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By Dan Reed 

County mulls COVID-19 impact


May 1, 2020

For the first time in recent county board action, commissioner Mark Thell voted “no” to approve a road construction project funded through the half-percent sales tax after a presentation by county highway engineer JinYeene Neumann at the Carlton county commissioners meeting Monday, April 27.

The project under discussion was the upgrade of the St. Louis River Road between Highway 33 and CSAH 1, awarded to Ulland Bros for $1,054,622, which came in 17.2 percent under the engineering estimate. It is one of two roads left from the original list from the start of the half-percent sales tax. The commissioners voted 4 to 1 with Thell dissenting.

“I am concerned that the money will not be there,” Thell said. “I am not against this particular project. The COVID-19 impact to our budget and declining revenues makes me concerned that we will not be able to afford the county programs and the building of the Barnum garage in the not too distant future. I need to know more.”

Firm costs from McGough Construction (the firm hired by Carlton County to oversee the project) for the new Barnum transportation garage came in at $11.3 million, up from the planned $10 million initial anticipated figure.

“As a contingency, the project can be funded short-term from excess monies in the general fund,” said acting county auditor/treasurer Kathy Korteum. “Our accrued excess funds are higher than many of the surrounding counties and can help cover costs of construction short-term to be paid back over a number of years. At the same time we need to look closely at the project’s costs and see where we can save.”

She said projections for the half-percent sales tax receipts for April will be just 3 percent lower and about 5 percent lower for May.

“Duluth is having severe reductions in their sales tax revenue due to their dependence on the tourist and event trade and the impact of the COVID-19,” chairman Marv Bodie said. “Carlton County is not in the same situation and should see only small deficits.”

Part of the plan for a new Barnum garage is the closure of the Kettle River county garage. The grader housed in Kettle River will be based out of Barnum and will take a half-hour of road time to show up for work in the Kettle River area and will deadhead back a half-hour to Barnum at the end of the day.

Engineer Neumann said this will be a cost-saving move. Costs of water, sewer, fuel tank maintenance, and insurance are all for one staff member. The garage will be sold.

Zoning and Environmental Services administrator Heather Cunningham reported that periodically there have been long lines for locals using the transfer station. Permission was given to hire part-time cashiers to handle transfer station business during the pandemic. No mattresses are being recycled due to possible COVID-19 contamination. There will be an additional fee of $2 fee for mattresses brought in.

Land commissioner Greg Bernu reported that the Soo Line Trail in Moose Lake Township between Hallgren Road on the east and the split between the North Soo Trail and the Mainline just west of Moose Lake has been posted 15 mph. The part of the trail from the North Road to MN 27/73 is posted 10 mph.

ATV traffic has been heavy in the Soo Pit area north of Moose Lake. Bernu reported he saw about 300 ATVs last Saturday using the area and said the local game warden estimated the number of participants at about 500. Bernu found ATV damage to the seal covering of the old landfill. Signs and taping have been installed to keep ATVs away from that area. State officials have been notified of the potential damage to the sealed landfill since it was sealed under their guidance.

The Cloquet Forestry Center is to be closed all summer and perhaps fall. There are large dormitories on the property which could be used for homeless people during that period. A letter is being sent from the board and the Fond du Lac Band to Gov. Tim Walz requesting use of that facility for housing.


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