GRAND RAPIDS -- The Cass and Itasca county boards exchanged information Wednesday about county programs to learn from each other's experiences.
Cass board members listened with interest to Itasca's experience in purchasing a former Pamida building and turning it into rental office space for a community resource center.
Rental income has helped repay bond borrowing the county issued to purchase the building, said Lester Kachinske, Itasca human resources director.
Among services located there are the Community Action Program, early childhood education, a 24-hour mental health call line and job services, Kachinske said.
Cass recently bought the former Hope Lutheran Church building and has had a request from Northern Pines Mental Health Services to rent space when the county expands the social services building.
Cass commissioners considered whether they might, instead, offer rental spaces in the former church building.
Like Cass, Itasca has family resource centers in cities outside the county seat. The board does not, however, provide any direct county funding. Cass provides about $10,000 a year, Administrator Robert Yochum recently said.
Itasca County is considering expanding four area lodging taxes to a countywide tax. Itasca Administrator Robert Olson said resort owners were reluctant to implement the tax, but now that it is in place in some areas, more support it.
Revenue is used for a tourism marketing plan. Itasca commissioners are considering, if a countywide tax is implemented, a countywide marketing plan, Commissioner Tom Saxhaug said.
Yochum said a lodging tax proposal was not well received in Cass County a few years ago.
With diverse resorts ranging from major convention centers on Gull Lake to small resorts on other lakes, Yochum said it was difficult for Cass County Development Agency to create a viable marketing plan to cover all.
Cass invested $400,000 to $500,000 in the economic development agency before it became a private corporation, Yochum said. The commissioners believe there was minimal return for businesses, he said.
Itasca learned the Cass system of providing uniform payments to snowmobile clubs from year to year, no matter the amount of snowfall, has improved trail grooming.
Clubs must obtain land easements and maintain trails year-around, Yochum said.
In Itasca, where payments are made only when trails are groomed in the winter, many clubs have struggled to survive through the last three low snow years, Saxhaug said.
Sheriff Pat Medure reported all Itasca trails have posted trail names and mile markers, coordinating with Itasca's Enhanced 911 addressing system.
This has helped immeasurably for responding to emergencies on trails, he said. Trail patrols have kept thieves from removing the signs, he added.
Cass Commissioner Jim Demgen said any trail signing Cass County Land Department has done resulted in immediate theft of signs.
Itasca commissioners expressed interest in community sewer system projects undertaken in Cass to cluster sewers for high density rural and small city areas.
Itasca Commissioner Bob Wilhelm said St. Louis County is experimenting with a "performance based" private sewer plan. It does not matter what type the sewer system is, only whether it works, he said.
Under that plan, property owners have to submit regular reports on how they maintain their system, he said, but any system is allowed if tests show there is not seepage into surface water or surrounding soils.
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