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Stevens County to hire GIS Technician

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to move forward with the county's investment in GIS by hiring a full-time GIS technician, a decision the board has been waiting on since August.

IT Director Scott Busche, who will oversee the technician, told the board that in the last week alone he has had three requests related to GIS, and the frequency of GIS-related requests is increasing.

County department heads also expressed support for the new position. Environmental Services/ Planning and Zoning Director Bill Kleindl told the board that his department would benefit from having access to GIS.

"It is very beneficial for me when property owners come in for permits of any sort," said Kleindl. He also noted that GIS will be useful to the general public through a web-based portal that would make more county data available.

Up to this point, the county has invested about $128,000 into GIS technology, primarily to build a layered base to attach GIS data to and develop elevation and visual maps of the county. If the county chose not to move forward with hiring a GIS technician, this data and investment could have become obsolete.

"I'm concerned about the money that we have spent previously," said County Assessor Judy Thorstad. "It's going to come to a point where we're going to have to start out from scratch."

County Engineer Brian Giese told the board that GIS would also be an asset to the Highway Department, and could help improve record keeping with the county ditch system.

"This is probably not the be-all, end-all of GIS. I think future board will be looking at the expansion of this department," said Giese. "I think there will be more people asking for services out of this over time."

The salary and benefits for the new GIS Technician are estimated at about $55,300 per year, and the county will need to make an initial investment of $8,000 for hardware and software. The cost to maintain the GIS software each year is about $1,500.

County continues to support exploration of five-county public health system

After an informational presentation from Stevens Traverse Grant Public Health Director Sandy Tubbs, the board voted to continue exploring the implications of creating a five-county public health system in the region.

Currently, the public health organizations for five counties - Stevens, Traverse, Grant, Pope, and Douglas - operate under a single community health board, the Horizon Community Health Board. Since January 2012, a reorganization committee has been exploring ways to join the public health agencies even further.

"We are looking at this integration because of our desire to assure that we have strong public health into the future," said Tubbs.

At Wednesday's meeting, Tubbs presented the Horizon Community Health Board business plan, potential organizational structure, and a proposed formula for allocation county tax levies.

The draft business plan looks at issues related to governance, budget and finance, personnel/staffing, programs and services, and transition issues. So far, the reorganization committee has focused on governance, financing, and services.

One difficult topic is a plan to allocate county tax levy dollars. Under one draft proposal, the five counties in the organization would split the salary and benefits of the Horizon Public Health Director equally. The remainder of the tax levy would be allocated to each county based on population, but each tax levy would not increase or decrease by more than three percent in a single year.

The vote of support to continue exploring the joint public health system does not bind Stevens County to joining a five-county system. Tubbs said the earliest she anticipated presenting a more formal joint powers agreement was the middle of 2013.

Other business

• The board authorized Giese to advertise for a Mechanic II position for the Highway Department after discussions with the personnel and road and bridge committees.

"Our number one concern is, moving into winter, we have absolutely zero extra bodies and we have 11 plow routes - everybody will be on a plow route except one person," said Giese.

Commissioner Ron Staples, a member of the road and bridge committee, noted that because the county is not replacing equipment as much, it was more important to have someone around to do maintenance.

• The board approved an agreement to participate in a regional logging program for emergency calls.

• The board approved the 2013 county ditch levy requests.