By Celeste Rapp

The Pope County Board of Commissioners consented to let refugees resettle in Pope County if needed, it was decided at the Jan. 7 meeting.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Sept. 26, 2019 that required state and local governments to provide consent before refugees can settle in those jurisdictions. The order is effective June 1, 2020.

Pope County was asked to either agree to letting refugees in the county, accept refugees in the county with conditions, or to decline refugees in the county. Commissioner Cody Rogahn said, “It’s a matter of philosophy and principle.”

Commissioner Nan Haggerty said that she would accept refugees in the county but was tempted to push back at the order because she said the federal government is making local governments do its job.

If Pope County approved the  acceptance of refugees in their initial decision, it would have to provide provisions for initial placement.

While all board members agreed that they would be surprised if they were asked to host refugees, all of them were more than willing to approve an affirmative letter saying the county would accept refugees. “We should be ready to help,” said Commissioner Larry Lindor.

When put to a vote, the item passed unanimously. In the correspondence from Pope County Board of Commissioners chairperson Commissioner Gordy Wagner to the State of Minnesota, the county voiced its consent for possible refugee resettlement in Pope County.

After the item passed, Wagner told his fellow board members, “I am proud of you all. Thank you.”

In other business, the board:

• Approved Commissioner Gordy Wagner as the chair of the Pope County Board of Commissioners.

• Approved Commissioner Paul Gerde as the vice-chair of the Pope County Board of Commissioners.

• Approved official proceedings from the Dec. 17, 2019 meeting of the board.

• Made a change to the county board and officer committee assignments for 2020. Commissioner Nan Haggerty was added to sit on the Lakeland Mental Health board.

• Made policy committee and voting delegate appointments for the Association of Minnesota Counties. The appointments were the same as last year, with Gerde sitting on the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee, Haggerty sitting on the Public Safety Policy Committee, Commissioner Larry Lindor sitting on the General Government Policy Committee, Commissioner Cody Rogahn sitting on the Health and Human Services Policy Committee and Wagner sitting on the Transportation and Infrastructure Policy Committee. All five board members are voting delegates as well as County Coordinator Kersten Kappmeyer, County Engineer Brian Giese and Human Services Director Stacy Hennen.

• Approved the appointment of Rodney Eldevik as the Pope County Surveyor. Eldevik’s term as county surveyor ended Dec. 31, 2019 and was the only person to submit a letter of interest for the position. Rogahn said that Eldevik has surveyed for him personally and that he does an awesome job.

• Approved the Pope County Housing and Redevelopment Authority with Economic Development Authority powers (HRA/EDA) board appointment of Jason Rupp. Rupp has been on the board since Nov. 11, 2017 and represents District 5 on the HRA/EDA board. His previous term ended on Dec. 31, 2019.

• Approved the Snowmobile Safety Enforcement (SSE) Grant. The grant is from the State of Minnesota for $7,504 for 2020-2021, or $3,752 for each year.

• Approved the Pope County licensing fee changes. Licensing fee changes include the increase of family adult foster care licensing fees to $100 and the county can no longer charge a fee for background studies.

• Approved the 2020 employment and training contract. The county has to fund employment services that are provided for people who receive family cash assistance and the state gives the county money to provide that service. The county is contracted with Rural MN CEP to provide that service and renewed the contract with them, increasing the payments budgeted to Rural MN CEP to $56,263 from $55,668 last year. Grant money covers the services.

• Approved the Presbyterian Family Foundation (PFF) guardianship and conservatorship agreement. PFF is a guardianship service for residents who don’t have any person to support them and are in need of that. The hourly rate for services is $57.78.

• Approved the 2020 Lakeland Mental Health contracts. The contracts are for services the county pays Lakeland Mental Health to perform. The contracts included adult general case management, adult outpatient diagnostic assessment/psychological testing, adult outpatient medication management, adult outpatient psychotherapy, adult rule 79 targeted case management, child general case management, child outpatient psychotherapy, community support services, emergency response service, pre-petition screening/hearing and rule 25 assessment/rule 24 financial eligibility determination.

• Approved the 2020 Fathers Resource Program county shares for Pope County. The human services department can refer any parent, either father or mother, to the program for help filing child support modifications, custody changes and any other changes to child support that the county cannot modify. Haggerty was hesitant to approve the resource because of the name, stating that it’s misleading if any parent, no matter the gender, can utilize the program. The board unanimously approved to pay $3,000 for a one year contract because the service can help parents in need in the county.

• Approved the 2019-2021 comprehensive civil rights plan, which now requires the county to inform any contractors or vendors of their civil rights obligations if they receive federal assistance.

• Heard the human services case counts from Hennen. There are currently 10 out-of-home placements that are projected to increase because two children were just placed last week. The human services cases have remained pretty steady. Hennen informed the board that the human services department will be looking at what the Department of Human Services (DHS) is doing this next year, as they are cleaning their finances and she fears that DHS will try to make the counties pay for any changes that will be made.

• Heard the monthly Highway Department update from Giese. Giese recognized his maintenance staff for the work they did between Christmas and New Years making sure the roads were okay to drive on. He said that the engineering staff is focusing on completing construction plans for county state-aid highway (CSAH) 15, CSAH 20 and CSAH 39. They are also completing CSAH 25 plans and will have an open house on the project on Feb. 3 from 4 to 6 p.m. Giese also said that he will be attending the Minnesota County Engineers’ Association annual conference from Jan. 20 to Jan. 24 and will be out of the office for that week.

• Approved out-of-state travel for Giese to attend the National Association of County Engineers (NACE) conference in Orange Beach, Alabama. The conference is from April 19 to April 23 and Giese projected the trip to cost anywhere from $2,600 to $2,800.

• Approved the commercial drivers’ license drug and alcohol policy. The county will contract with FS Solutions to help with the required queries and Clearinghouse reporting for drug and alcohol tests.

• Approved a conditional use permit (CUP) for the Camellia Community Solar Garden. Marta Jensen of Geronimo Energy was the applicant for the CUP and was at the meeting. The 10 acres of land required for the project would be leased from Robert Irgens and the solar garden would be located in Glenwood Township, off of 180th St. The CUP is for a one-megawatt community solar garden.

• Approved a CUP for the Lantana Community Solar Garden. Jensen was also the applicant for the Lantana project and the project is for a one-megawatt community solar garden in Glenwood Township off of 210th Ave. The solar garden would be on two different parcels of land and a variance will need to be approved for the structure location before they can build.

• Approved the official zoning map for Pope County. The zoning map shows the different zoning districts throughout the county and can be seen in the Land and Resource Management office.

• Appointed Roger Isdahl to fill the Pope County Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment vacancy for District 3.

• Designated all Pope County banks as official Pope County depositories for 2020 and authorized the auditor-treasurer to invest in the MAGIC Fund when needed.

• Approved the payment of bills of $427,837.63 and supplemental bills of $88,500.88 for a total of $516,338.51.

• Approved the Pope County Tribune as Pope County’s official newspaper for 2020 for required legal publications.