County board hears COVID, budget updates

The Beltrami County Board of Commissioners heard a COVID-19 update from Beltrami Public Health and Sanford Health during their meeting Tuesday.

According to Sanford’s Dr. David Wilcox, Sanford now does not predict a peak of COVID-19 cases, but a rise and fall in numbers over time, with cases steady for the next four to six weeks.

As of yesterday, Sanford has administered about 9,000 tests, and of the total 332 cases that were positive at Sanford, 273 cases recovered at home, 17 were hospitalized, six were treated in the ICU and one died.

Public Health’s Cynthia Borgen said that in the county’s congregate living facilities, such as the nursing homes and the jail, positive COVID cases were isolated and transmission did not happen within the facilities.

Superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools Tim Lutz was also on hand to give the board an update on back to school. The district has established a series of protocols for in-person learning, such as staggered recess schedules.

Bemidji schools are also implementing plans hire full time substitute teachers that will be assigned to one school, and the former practice of having specialty teachers, such as art or music teachers, travel from building to building has been suspended.

The commissioners also heard an update on next year’s budget and levy.

County Administrator Kay Mack said she was pleased to present the board with a proposed levy increase of less than five percent. Originally, various budget increases beyond the budget team’s control led the team to believe they would have needed to propose a 9.58 percent increase to the levy, but with the help of CARES Act funding the levy percentage increase was lowered.

According to the proposed levy, the budget for public safety is increasing by 2.31 percent, and for human services, 1.89 percent.

Mack said she was excited for a new hire that would be in the human services department but largely work within the jail as a discharge planner. This social worker would assist inmates upon their release with various aspects, like housing, health insurance, GED, employment, chemical dependency treatment and other needs.

The budget committee is also looking at hiring four new corrections officers, one for each “team” that works in the jail.

These hiring recommendations have the support of the budget committee, which include Commissioners Craig Gaasvig and Richard Anderson.

The commissioners will set a proposed levy and budget during a meeting their meeting on Sept. 15, then set the final levy and budget during a December meeting. After the proposed levy is adopted in September, it cannot be increased, but can decrease.

During the work session, Greater Bemidji Executive Director Dave Hengel gave an update on the county’s recent recognition of being a Telecommuter Friendly Community. 

Hengel said that a “perfect storm” of events have led him to believe that the time is now to begin a promotional campaign to attract teleworkers to Beltrami County from bigger metros such as Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Hengel anticipates that such an increase in telecommuters in the area would not have much impact on commercial property tax, but may have some impact in expanding the residential property tax base.

Paul Bunyan Communications, the area’s leading high speed internet provider, has been installing only all-fiber optic cables since 2004.

Other items the commissioners discussed included:

  • An update to the snow removal policy from Beltrami County Highway Department head Bruce Hasbaargen. Hasbaargen said plows are sent out on paved roads when there is at least 1 to 2 inches of snow, and on gravel roads when 4 inches of snow has accumulated.
  • Two citizens approached the board with business during the regular meeting. Rita Chamblin requested that the county, as they go over their budgets, to be conservative, especially for line items, revenues or expenses, related to Enbridge Line 3 replacement project, which is still in appeals processes. C.T. Marhula spoke about the City of Bemidji’s implementation of a curfew in late May, and requested an independent review of the incidents. The Brainerd Police Department and the Crow Wing County Attorney’s Office reviewed the allegations of curfew violations and did not recommend any charges in June. Marhula also said there is much work to be done to restore the Native American community’s relationship with local law enforcement.


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