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County energy challenge

Becker County Commissioner Barry Nelson has issued a challenge -- "to Becker County, the cities within Becker County, and all the citizens of Becker County" -- to reduce the county's overall energy consumption by 10 percent.

Nelson issued the challenge at the close of his "State of the County" address Tuesday morning.

"If everyone starts small, this will grow into a grass roots event," he said. "This could be as simple as using fluorescent light bulbs or buying a more fuel efficient vehicle at your next purchase.

"We need to recognize the seriousness of our dependence on foreign oil, and be a self-sufficient nation, using renewable energy sources along with our coal and oil," Nelson continued. "Can Becker County do this? No, not alone, but as a team we can protect and preserve Becker County for future generations."

Nelson, presiding over his last county board meeting as 2007 chairman, reviewed not only the positives of the past year, but the problems that the county faces in the new year.

"As we approach this holiday season, we must count our blessings," he said. "Becker County is very blessed, with great department heads and a staff that puts their hearts and souls into their jobs. We are a growing county, in population and in value ... many counties are not as blessed."

As a growing county, Becker County is in the process of completing a new courthouse addition, and will renovate the existing courthouse space next year as well.

"When this is completed, the county attorney's office, planning and zoning and veterans' service will all move into the courthouse," Nelson said. "This will be more customer friendly and efficient."

Other improvements mentioned by Nelson in his address include the combination of the assessor's office and environmental services under a single department head (Steve Skoog); expansion of the transfer station to recycle more white goods and continued efforts to become more environmentally friendly; the construction of a new transit building and a 12-unit supportive housing project, with grant funding; and an increase of 30 percent in veteran's service registrations, which necessitated an increase in personnel from a part-time to full-time support staff position.

"While we have many positives, we are also faced with the same problems our nation is facing," Nelson continued. "The high cost of war trickles down to local government in the form of reduced funding, or no funding of the many programs from the state and/or federal government.

"Health insurance also hit Becker County hard this year, with a 21 percent increase. The health insurance increase and reduced funding, along with a growing population and needs, resulted in a larger increase in the levy than anticipated."

The county board approved its final certified 2007, payable 2008 property tax levy prior to Nelson's remarks.

That levy of $16,506,780 reflects an increase of $1,270,117, or 8.34 percent. It was unchanged from the proposed amount presented to taxpayers at a truth-in-taxation hearing on Dec. 6.

In the same resolution, the Becker County Economic Development District was authorized to levy $175,633 for collection in 2008.

The board also approved the 2008 county budget, including $49.8 million in expenditures and $43.5 million in revenues, as part of the resolution.

In other business Tuesday, the board:

• Approved a memorandum of agreement with Hubbard County to continue sharing the services of University of Minnesota Extension Service Ag Educator Will Yliniemi. Becker County will continue to fund 40 percent of Yliniemi's full-time position, or $32,240, while Hubbard County will pay $48,360. Yliniemi will continue to spend two days a week working in Becker County, and three days a week in Hubbard County.

• Approved a probation services agreement with Mahnomen County. Becker County will continue to provide probation services for adult misdemeanant and juvenile offenders in Mahnomen County from Jan. 1, 2008 to Dec. 31, 2009, on a five-days-per-week basis. Mahnomen will pay Minnesota Department of Corrections 25 percent of the costs associated with probation agents assigned to Becker and Mahnomen counties, including salaries, benefits, travel and motor vehicle costs. This agreement does not include services associated with adult felony matters, child custody studies or alcohol assessments.

• Approved the 2008 Five-Year Construction Improvement Plan for the Becker County Highway Department. According to County Highway Engineer Brad Wentz, the plan was unchanged from that presented at a public meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11.

• Approved 2008 Becker County waste hauler contracts with 11 area sanitation companies, including Aune Sanitation, Lake Park; Ballard Sanitation, Pelican Rapids; Jon & Sons Disposal Service, Detroit Lakes; Minnkota Recycling, Detroit Lakes; Waste Management, Detroit Lakes; White Earth Sanitation, Waubun; Fuchs Sanitation Service, Glyndon; Metro Disposal, Fargo; Hough, Inc., Detroit Lakes; Detroit Lakes Disposal Service, Detroit Lakes; and AAA Roll Off Services, Menahga.

• Established tipping fees for appliances, demolition debris, electronics, fluorescent bulbs and other items at the Becker County Transfer Station for 2008. The $10 appliance fees previously charged to Becker County residents and businesses will be eliminated under the new schedule, and residents/businesses will also be given "free" allowances for disposal of fluorescent bulbs (10 per visit) and tire disposal (four without rims, or two with rims per visit).

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454