Legislative highlights for Lake CountyReporting on legislative issues affecting Lake County.
By: Tom Olsen, Lake County News Chronicle
School district seeks levy approval from state
The Lake Superior School District is one of just a handful in the state that is currently operating without a referendum in place. After several failed ballot initiatives, the district is turning to the state legislature in hopes of levying a new fee.
The legislation, introduced by Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, and Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, would allow the district to receive up to $200 per student for technology-related expenses. That could amount to as much as $390,000 a year for the district.
Board members and school officials say the costs have exceeded normal inflation and there has been no funding to offset the costs.
“We’re spending $50,000 every year in our technology budget for things like maintaining licenses and repairing computers,” said interim superintendent Bill Crandall.
“We haven’t been able to achieve our goals of developing infrastructure to where we can support wireless throughout all of our buildings or supply computer-based learning options for subjects like math and reading.”
The school board unanimously passed a resolution at its last meeting in support of the legislation. The resolution stated that the district has no faith in voters passing a referendum, based on the failed attempts of 2007, 2008 and 2010.
The district estimates that the levy would amount to approximately $14 a year on a $100,000 home.
The bills, introduced in February, have had hearings and have been referred to tax and finance committees. Dill said he expects the legislation to be passed, although tax bills are usually not approved until the final day of the session.
Changes in process for filling county positions
Another bill pending in the legislature would make two Lake County positions, auditor-treasurer and recorder, appointed, rather than elected positions. The legislation is sponsored by Dill in the House and Bakk and Sen. John Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, in the Senate.
County commissioners unanimously asked for the change. Commissioner Paul Bergman said the timing is right because both auditor-treasurer Steven McMahon and recorder Erica Koski are planning to retire from their positions.
“We’ve been talking about this since I became commissioner. But since the current people said they were going to retire, then let’s look at this thing in a different light,” Bergman said. “Someone who was popular in Two Harbors with limited qualifications could get that job through an election. … We felt it better to go with a situation where we could interview and hire someone with the best qualifications.”
Commissioner Rick Goutermount agreed.
“In today’s shrinking budgets and higher demands it is critical that these position work closely with the board and keep them fully informed of every aspect of our finances,” he said. “Other counties who have gone this route claim a more smooth operation and flow of information.”
Dill said he has received some complaints from constituents about taking the positions out of the hands of voters, and has referred those complaints to the board.
The bills have both passed committees, but Dill is unsure what’s next for the legislation. It could become part of a larger, statewide reform of county positions, he said.
“There’s actually been a statewide bill introduced to make all counties that way,” he said. “But I’m not sure what the fate of that will be at this point. It may end up getting laid over for including in an omnibus bill with some other legislation.”
Nolan asks for more time for Iron Range mines to comply with air quality standards
Eighth District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan last week asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency to give Iron Range mines more time to meet air quality standards.
The EPA is requiring mines install cleaner-burning furnaces, which the agency says will improve the air quality in outdoor destinations like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Environmental groups, however, say the issue is urgent and have criticized Nolan for his request.
The EPA is giving mines approximately three years to make the switch, but Nolan says it takes up to five years for companies to test new technologies.