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Crow Wing County Board selectively raises per diem rates. Planning commission/board of adjustment committee members see increase

Members of the Crow Wing County Planning Commission/Board of Adjustment Committee will be paid more for their services from now on.

The county board agreed at its March 12 meeting to increase the committee members' per diem rates from $75 to $125 per meeting, but kept the per site visit at $75.

"I was wondering if it would be possible to ask staff to take a look at possibly increasing the per diem for that particular committee," Commissioner Bill Brekken told Commissioner Rosemary Franzen at the Feb. 26 board meeting.

According to the county, the planning commission's purpose is to "advise, consult with and make recommendations to the county board on matters relating to land use planning in the unincorporated areas and any municipalities under contract with Crow Wing County."

This includes land use district requests, conditional use requests, subdivisions (plats), as well as ordinances and comprehensive plans. The planning commission has the authority to approve or deny conditional use requests.

"Observing the work that they do, the fact that they are a decision-making committee, where the others are advisory, I was just really impressed with the work that they do and the detail and really the homework they have in regards to site visits and everything," Brekken said last month.

The board of adjustment meets to consider applications for variances to the county land use ordinance and to hear appeals of administrative decisions made by the land services department.

"I just thought maybe some increase to their per diem might be something that we could at least have staff look at to evaluate if there'd be some recognition or value to that," Brekken suggested at the Feb. 26 board meeting.

Commissioner Paul Koering added, "I will say I do agree with Commissioner Brekken that it can be a very challenging committee. ... You're serving your community by being on there—you're not really there for the money—but I think we need to compensate somebody for their time."

The committee meets monthly to review and vote on items that come before them. The members and county staff conduct site visits to inspect these properties coming before them to make well-informed decisions on the applications.

"I would draw the distinction between the planning commission and board of adjustment, and most of the other citizen committees that you have in so far as the planning commission and board of adjustment actually makes decisions on behalf of the county," County Administrator Tim Houle said.

The planning commission/board of adjustment committee consists of five appointed citizens—one from each commissioner district—and meets 5 p.m. the third Thursdays of each month in the Historic Courthouse on Laurel Street in Brainerd.

"The nature of the decisions that they make have to do with what someone can do with their property and what they can't do with their property, and so the stakes for the individual participants are much higher," Houle said. "As a result of that, it tends to be more tension-filled, maybe some more emotion associated with it."

The county website states about committees, commissions and boards: "Citizen involvement is an essential element of governance in Crow Wing County."

"It is, in my mind, unquestionably the most difficult committee assignment that we ask someone to serve on. The rate that you pay in per diem, I think we did have a short period of time when we did pay the planning commission and board of adjustment more," Houle said last month.

"It was about three years ago or so that we increased the per diem from $50 to $75. In the scope of the overall county budget, it is not a material change. If you'd like, staff could certainly put together some information about what the impact would actually be if we did that."

Commissioner Steve Barrows and Koering told Houle at the Feb. 26 board meeting to have staff explore increasing per diem rates for planning commission/board of adjustment committee members.

On Jan. 2, 2018, the county board approved increasing from $50 to $75 per meeting and site visit per diem rates. Then March 1, the budget committee discussed the proposed increase of $125 per meeting, and keeping the $75 per site visit per diem rates.

Koering made the motion at the March 12 board meeting to approve the latest rate hike. Brekken seconded Koering's motion and it was passed unanimously last week without further discussion.

The 2019 appointments for the planning commission/board of adjustment include Mark Haglin and Don Hales, whose two-year terms expire Jan. 31, 2020, and Rick Skogen, Rebecca Best and Rock Yliniemi, whose terms expire Jan. 31, 2021.