Cook County logo. WTIP file photo
WTIP file photo

County sets virtual format for Truth in Taxation meeting, hears COVID update

It was a busy meeting for the Cook County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, Nov. 10. Only three commissioners were present for the largely virtual meeting, as Commissioner Ginny Storlie did not participate for reasons that were not immediately made clear. Regardless, here are some of the action items and important topics discussed during this week’s meeting.

COVID Update
Cook County Public Health Supervisor Grace Grinager shared an update with the commissioners about the spread of the new coronavirus in the community. During the past two weeks, Grinager said, the case count in Cook County has more than doubled, increasing from 17 to 36 in that time frame. Grinager said the county’s current positivity rate for testing is more than 11 percent.

There is not adequate testing happening for COVID-19 in Cook County at this time, Grinager said. However, it is not because there is a lack of access to testing, she added. Grinager said people with symptoms are not getting tested when they should.

“It’s a reminder that we need to take the pandemic seriously and do our part to slow the spread of the virus,” she said.

In more local healthcare news, Grinager and Sawtooth Mountain Clinic CEO Kate Surbaugh met virtually on Nov. 6 with officials from the state’s emergency operations management team to receive more information about testing locally. At the end of that discussion, it was determined that the local healthcare facility would receive 250 saliva testing kits at no cost to the county to be used for expanded testing locally.

The commissioners shared personal anecdotes about testing for COVID-19, with both Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk and Board Chair Myron Bursheim sharing specifics about their recent tests for the new coronavirus. To date, those tests have come back negative, the commissioners noted.

Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon
As it goes with most news items in recent months, nearly everything discussed by elected officials or government personnel during the board meeting was associated with COVID-19. Among such items is the annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. The race was originally on the consent agenda meaning it could be approved without any discussion.

Commissioner Heidi Doo Kirk requested that the sled dog race be discussed in the regular meeting. She encouraged anyone concerned about the race to review the Beargrease team’s COVID protocols involved with the 2021 race. To learn more about the race plans of operation this year, including the COVID-19 protocols, click here.

According to race officials, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states, running nearly 300 miles along the North Shore and throughout remote stretches of forest near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The 2021 race runs Jan. 31-Feb. 2.

Insulation for the Recycling Center
Maintenance Director Brian Silence had a request for the commissioners to approve updating insulation at the recycling center in Grand Marais. There is some insulation currently in place at the recycling center, though it has been damaged and is aged, Silence said. During the winter months the facility can get very cold and presents an uncomfortable work environment for staff due to poor insulation. Land Services Director Tim Nelson said the facility was originally designed for cold storage and has seen patchwork upgrades to insulating the building over the years. The request Tuesday was to inquire about costs for insulating the recycling center. The request was approved unanimously on a 3-0 vote.

In more news from the maintenance and land services departments, the commissioners approved purchasing a new truck for the recycling center staff. The new truck will cost approximately $50,000. Money to purchase the vehicle will come from the county’s general fleet fund. Additionally, as a result of purchasing the new truck, the current recycling center truck will transfer to the assessor’s office.

South Shore Drive Speed Study
Highway Engineer Robbie Hass shared a number of updates with the commissioners during this week’s meeting. Among them was a request for approval of the county’s 10-year road and bridge plan. This is comprehensive document outlining the highway department’s priorities and projects over the next decade. As the commissioners have discussed the plan at length in previous meetings, it was approved with minimal discussion. To view the road and bridge plan, click here.

The highway department gathered input from property owners along South Shore Drive who are requesting a speed study to be done by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). Support for the speed study was overwhelming, with many hoping that the speed limit will be lowered from 55 mph, Hass said. Activating a speed study could have the reverse of effect of increasing the speed limit on South Shore Drive, Hass warned, though that scenario is unlikely on the road near Devil Track Lake.

Due to the fact MnDOT has a backlog of similar studies at this time across the state, it could be a year or more before this speed study can take place on South Shore Drive, Hass said.

Truth in Taxation Meeting
County Administrator James Joerke said because of the number of new COVID-19 cases that have been identified in recent weeks, he believes it is in the community’s best interest not to have in-person participation in this year’s truth in taxation meeting.

Minnesota statutes allow for the affected governing body with the authority to determine that holding an in-person meeting would not be practical due to a health pandemic, Joerke said.

Although the annual meeting will not take place in the courthouse this year, there remains three ways for people to participate. These options include participating in the meeting via Zoom videoconference using a link that will be posted on the county’s website, by participating via telephone using a call-in number that will be posted on the county’s website and by sending written testimony to the county administrator at Any testimony received will be read by the Joerke at the public meeting and entered into the public record of the meeting. Those with questions are invited to call Joerke at 218-387-3687 to discuss them.

This year’s truth in taxation meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 1.