A new Crow Wing County Board chair took the helm Tuesday, Jan. 7, at the county’s annual statutory and organizational meeting.

After serving as vice chairman in 2019, Commissioner Paul Koering moved into the chairman role to begin the new year. This follows the recent county board tradition of elevating the vice chair from the previous year to chair for the next year. Commissioner Steve Barrows was elected vice chair for 2020. Both measures passed 4-0. Commissioner Bill Brekken was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.

The role of the chair is to run county board meetings. The chair’s signature is also attached to all approved resolutions and other documents on behalf of the rest of the county commissioners.

Koering, 55, is a lifelong resident of Crow Wing County, spending most of his life in St. Mathias Township on a dairy farm. His first foray into public service was as a representative on the Minnesota Farm Bureau board of directors, which interested him in local politics. Before entering county government, he served eight years as a Republican state senator.

He sought election as a county commissioner in 2012 after neighbors upset with the incumbent approached him to run. Koering’s district covers the southern portion of Crow Wing County, from Fort Ripley east to Roosevelt Township and north to Oak Lawn Township. The extreme northeast portion of the city of Brainerd also falls within District 1.

Koering’s seat, along with the seat occupied by Commissioner Doug Houge, is set to be on the ballot this year. Neither Koering nor Houge have announced whether they intend to seek reelection.

In other business Tuesday, the county board:

Awarded the 2020 printing and publishing bid to the joint bidders Brainerd Dispatch, Pineandlakes Echo Journal and Crosby-Ironton Courier for first publication of required legal and financial statements, including county board and board of appeal and equalization proceedings, the delinquent tax list and public notices. Second publication of the financial statement was awarded to the Crosby-Ironton Courier. The NewsHopper submitted bids for both first and second publication, but those bids were not accepted by the county board.

Named the Brainerd Dispatch the official newspaper of Crow Wing County for 2020.

Adopted the Pine River comprehensive local water management plan, which was developed as part of the One Watershed One Plan process involving partners Cass County, Cass Soil and Water Conservation District and Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District. The plan identifies high priority erosion, sedimentation and water quality problems within the Pine River Watershed, which covers 47.3% of Crow Wing County’s land base. The watershed includes 502,400 acres that primarily fall within Cass and Crow Wing counties, but it also dips into Aitkin and Hubbard counties.

Approved a change order to the 2019 landfill construction project, which amounted to an increase of $62,690 over the previously agreed upon contract. The reasons for the change order, according to a request for board action, were the shortage of available hay on site for required frost protection and hauling of 500 cubic yards of clay as part of the county’s management of chronic wasting disease. The action also extended the expected substantial and final completion dates to June 30 and July 15, respectively.

Approved the per diem rates for citizen committees. Residents serving on committees will receive $75 per meeting with the exception of the planning commission/board of adjustment. Residents serving on that committee will earn $125 per meeting and $75 per site visit. These rates are the same as 2019. Houge asked county staff to research what other counties pay their planning commission members and suggested he might bring forward a motion to increase the pay again, given the increase in permits and other land-related requests he said the committee has experienced in recent years.

Entered into a grant contract with the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs, which awarded an operational improvement grant to the county veterans service office. Veterans Service Office Erik Flowers told the county board the previous year’s grant went toward updating furniture in the office and purchasing a tent for use at events, including the county fair and parades. Some plans for 2020 grant funds include changes to the office space to accommodate a new staff member and branded clothing for staff.

Approved a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to add a heated county garage as a winter parking location for the van used to transport veterans to appointments at the VA. The transportation program is a joint venture of Disabled American Veterans and the VA.

Authorized a block grant agreement with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources for implementation of state and local programs managing natural resources, including state shoreland rules, septic treatment systems, local water management and application of the Wetland Conservation Act.

Issued no objections to Koering’s reappointment of commissioners to the same committees as the previous year, including those part of the Association of Minnesota Counties.

Approved the promotion of Meredith Benthin to nutrition dietician at community services.

Approved the hiring of the following people: Carol Wacker, child support officer, community services; Julia Kiffmeyer, program specialist, community services; Ashley Gage, senior technical/administrative specialist, community services; Amanda Astle, senior technical/administrative specialist, probation; and Lindsey Lindstrom, assistant county attorney.

Reclassified a position in community services from senior technical/administrative specialist to a probation case aide. The move was approved in the 2020 county budget.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.