Star News » Government http://erstarnews.com The Star News covers community news, sports, current events and provides advertising and information for Elk River, Otsego, Rogers and Zimmerman, Minnesota and their surrounding areas. Wed, 22 Oct 2014 07:07:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ‘Homegrown’ mayor runs unopposed for second term http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/15/homegrown-mayor-runs-unopposed-for-second-term/ http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/15/homegrown-mayor-runs-unopposed-for-second-term/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 02:07:49 +0000 http://erstarnews.com/?p=777754 by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Elk River Mayor John Dietz describes himself as a “homegrown product.”

He grew up in Elk River, as did his wife, Jayne, and their two daughters.

“Next to my family, the city of Elk River is the most important thing in my life,” Dietz said during a candidate forum Saturday at Elk River City Hall. The forum was sponsored by the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce and the Elk River Citizens League and moderated by Kevin Bergstrom.

Dietz served 16 years on the City Council before being elected mayor in 2010. He is running without opposition for re-election to a four-year term.

While Elk River has a lot to offer to its citizens, Dietz said one of his goals is to make it an even better place for everyone.

Elk River Mayor John Dietz answered a question at a candidate forum Saturday.

Elk River Mayor John Dietz answered a question at a candidate forum Saturday.

One of his campaign themes four years ago was to try to maintain or lower property taxes.

“I will be the first to admit that I haven’t been very successful at that,” he said.

He said he voted against the last three city budgets because he thought the council could do more to cut taxes.

He said he’s proud of the volunteer programs he has started. They include recognizing a Volunteer of the Month and launching a program where people can volunteer within city departments and programs.

He sees several issues on the horizon for Elk River.

They include:

•Finding a way to fund a mandated stormwater program that will cost $500,000 a year. A new fee is an option the city is considering.

•Deciding what to do about the aging Elk River Ice Arena. “We are going to have to tackle that issue and come up with a solution,” he said.

•Resolving the issues surrounding Pinewood Golf Course, which is embroiled in a lawsuit.

•Silencing the train horns. “Hopefully by this time next year, we‘ll be able to say that Elk River is now a quiet zone,” he said.

Dietz and candidates for the City Council also answered a series of questions from Bergstrom.

On the issue of how to address city parks and recreation needs given the limited funding available, Dietz said 45 percent of liquor store profits fund park improvements. Park dedication fees, paid as land develops, have dried up for now. But Dietz said as the economy improves there should be more development coming to Elk River, and those projects will all pay park dedication fees that can be used for new parks.

The city is currently facing maintenance issues at existing parks, he said, because many of the city’s parks were built around the same time and now need some work.

He looks for the city to consider having a referendum at some point, seeking voter approval for park improvements.

On the issue of having a business-friendly environment in Elk River, Dietz said the city needs to hire a new economic development director after the last one recently left.

He said the city needs an aggressive person to recruit new businesses and take care of the existing ones.

He’d also like the city to periodically review its fees to make sure they are competitive.

The city hopes to attract more businesses to Elk River with the opening of additional lots in the Nature’s Edge Business Center, he said. The city has a number of programs available to lure business to town.

“It’s very competitive. Every city is fighting for these businesses,” Dietz said. “I think that we need to be aggressive, yet be careful that we don’t give away the farm.”

Regarding the Sherburne County Fair in Elk River, Dietz said he serves on a task force that is studying the issue.

“There are two polarizing views,” he said. “There are people that say we need to move the fair to Becker and people that say we need to keep it in Elk River.”

He thinks moving the fair would kill it and believes it should stay where it is. It would cost $3 to $5 million to move the fair, and the county wouldn’t get that much if it sold the current fairgrounds, he added.

“Who is going to make up the difference?” he asked.

He said the fair adds a lot to Elk River.

“It would be a tremendous loss to our city’s overall vitality and economy if we lost the fair,” he said.

Regarding the future development of 2,600 acres of gravel mining area in northern Elk River, Dietz said one big hurdle is who pays for extending city sewer and water from where it now ends near Menards north to the gravel pit area.

He believes development of that area is very far in the future as there is still a lot of gravel to be mined there.

Ultimately, he’d like to see more industrial development than commercial in that area.

Forum will be rebroadcast

The Elk River City Council and mayor candidate forum will be rebroadcast from 4:30-5:45 p.m. Thursdays and 10:15-11:30 a.m. Saturdays on the city of Elk River cable channel, ERtV, Channel 180.

There also is a link on the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce’s website at www.elkriverchamber.org or click here to watch the forum.

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Incumbent, challenger vie for Ward 4 council seat http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/15/incumbent-challenger-vie-for-ward-4-council-seat/ http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/15/incumbent-challenger-vie-for-ward-4-council-seat/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 02:05:51 +0000 http://erstarnews.com/?p=777764 by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Elk River City Council Member Paul Motin is being challenged by Jennifer Wagner in Ward 4.

Council Member Paul Motin and challenger Jennifer Wagner shared a lighter moment with moderator Kevin Bergstrom at Saturday's candidate forum.

Council Member Paul Motin and challenger Jennifer Wagner shared a lighter moment with moderator Kevin Bergstrom at Saturday’s candidate forum.

Both participated in a candidate forum Saturday at Elk River City Hall. The forum was sponsored by the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce and the Elk River Citizens League.

Wagner described herself as a hardworking small business owner, community leader and recognized volunteer.

“But, most importantly, I am a mom to Lauren, Jody and Charlie and wife to Mike,” she said.

Wagner said people often ask her why she is running for the office.

“I believe it is our duty as citizens to step up and take ownership in our community. … It is our responsibility to make the city, the community that we live in, a better place. That’s why I’m doing this,” she said.

She said she’d like to bring a new voice and fresh perspective to the City Council.

Wagner is active in several community organizations, including downtown Elk River’s business association, Three Rivers Community Foundation, United Way and Chamber of Commerce. She was involved in the marketing of Hockey Day Minnesota and is a recipient of the city of Elk River’s Volunteer of the Month award.

Motin has lived in Elk River for 23 years and his two daughters were raised here. He is an attorney and CPA and owner of Motin Law Office in Elk River.

Motin said he’s honored to have served as a council member for 16 years. He said he’s tried to do his best to make things better.

“I continue to believe that I have the knowledge, the experience and the passion to continue to lead the city for four more years,” he said.

He said Wagner, Ward 1 council candidate Garrett Christianson and others say they have new ideas and a new perspective.

“I haven’t heard new ideas. It really comes across as if it’s a sound bite,” Motin said. “This job is not a sound bite.”

Motin serves on several boards and commissions related to the city, is a member of the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce and the Elk River Rotary Club and is involved in a parents’ group supporting the arts at Elk River High School.

The two candidates also answered questions from moderator Kevin Bergstrom.

Asked about addressing city parks and recreation needs given the limited funding available, Motin said Elk River has an excellent park system.

He’d like to see the city’s park dedication fee that is charged to new developments modified so it takes into account the number of residents a project will add to the city.

The current system doesn’t differentiate between a 10-apartment building on 5 acres and a 50-apartment building on 5 acres, he said.

He also said the city should continue to seek grants and contributions to support parks, citing the example of a $3 million grant that will pay for the acquisition of the Houlton Farm.

Wagner said it’s all about prioritizing park maintenance projects and keeping within the funding available.

She said the city may need to take an audit of the park system, which she described as “phenomenal,” to see what’s being used or not to ensure that scarce resources are used wisely.

On the issue of the Sherburne County fairgrounds, Wagner said the fair draws a lot of people into Elk River.

Should the fair go away at some point, Wagner said the fairgrounds off Highway 10 in western Elk River is “a prime piece of land.” It could be a place to add commercial, and possibly light industrial, businesses to bring more jobs to the city, she said.

Motin said the fairgrounds are owned by Sherburne County, so the No. 1 issue is what does the county want?

“I tend to think that if they want to keep a viable fair, it probably needs to stay in Elk River,” Motin said.

If the fair moves, Motin said he agrees with Wagner that the site is prime for commercial and light industrial development.

Regarding the future development of 2,600 acres of gravel mining land in northern Elk River, Motin said there could be a development similar to Maple Grove’s Arbor Lakes if that’s what people want and it is feasible.

Whatever the concept that emerges, Motin said the city needs to plan it and then hold to that plan.

Wagner said she has 15 years of business development and marketing experience that would help in planning the future of that area to bring high-paying jobs to Elk River.

She doesn’t see any development there in the near term and said the city needs to be patient.

She also would like to hear from taxpayers on the issue.

Asked about making Elk River business-friendly, Wagner said the city will be hiring a new economic development director and it’s incredibly important that the new employee is ready to work with new and existing businesses.

Wagner develops and implements marketing plans for companies for a living and said she would market the message that Elk River is in a business recruitment phase.

The city needs to deliver a clear, concise message about why a business should locate in Elk River, she said.

Motin said the city has loan programs and other tools to lure new businesses to Elk River and help existing ones expand.

He said it’s also important to have land available and said the city has taken steps to open up new land for commercial and industrial development.

Forum will be rebroadcast

The Elk River City Council and mayor candidate forum will be rebroadcast from 4:30-5:45 p.m. Thursdays and 10:15-11:30 a.m. Saturdays on the city of Elk River cable channel, ERtV, Channel 180.

There also is a link on the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce’s website at www.elkriverchamber.org or click here to watch the forum.

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Christianson, Olsen seek open Ward 1 seat http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/15/christianson-olsen-seek-open-ward-1-seat/ http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/15/christianson-olsen-seek-open-ward-1-seat/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 01:56:45 +0000 http://erstarnews.com/?p=777762 by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Two candidates running for an open seat on the Elk River City Council squared off Saturday at a forum.

Jerry Olsen (right) answered a question at the Elk River candidate forum, as Garrett Christianson looked on.

Jerry Olsen (right) answered a question at the Elk River candidate forum, as Garrett Christianson looked on.

Garrett Christianson and Jerry Olsen are running for the Ward 1 seat now held by Stewart Wilson. Wilson was appointed in February 2013 to serve out the term vacated by Nick Zerwas when he was elected to the Minnesota Legislature. Wilson is not running for election.

Christianson has lived in Elk River since 2012. His wife, Tara (Stensby) Christianson, grew up in the area and he said they thought it would be a great place to raise their family. They have three children.

He works at the UPS Maple Grove package facility as a driver manager. In the community, Christianson participates in the Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program at Lincoln Elementary School, where his oldest son is a student.

This is his first time running for office.

“It’s been a good experience. I’ve learned a lot,” he said.

Christianson said he could bring new ideas and a different vision to the city, representing what the next generation has to offer to the community.

Olsen has lived in Elk River for 18 years. He and his wife, Barbara, have been married for 35 years and have one son, Andrew.

Andrew was a member of the Elk River hockey team that won a state championship in 2001. Shortly after that, he sustained a spinal cord injury that left him partially paralyzed.

“‘We will always be grateful to this community for their support to our son and our family during that time in our lives,” Olsen said. “I’m sure that the prayers and support helped my son walk again. I want be part of making sure that Elk River remains that kind of a caring community.“

Olsen worked as a software engineer for Unisys in Roseville for 39 years before retiring in 2006. He said he collaborated with many different professionals during those years. “Out of that, I learned a lot about patience and listening,” he said. “I view myself as a good listener and I think that will help me be productive.”

Olsen serves on the Country Crossing Homeowners Board. His family has been involved in Central Lutheran Church and, now, the church at the YMCA.

The candidates answered questions from moderator Kevin Bergstrom.

Asked about addressing city parks and recreation needs given the limited funding available, Olsen said the parks are one of the great assets of the community and the city needs to utilize as many volunteers and contributions as possible.

Christianson said parks are a draw for Elk River.

“It’s a valuable asset to the community,” he said.

He agreed with another candidate’s comment that the city should audit the system to prioritize where repairs and improvements need to be made.

He also supports utilizing volunteers and contributions to help support the park system.

On the question of how to provide a business-friendly environment in Elk River, Christianson said the city needs to fill the economic development director position, which was recently vacated.

“We have a good product to sell,” he said. “We need somebody that can go out there and sell the city of Elk River and what we have to offer to new companies.”

He also suggested looking at what neighboring cities are doing and networking with them.

Olsen suggested having golf tournaments at the Elk River Golf Club to network with business people and help bring new businesses to the city.

He said he participated in a similar effort in Coon Rapids, which had successful results.

He, too, favors filling the economic development director position.

Regarding the Sherburne County Fair, Olsen said he would be very disappointed if the fair moved from its current site in western Elk River.

He said there are swap meets and other activities at the fairgrounds throughout the year.

“It’s not just the county fair. It’s not just one week,” he said.

He also likes that the fair brings a parade to Elk River.

Christianson said it comes down to the cost of updating the current fairgrounds site versus moving it to a new location with new buildings.

He supports keeping the fair in Elk River and said it helps boost the local economy.

On the future development of 2,600 acres of gravel mining land in northern Elk River, Christianson said it’s important to find out what people want for the area.

Olsen also said the area needs some more study and more feedback.

Forum will be rebroadcast

The Elk River City Council and mayor candidate forum will be rebroadcast from 4:30-5:45 p.m. Thursdays and 10:15-11:30 a.m. Saturdays on the city of Elk River cable channel, ERtV, Channel 180.

There also is a link on the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce’s website at www.elkriverchamber.org or click here to watch the forum.

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It’s Public Power Week http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/10/its-public-power-week/ http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/10/its-public-power-week/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 16:54:52 +0000 http://erstarnews.com/?p=777518 The Elk River City Council has recognized Oct. 5-11 as Public Power Week.

Elk River Municipal Utilities, in its 67th year operating as a municipally owned public power utility, and in its 99th year operating since incorporation, is also celebrating the week.

This national event is sponsored in conjunction with the American Public Power Association.

There are approximately 2,000 community-owned electric utilities that collectively provide electricity on a not-for-profit basis to 47 million Americans. They are operated by local governments as a public service with the mission of providing electricity in a reliable manner, at a reasonable cost, and with proper protection of the environment.

“Elk River Municipal Utilities’ loyalty is to our customers and our community, not stockholders. We are proud to be a public power utility and to help make our community a great place to live and work,” said Troy Adams, ERMU general manager.

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Houlton project proceeding despite concern over hunting rules http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/09/houlton-project-proceeding-despite-concern-over-hunting-rules/ http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/09/houlton-project-proceeding-despite-concern-over-hunting-rules/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 18:17:21 +0000 http://erstarnews.com/?p=777447 by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Plans are moving ahead to turn the Houlton Farm in Elk River into a publicly owned conservation area, despite a concern about hunting regulations.

The Houlton Farm is outlined in red.

The Houlton Farm is outlined in red.

The Elk River City Council voted 4-1 Monday to approve a donation agreement between The Trust for Public Land and the city. The Trust for Public Land intends to buy the 335-acre farm and then turn it over to the city. Closing is anticipated later this fall.

Under the terms of the deal, the farm must be open to public hunting.

Council Member Paul Motin voted against the donation agreement. He wanted hunting regulations nailed down before the city takes ownership. Specifically, he wanted no hunting within 500 feet of the property line and a ban on single projectile weapons like rifles or handguns throughout the property.

Bob McGillivray of The Trust for Public Land had told the council earlier in the meeting that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is amenable to both those items.

Motin, however, wanted the assurances in writing before the city moved ahead.

One neighbor to the farm also urged the council to get it in writing.

“To not have that assurance scares me a little bit,” she said.

McGillivray, however, said the DNR would want to see a plan from the city before officially signing off on the buffer and the ban on rifles and handguns. He expressed confidence that the DNR would ultimately approve those items.

Other council members seemed to be comfortable with that.

“He (McGillivray) is saying that the DNR is amenable to that and I guess I’m willing to trust him that that’s going to happen. Otherwise you’re going to kill the whole thing,” Mayor John Dietz told Motin.

Hunting rules for the farm, including setbacks, will be developed by the city in consultation with the DNR, according to Elk River Parks and Recreation Director Michael Hecker. Ultimate approval of the rules rests with the commissioner of the DNR, he said.

The city anticipates appointing a committee to develop a plan and meet with the DNR this fall.

Hecker said later that the city will be developing a number of committees to plan the new conservation area. There are a number of planning needs for the property, he said, including:

•A restoration or natural resource management plan.

•A hunting plan.

•A plan for other recreational activities such as fishing, hiking, wildlife observation, canoeing and boating.

•An improvement plan.

•A funding plan.

•A general management plan covering areas such as signage, hours, trash, rules and enforcement.

If any citizens are interested in getting involved, contact Hecker at 763-635-1150.

The farm, located west of downtown Elk River where the Mississippi and Elk rivers meet, is not expected to be open to the public until 2016.

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City finding way to sign design http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/09/city-finding-way-to-sign-design/ http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/09/city-finding-way-to-sign-design/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 17:02:47 +0000 http://erstarnews.com/?p=777438 by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Two options have emerged for signs that will guide people in and around Elk River in the coming decades.

Option 2 for a horizontal  gateway sign which would be located at one of the city's entrances. A design for a vertical sign was also produced.

Option 2 for a horizontal gateway sign which would be located at one of the city’s entrances. A design for a vertical sign was also produced.

Option 1 for a horizontal  gateway sign which would be located at one of the city's entrances. A vertical sign design was also produced.

Option 1 for a horizontal gateway sign which would be located at one of the city’s entrances. A vertical sign design was also produced.

The Elk River City Council considered the two plans Monday before directing consulting firm Visual Communications to report back with an estimate of the cost of the signs under both options and a timeline for implementation.

The council had hired Visual Communications, of St. Paul, earlier this year to design plans for a “wayfinding signage program.” The program is designed to create a more uniform look to city signs and make it easier for people to locate parks, downtown and other amenities. It also is a component of the city’s beautification effort.

The signs would range from large monument gateway signs at the city’s entrances, to park monument signs, to signs directing people to points of interest, to the smallest signs in the city.

Some of the Option 1 sign designs.

Some of the Option 1 sign designs.

The City of Elk River's logo.

The City of Elk River’s logo.

Both options incorporate limestone that matches the stone in downtown’s River’s Edge Commons park and include the words of the city’s brand, Powered by Nature, on the larger signs. Neither option includes the city’s two logos — the city logo of an elk or the Powered by Nature brand logo. Both, however, include elk antlers and Option 1 has a graphic depiction of waves taken from the city’s logo.

RaeAnn Gardner, the city’s communications

The city's Powered by Nature brand.

The city’s Powered by Nature brand.

coordinator, said they envision the signs lasting for 30 to 50 years and don’t want to have to change the signs if a city logo changes.

Two groups, a staff committee and a panel of community representatives, had input into the process. Gardner said the groups were looking for signs that were timeless, hip, clean, urban, concise, forward-thinking and showed a vibrant future for the community.

Five options were presented to the staff committee, which narrowed it to two.

 

Some of the Option 2 sign designs.

Some of the Option 2 sign designs.

The two options were then presented to the public at two open houses and through Facebook posts. The overwhelming favorite was Option 2, she said.

Mayor John Dietz said he thought the elk antlers depicted in Option 2 looked like a crown of thorns. “It looks like something you’d see on Good Friday,” he said.

He said he doesn’t understand why the elk and the waves couldn’t be used in both options.

He also wondered whether the entrance sign that now stands along Highway 10 by Lake Orono could be retained with some new elements added to it.

Gardner said they like that sign, but it should be located further west near the western city limits.

The city has some money programmed for new signs and is looking at grant funding for other signs. Additionally, it’s anticipated that some of the new signs could be made in-house.

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Deputy fire chief takes oath of office http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/09/deputy-fire-chief-takes-oath-of-office/ http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/09/deputy-fire-chief-takes-oath-of-office/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 16:30:36 +0000 http://erstarnews.com/?p=777435 Aaron Surratt has been sworn in as the Elk River Fire Department’s first deputy chief of operations.

Elk River Mayor John Dietz administered the oath of office to Aaron Surratt, the city's new deputy fire chief.

Elk River Mayor John Dietz administered the oath of office to Aaron Surratt, the city’s new deputy fire chief.

Mayor John Dietz administered the oath of office to Surratt at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Surratt is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the department’s on-call firefighting force.

Prior to Elk River, Surratt worked with the West Metro Fire Rescue District since 2002 where he most recently held the position of assistant chief of logistics. He has experience in municipal fire protection as well as emergency medical services and fire scene investigations.

Colton pinned the badge on his dad's uniform.

Colton pinned the badge on his dad’s uniform.

Surratt has an associate’s degree in fire protection from North Hennepin Community College and a certificate in fire and EMS leadership from Hamline University.

In addition to his role as deputy fire chief, Surratt will also serve as the city’s deputy director of emergency management.

Surratt and his wife, Nicole, live in Zimmerman with their two children, Colton, 9, and Addison, 6.

Colton pinned on his dad’s badge during the ceremony.

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Flatland appointed to Energy City board http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/09/flatland-appointed-to-energy-city-board/ http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/09/flatland-appointed-to-energy-city-board/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 16:23:27 +0000 http://erstarnews.com/?p=777433 Teri Ann Flatland, of Elk River, has been appointed to the Elk River Energy City Commission as the school representative. Her term runs through Feb. 28, 2017. She was appointed by the City Council.

Flatland works as a curriculum coordinator at Salk Middle School in Elk River.

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Paperless system saving money, creating space http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/03/paperless-system-saving-money-creating-space/ http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/03/paperless-system-saving-money-creating-space/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 20:10:44 +0000 http://erstarnews.com/?p=777131 • Partnership with Anoka County puts robust electronic filing system in place here with relative ease

by Jim Boyle

Editor

File cabinets have been disappearing from the probation department at the Sherburne County Government Center.

No one is worried, though.

The culprit has been the department’s successful transition to a paperless document management system, which was approved last November by the Sherburne County Board and has resulted in mass shreddings ever since.

Eventually, all old files will become electronic. New documents coming into the department are being entered and scanned straight into the paperless management system to conserve on time, energy and money.

Jake Primus and Jennifer Zuchowski have helped make thick case files a thing of the past.

Jake Primus and Jennifer Zuchowski have helped make thick case files a thing of the past.

“Our transition to paperless will be a huge benefit to the department and county in many ways,” J. Hancuch, the director of the probation department, said. “We’re very thankful to the County Board for their support and our information technology department for their expertise in completing the transition.”

Rather than develop its own system, Sherburne County joined forces with Anoka and Dakota counties to take what they had and tweak it to meet their needs.

Hancuch says Anoka County spent more than $500,000 to implement its system five to six years ago.

Aside from staff time to institute the change, Sherburne County has spent just $73,000 to make the conversion, which helps the county’s probation department to become only the third in the state to go truly paperless.

Sherburne County will share ongoing costs with Anoka, Dakota and Wright counties when improvements are needed and agreed upon. Sherburne County has used the integration programs developed by Anoka County, but their system operates independently from the others.

Hancuch, who spent 18 years of his 33-year career in probations, can remember the days when issuing an apprehension and detention order was cumbersome and might involve everything from pagers and pay phones as well as handwritten notes and a trip to the sheriff’ office.

“Now I can pull up the forms on a laptop from my home and the they begin populating with the information from the parole violator’s file,”  Hancuch said, noting all he has to do is fill in a few blanks and hit the send button.

Jennifer Zuchowski, the office manager for the probation department, and Jake Primus, a help desk technician for Sherburne County’s information technology department, told county commissioners Sept. 9 how the transition has gone and highlighted the initial benefits.

Photos by Jim Boyle  Chris Lawver, an office assistant in the Sherburne County Probation Department, workflow now includes lots of scanning since the move to paperless started.

Photos by Jim Boyle
Chris Lawver, an office assistant in the Sherburne County Probation Department, workflow now includes lots of scanning since the move to paperless started.

“This has cut out the shuffling of papers,” she said. “The department receives documents and they go directly on their work station.”

Postage costs have gone way down, and supply budgets will dwindle down to next to nothing, Kuchowski said.

Electronic documents are indexed so staff and probation officers can easily find documents. They can be stored without taking up room in the department, and they are backed up off-site every night, Primus said.

Zuchowski says the real beauty is a 3- to 5-inch stack of paper documents, the equivalent paper formerly on file for one to three clients, can all be accessed by a computer — out in the field.

“Previously you might carry a big stack like this and still not have what you need when (a parole officer) is out in the field,” Zuchowski said.

Sherburne County’s probation department is the second county department to begin the process of going paperless. So has Health and Human Services, but the entire department has not gone paperless. The probation department is getting there, and the staff has welcomed the change.

So for 141,000 documents have been shredded and more still need to be done as former records are converted to electronic documents before they are destroyed.

The 20-member department was leery about going paperless.

“Some were shocked. ‘Why are we doing this,’ they asked,” Kuchowski said. “There were lots of what ifs.

“We had just upgraded to Windows 7 and that was tragic enough.”

Chris Lawver, an office assistant in the probation department, was admittedly skeptical. She said she wondered if it would even work.

“Now, I wouldn’t go back to the old way,” she said. “It’s so much more streamlined.”

Documents are indexed, so they can be found with simple key word searches. Scanners speed up the processing time and can process 30 pages per minute. Correspondence can also be quickly attached to documents. Redacted copies and untouched copies can be maintained simultaneously.

The need for file cabinets has gone away. These will soon be gone like many located in the offices of probation officers and associated probation staff.

The need for file cabinets has gone away. These will soon be gone like many located in the offices of probation officers and associated probation staff.

Signature pads remove the need to have documents printed before they are signed.

Once documents are named and given a bar code, they are automatically routed to where they need to be stored and routinely backed-up.

The back-up system also removes the threat of a disaster, such as a fire, flood or tornado.

“We know our documents are not going to get ruined,” Zuchowski said.

Sherburne County has partnered with Anoka and Dakota counties to avoid the start up costs those counties endured to make the same change. The process of merging the court services tracking system was made considerably easier by their initial legwork.

Hancuch said those counties have opened it up to all counties to work from their platform, as long as they agree to share in the cost of enhancements to the system. “It’s exciting to be on the cutting edge,” Hancuch said.

Sherburne County staff examined both Anoka’s system and Dakota’s system and determined Anoka County’s to be a better fit for Sherburne County, Hancuch said.

Anoka, Dakota,  Sherburne and Wright counties have signed a memorandum of understanding that makes their partnership and future partnerships possible. Many county corrections departments are partners in a users group for the purpose of establishing, maintaining and using the Court Services Tracking System, which is monitored by the Minnesota Counties Computer Cooperative.

In 2008 Anoka and Dakota counties partnered with Strategic Technologies and Hyland’s OnBase document management software company with the assistance of the cooperative to integrate the tracking system and the record management system to go paperless.

They agreed to allow others to join on to utilize the OnBase Document Imaging Integration Software by joining the OnBase enhancement module as part of a users group. Sherburne County joined in November 2013 and Wright County  wishes to join in the future, Hancuch said.

There’s no initial up-front fee to join. Individual jurisdictions, however, are responsible for all other transitional costs and end user costs to implement the enhancement module.

As each county joins, on they will assume a share of the user group’s agreed-upon enhancement costs, maintenance fees and licensing fees to OnBase, according to the memorandum of understanding. The share is determined by comparative probation numbers from the Statewide Probation Survey Data.

So far, Anoka and Dakota counties are each responsible for about 41 percent of those costs. Sherburne County’s share is about 9 percent and Wright County’s is expected to be about 9.5 percent.

Sherburne County Commissioners expressed their thankfulness to Anoka County for blazing a trail and allowing Sherburne County to benefit from it. They even talked about sending a note of thanks to  officials there to that effect, but decided maybe an email would be a better way to offer their thanks.

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Rail line congestion lambasted http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/03/rail-line-congestion-lambasted/ http://erstarnews.com/2014/10/03/rail-line-congestion-lambasted/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 19:36:26 +0000 http://erstarnews.com/?p=777192 • Lawmakers hear from farmers, steel  industry, Amtrak, power companies about delays on lines

by Jim Boyle

Editor

The topic of train congestion pulled into the Minnesota Capitol on Tuesday.

Lawmakers, including Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, sat through a 4 1/2-hour joint Minnesota House and Senate hearing Sept. 30 on Minnesota’s rail system, railroad regulation and railway economic development.

Most of it was filled with complaints from farmers,  steel industry executives and power companies. For some, it’s about getting their product to market. For others it’s about getting a fuel source in hand so it’s there when it’s needed.

Amtrak officials expressed worry over delayed passenger commutes, noting its trains arriving on time less than 70 percent of the time.

“Our service is less competitive,” said Derrick James, director of government affairs for Amtrak.  “It reduces our revenue. It leads to missed connections to other trains. It drives away customers and damages our brand.”

The biggest issue Minnesota’s rail system is facing right now is a high volume of cargo, including grain, oil, propane and coal.  Add to that last winter’s polar vortex, summer flooding and maintenance, and it has been one long year.

Photo by Jim Boyle  The high volume of cargo, including grain, oil, propane and coal, are causing major delays on Minnesota’s rail system. Add to that last winter’s polar vortex, summer flooding and maintenance, and it has been one long year. Propane delivery, taconite production, agricultural crops and passenger rail have all been heavily impacted.

Photo by Jim Boyle
The high volume of cargo, including grain, oil, propane and coal, are causing major delays on Minnesota’s rail system. Add to that last winter’s polar vortex, summer flooding and maintenance, and it has been one long year. Propane delivery, taconite production, agricultural crops and passenger rail have all been heavily impacted.

Propane delivery, taconite production, agricultural crops and passenger rail have all been heavily impacted.

Recent severe weather, including washouts and floods, has also contributed to the problems facing the industry.

Rail executives said they know they need to do more and to improve things, but they asked for patience.

“The meeting itself was very intense,” Kiffmeyer said. “We learned a lot not only about the issues facing railroads but also planned improvements that will benefit everyone that depends on rail for their businesses and livelihoods.”

Railroad executives have identified the critical need to fix their lines and are actively working toward solutions, they said.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe has committed $300 million over the next three years to improve capacity and beef up the rail system. Their investment will bring 300 more employees, smoother operations due to centralized traffic control, and faster deliveries.

State lawmakers have little control over Minnesota railways because they are federally regulated.

Kiffmeyer said she was pleased to hear Burlington Northern Santa Fe has plans to improve the lines over the next few years, but she also supports looking for ways for the state to help.

“One critical change we could make to relieve pressure on rail service is to begin construction of more pipelines,” she said in a press release. “We heard testimony that said building the Sandpiper pipeline through northern Minnesota would free up 2,000 more rail cars each day, and a MnDOT official said we would only need to authorize three more pipelines to completely offset rail demand.”

Other lawmakers have expressed an interest in helping get train tracks built faster, but others are doubtful that will happen given that dollars will be sought for roads, bridges and transit projects.

Summer maintenance season still going on

Sherburne County officials, concerned about ridership and the timeliness of the Northstar Commuter train, brought in MetroTransit on July 18 to see what could be done to effect change.

Metro Transit Chief Operating Officer Vince Pellegrin reported to Sherburne County Commissioners he thought timeliness would improve once rail line maintenance was completed and a planned improvement project that was pushed off until 2015 is completed.

So far, there have been about 49,000 railroad ties replaced as part of regular maintenance this year. But Burlington Northern Santa Fe must still complete the replacement of 11,000 railroad ties, according to Sherburne County Administrator Steve Taylor, who has heard that next summer there will need to be 139,000 railroad ties replaced on the line that runs through the county.

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