County Board invited to rejoin Rural Counties Caucus

by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer


Morrison County is a former member of the Minnesota Rural Counties Caucus (MRCC), a group of rural counties that collectively network and promote issues that pertain specifically to rural Minnesota. The county has been invited to “return to the fold” by MRCC Administrator Dan Larson.

MRCC was formed in 1997, to provide a louder voice for rural entities seeking funding at the state level.

“Political tradewinds have shifted over the course of the last 10 years or so,” Larson said. “The Legislature is split between Metro and rural as often as between Republican and Democrat. Every metro county is represented in numerous ways in every hearing affecting their interests. Rural counties need representation too. We’re on a mission to get the message out to counties across the state.”

A large slice of the funding pie comes from the Minnesota Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which passed in 2008. It created a 3/8 of 1 percent state sales tax that will be in effect through 2034. This revenue is distributed into four funds: a clean water fund, an outdoor heritage fund, an arts and cultural heritage fund and a parks and trails fund.

“Metro parks took a run at the 20 percent dedicated funding during the early part of the legislative session and worked to block creation of the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission,” Larson said.

With help from MRCC, the dedicated funding level was maintained and the Commission was created.

“If Morrison County were to be a member, it’d be another voice at the table to help advance legislative efforts that benefit and promote rural counties,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber.

Currently, 26 counties across the state are a part of MRCC, including Aitkin, Todd and Mille Lacs.

“This will come back to the Board for a vote of support. I intend to discuss the membership in more detail and ask the Board for direction at the Planning Session Tuesday,” Gruber said. “Then it will come back to the Board for action to join.”

“We’re going to grow,” Larson said. “And I will be in the hallways (of the state legislature) birddogging the issues and reaching out to other rural organizations.”

County Board Briefs

Other business that came before the Morrison County Commissioners Tuesday included:

• Proclaiming Oct. 6-12 to be National 4-H Week in Morrison County;

• Proclaiming October to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Morrison Couty, sponsored by Hands of Hope Resource Center;

• Approving the Sullivan Lake Improvement Association’s request to keep their levy at $30 for the third consecutive year;

• Approving a resolution supporting the Hope Housing homelessness prevention program. “We served 106 households in Morrison County between 2011 and 2013,” said Program Manager Rachel Zetah. “We try hard to keep them where they are or find more stable housing;”

• Learning that VISA card payments are now accepted by the Motor Vehicle Department in addition to MasterCard and Discover;

• Approving a request from the Social Services Department to replace an eligibility worker who is leaving for another county. The position receives federal funding at an average of 60 percent;

• Approving prices set on forfeited land throughout the county for sale Nov. 1 at 10 a.m. The sale will be in the meeting rooms on the lower level of the Government Center. Full payment must be made by check or cash;

• Authorizing an agreement between the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the county for constructin engineering of flood repair projects. “We’re not usually eligible to recover costs,” said Public Works Director Steve Backowski. “Because of the disaster declaration we can apply for funding at 80 percent. The estimated cost for four projects is less than $10,000;” and

• Approving the Morrison County Affordable Care Act (ACA) Policy requiring the county to offer health coverage to “substantially all” full-time employees. “There is no financial impact because of how we’ve done business,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber.

The next County Board meeting will be Tuesday, Oct. 8, at 9 a.m. in the board room of the County Government Center.