More than 4,000 veterans call Itasca County home, and more than 70% of them are aged 65 or older, said Veteran Services Officer Luke St. Germain, who provided the Itasca County Board of Commissioners with a Veteran Services Department update on Tuesday. The department has witnessed a “busy year,” said Germain, who provided the board with information regarding current issues/changes, successes and department business.

A couple of successes the department witnessed this year were discussed by Germain, including the addition of two veterans to the First Call for Help crisis response team. The collaboration, he said, involves a two-year trial in which both a male and female veteran were selected to respond to fellow area veterans who may be facing a crisis situation.

The second success discussed by Germain involved utilizing their operation and improvement grant, which allowed the department to allocate $12,500 towards advertising, computer upgrades, publicity items and more, including replacing flag holders at a number of gravesites. 

During his presentation, Germain discussed the department’s 2018 financials. While federal dollars ($20,254,000) received by county veterans were slightly down from last year, state funding, which is at $64,000, is already on pace to exceed last year ($97,000). 

Also discussed during Tuesday’s update was the local veterans population for 2018, which Germain said has decreased from last year. The 2018 population, he said, is 4,103, down 126 from the previous year. Germain said he “did a little digging,” and expects those numbers to continue to decline over the next decade. 

“Our veteran population was once closer to 5,800, so it has dropped a lot more than I expected,” he said, adding that nearly 70% of the local veteran population is aged 65 or older.

During his update, Germain also discussed a number of challenges the department has faced within the last year, such as a change in the VA’s claims process and the Mission Act, which went into effect in June.

June of this year also brought an “exciting time for our veteran community,” Germain said, with the passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veteran’s Act. As a result of the legislation, disability benefits are extended to veterans who served on Navy ships off the coast of Vietnam, clearing the way for former sailors and Marines to receive compensation for diseases presumed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange. With the passage of the new legislation, Germain said he encourages all veterans or their surviving spouses to check their benefits if they were stationed “within 12 miles or within eyesight of Vietnam.”

“This is making sure we aren’t missing any veterans or spouses who may have been affected by Agent Orange,” said Germain of the bill.

Also discussed on Tuesday was the potential for a veterans home to be established in Bemidji. According to Germain, they are still waiting on a decision at the federal level concerning possible funding, and state veterans services are hoping to learn of a decision this month. If funding is approved, Germain said the home could be operational in two years. 

“We’re competing with a lot of other states,” all trying to get more veterans homes, said Germain.

During the citizen input period of the meeting, John Casper addressed the county board with concerns regarding his ability to be placed on an agenda.

In other business, the board approved the following consent agenda:

• Approved and authorized the necessary signatures for the 2019-2021 collective bargaining agreement for Teamsters Local 320, which represents the probation agents.

• Approved a one day liquor license, as requested by Edge Center for the Arts, for an event on Aug. 16, 2019.

• Approved a one day liquor license, as requested by ElderCircle, for their annual event on Sept. 5, 2019, and Lunemann’s Luney Berries Farm in Cohasset.

• Approved a purchase of service agreement between Itasca County Health and Human Services (ICHHS) and Core Professional Services PA for court ordered juvenile sex offender treatment services. This amount is for additional funding needed for costs exceeding state grant dollars of $92,600. There is no county cost budget change from the prior contract.

• Approved a Truancy Prevention Contract between ICHHS and Ross Resources, Ltd., for the period Sept. 1, 2019 through Aug. 31, 2020. This contract is for truancy prevention services and personnel in each of the school districts of Itasca County for an amount not to exceed $367,074. There is no change in the county cost for ICHHS and probation for the 2019-2020 school year.

• Approved a purchase of service agreement between ICHHS and Vicky Schoeller Fiduciary Services LLC for guardianship, conservatorship and representative payee services, effective Oct. 1, 2019.

• Adopted a resolution regarding bridge bonding. The resolution is required by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) as one of the first steps in obtaining bridge bonding funds from the state.

• Entered into an agreement with Bigfork Township outlining responsibilities for each party as they relate to replacing the structurally deficient bridge 7126 over Pelquin Creek and authorized the required signatures on the agreement documents.

• Accepted a deed covenant on Gunn Park for public outdoor recreation use as required for the Outdoor Recreation Grant reimbursement and authorized necessary signatures.

• Authorized and directed the county attorney to bring action to clear and otherwise address title to tax-forfeited land as reflected in the Petition to Amend Certificate of Title 15,199. In 2013, the county board authorized staff to pursue partition or condemnation action against GNIOP for purposes of securing a motorized trail access. Since that time, the county and Glacier Park, as current owner, have agreed to a buy/sell transaction which will secure motorized trail access. In preparing the land for sale, it has come to the county’s attention that there are potential title issues that may require court action to resolve. This board request authorizes staff to pursue such action.

• Approved and authorized necessary signatures for the T-Mobile/Nashwauk Tower Site Agreement first amendment. T-Mobile wishes to amend their site use agreement to replace existing antenna equipment with updated equipment.

During the regular meeting, the board:

• Approved the minutes of the Tuesday, Aug. 6 county board work session.

• Recognized the following county employees: New employee Kari Camara, social worker, Health and Human Services Department, effective July 29; Lindsay Staydohar, who has transferred from office support specialist, IMCare Division to office support specialist, Family Services Division, Health and Human Services Department, effective July 29; new employee Quinn Nelson, eligibility specialist, Health and Human Services Department, effective July 29; new employee Lynn Cochran, social worker, Health and Human Services Department, effective Aug. 12; and new employee Tracey Schwartz, administrative support, Recorders Department, effective Aug. 12.

• Approved Commissioner Warrants with a check date of Aug. 16, 2019, in the amount of $3,771,663.43.

• Approved an FAA Grant Agreement for the acquisition of snow removal equipment at the Itasca County/Grand Rapids Airport and authorized signatures of the county board chair and county attorney. The county’s total amount due for this acquisition is $9,856.30, which is 2.5% of the total purchase and is already budgeted for.

• Scheduled budget work sessions on Tuesday, Aug. 20 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.; Wednesday, Aug. 21 and Thursday, Aug. 22 from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. in the boardroom of the Itasca County Courthouse to discuss the 2020 budget and preliminary levy.

• Heard a Public Health Division update provided by Public Health Supervisor Sarah Polhamus, who discussed information regarding the Adult Health Services and Disability Unit.

• Heard a Transportation Department highway maintenance update provided by Assistant County Engineer Ryan Sutherland.

• Heard a highway construction update for August 2019 provided by Transportation Engineer Rachel Metelak.

Following the regular meeting, the board went into closed session to discuss courthouse security.

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