The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has informed counties they will have to help repay the federal government $8.8 million in funds improperly billed by the state.

At the Dec. 17 board meeting,  Cass County Health, Human and Veterans Services Director Michele Piprude told commissioners that Cass owes $42,649.79 as the result of the state’s overbilling errors.

The board approved notice to DHS that Cass will not provide repayments at this time but will work with them on a long-term solution to the billing errors

Three issues could have significant impacts on the county budget, Piprude continued. They include the $8.8 million in overcharges that occurred between 2014 and 2018, when the cost share for substance use disorder for institutes of mental disease was improperly  calculated.

In addition, federal changes require enhanced background checks for childcare institutions receiving Title IV-E funds. Until the background checks are completed, the county would be denied the federal funding. Minnesota statute does not require the checks until March 2020.

The third issue is cash assistance repayments needed for clients statewide, which will require extra work by county workers at additional costs.

Natural gas, at last?

The possibility of a natural gas pipeline serving the greater Walker area has been discussed for decades.

Now that possibility may be closer than ever to becoming reality, according to Greater Minnesota Gas. If so, this would be an opportunity for Cass County to improve the efficiency of the heating system at the courthouse. A conversion project has been part of the county’s capital plan for several years. The ultimate goal is to move from steam boilers to a straightforward hot water system. This would reduce costs, fuel usage and maintenance and could positively impact the county’s insurance rates.

County staff have been in contact with Greater Minnesota Gas, but at this time, they do not have all necessary permits. However the firm is confident they will be ready for the 2020 construction season.

If the project is delayed, Cass County could have its conversion done and ready for 2021.

One Watershed, One Plan

Over the past two years, Cass County and Crow Wing Counties in conjunction with their respective SWCD’s, have worked together to develop the One Watershed One Plan project for the Pine River Watershed.

On Sept. 25, the State Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) approved the Pine River Watershed Comprehensive Management Plan (formerly known as the Pine River Watershed One Watershed One Plan).  

In November, Cass County SWCD passed a resolution adopting the plan as their comprehensive management plan for the Pine River Watershed. The Crow Wing SWCD also adopted the plan at their November meeting and the Crow Wing County Board is expected to adopt the plan this month as well.

After formal adoption by all four entities, an agreement for implementation will be developed to provide a framework for the partnership to begin implementing grant funding provided via a grant agreement with BWSR with dedicated funding provided by the State’s Clean Water Fund.

2020 salaries, per diems

The board approved county commissioners salaries for 2020 at $27,569,73.

The following 2020 salaries were approved for three elected officials

• County Attorney, $119,870 ($3,000 increase, moving from step 6 to 7 on the county grade and step scale).

• County Sheriff, $116,417.60 (top of grade and step scale)

• County Recorder, $81,640.60 (top of grade and step scale)

The three elected officials are also eligible for an annual longevity payment, according to the county’s personnel policy rules.

A per diem of $150 per day was approved for Planning Commission members’ regular monthly meetings and field visits, which usually are quite lengthy. All other meetings, work sessions or trainings would be $75 per day, the same as commissioners’ per diems.

In other business, the Highway Department received board approval to proceed with final payment on a culvert replacement project on CSAH 3.  Final cost on this project is $156,798.19 and was funded by local dollars.

County CFO Sandra Norikane reported several board actions that include

Adoption of resolution 66 -19 Property Tax Levy 2020,

Adoption of Resolution 67-19 Revenues and Expenditures,

Adoption of Resolution 68-19 Unorganized Levy, Revenues and Expenditures for 2020,

Adoption of 2019 year end indirect cost transfers,

Adoption of the 2020 equipment list

Adoption of the 2020 fee schedule as presented and the final published budget for 2020.

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