, staff members Peg Kruize and Jane Swenson asked to appeal the new job classifications for their positions and for back pay to 2011 when they said their work duties changed.

“If you’re going to be doing these things for a few, you can’t pick and choose… to me it’s just not right,” said Recorder Virginia Mahoney, who brought the request back to the board on behalf of her staff members.

Previously, the board had approved back pay for staff members in the auditor/treasurer’s office when the office lost a staff member due to retirement. At that time, staff took on additional duties rather than have the position replaced.

When staff job descriptions were reclassified, the board approved back pay to the date of the retirement, said Commissioner Ron Staples.

“I don’t see why we should have to do it in the recorder’s office because they did not lose an employee,” said Staples.

“It’s a difficult situation but I agree – it was done in one office because of one less employee,” said Commissioner Phil Gausman.

Commissioners Donny Wohlers, Jeanne Ennen and Bob Kopitzke also indicated that their decision had nothing to do with the employees involved, but with the different office situations.

The board said they still support staff members who want to appeal their new job classifications.

Board approves drug testing policy for cash assistance

On Tuesday, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners approved a policy for drug testing individuals convicted of a felony drug crime who are part of a cash assistance program to comply with a legislative mandate.

Human Services Director Joanie Murphy said she worked with the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office and probation officers to develop the policy to make sure they aren’t duplicating testing.

However, Murphy said it seems like the number of individuals affected by the program is small. Under the program, the Minnesota Department of Human Services will send names of individuals convicted of a drug felony to county agencies every six months.

In a first round of the program, Stevens County had three individuals to check into. Two were no longer receiving cash assistance and the third was participating in a drug treatment program, Murphy said.

Other business

  • The board authorized IT Director Scott Busche to purchase a replacement server for about $5,300. This server will be used to house the county’s public GIS website.
  • The board approved a resolution to terminate the county-based Minnesota River Basin Joint Powers Agreement.
  • The board received and “unmodified” audit from the Office of the State Auditors. Auditor Rick Pietricht told the board that this is the outcome they want.