By Beth Bily
Local lawmakers addressed the Itasca County Board of Commissioners last week, providing an annual legislative year-in-review to county officials.
Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL – Grand Rapids noted the following highlights:
• $735 million more put into education (last year).
• The short session only included 10 scheduled weeks and finished three days early including a week off for Easter break.
• The first thing that happened after legislators arrived in St. Paul was that they were contacted by the county about last winter’s propane shortage. The first bill passed during the session was a $20 million package for low-income energy assistance.
• Legislators also quickly passed a bill eliminating three controversial business-to-business taxes that were enacted the previous year.
• Legislation passed allows the county to shift Grand Village revenue bonds to general obligation bonds, which will result in substantial savings over time.
Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL –Balsam continued the discussion with his own list of highlights:
• Through taconite production taxes, three local projects will be funded – the Reif Center expansion; infrastructure in Cohasset for business development; and LaPrairie efforts to expand their business development.
• Lawmakers passed legislation that will allow certain biofuels developments to proceed without a mandatory environmental impact statement. “This was difficult to get passed, said Anzelc. “Our friends in the extreme environmental community were watching this very closely.”
• Nearly $4 million was obtained for the Reif Center expansion. Anzelc credited County Lobbyist Loren Solberg for helping “shepherd that through.”
• Looking ahead to next year, Anzelc said to expect some human services reporting requirement realignment. “The whole issue of child protection will be very public and very much followed by the media. We have some glitches in our child protective services throughout the 87 counties,” he said.
• Legislation requiring medical professionals to provide additional information to women about cancer risks following mammograms, authored by Anzelc, also passed.
Commissioners thanked the legislators for the reports and their efforts during the 2014 session.
“I think you guys and ladies did a fantastic job for Itasca County,” said County Commissioner Mark Mandich.
In other business, the board:
• Approved warrants in the amount of $2,223,479.40. County Auditor/Treasurer Jeff Walker noted that $1.5 million of the unusually large sum was due to the St. Louis auditor for half of the annual fiscal disparities payment. “I think when you talk about fiscal disparities yes we get a lot of money from the taconite production tax but it comes in the form of grants and local business people don’t always benefit from that. We do get a lot back, but it comes in a different form.”
• Approved Health and Human Services warrants in the amount of $1,101,770.85. Krissy Krebs noted that a high level of out of home placements drove up costs.
• Listened to an update on HHS from director Eric Villeneuve.
• Accepted the minutes from the Itasca County Health and Human Services Advisory Committee held on May 8.
• Adjourned from the regular meeting and conducted two closed sessions.