The Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners recently listened to community members concerns during a comment session regarding the idea of an increased wheelage tax.

The current wheelage tax, which is added to a vehicle registration fee, is set at $10 in Mille Lacs County, but counties can approve up to a $20 tax.

County Administrator Pat Oman said before the June 18 public comment session an increase to the tax has not been approved and that the board wanted to hear from the public — even though the board is not required to hold a public hearing on the issue.

Roxanne Gerads, a small-business owner, showed strong opposition to an increase to $20.

“[An increase would be] detrimental to a small business,” Gerads said. “It doesn’t sound like much, but we are overburdened in this county with our taxes.”

That sentiment was echoed by Milaca Mayor Pete Pederson, who spoke on behalf of the city and for himself.

Pederson said that Milaca keeps its taxes low because they know Mille Lacs County will increase taxes.

Pederson also questioned how long the board had been discussing a possible tax increase.

Oman said that open, public discussions have been taking place for about two years.

Pederson also questioned why the county felt the need to increase the tax since the county’s average income per households is one of the lowest in the state, but the county is also one of the highest taxed.

“Personally, I think we’re just overtaxed and enough is enough,” Pederson said.

Pederson later added any increase would be harmful to citizens of Milaca.

“I don’t care if it goes up a dollar, they [residents] are on a fixed budget,” Pederson added.

Other concerns raised included the impact an increase would have on seniors who still drive and whether the tax would trickle down to townships.

Oman said the money from the wheelage tax is used for public works in general and theoretically the money could be used to fix roads in townships in the county, but that idea had not been discussed.

The tax — which currently raises an estimated $270,000 for the county — would be used to purchase public works heavy equipment, according to Oman.

Additional agenda items

Mille Lacs County will also move toward becoming a more breastfeeding friendly workplace, according to an agreement the board approved June 18 with the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership that will allow SHIP coordinator Alisha Fussy to allocate time and funds to reach this goal.

“Providing accommodations for nursing mothers is the law both at the state and federal level,” Fussy stated in an email.

She added, “Becoming a recognized breastfeeding friendly workplace helps bring in and retain employees.”

A workplace that’s accommodating to mothers can reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes, postpartum depression as well as reduce the risks of ear, skin, respiratory and stomach infections, SIDS, obesity, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, asthma and leukemia for nursing children, Fussy said.

The Minnesota Department of Health reports that employers who provide lactation support can see a 3:1 return on investment, Fussy told commissioners.

In total, $13 billion in direct health care costs could be saved annually if 90% of women were able to breastfeed for at least six months, Fussy added.

“Giving mothers the support needed to return to work comfortably in a space they feel safe and encouraged to continue nursing and pumping is a very important step that an employer can take to ensure employee retention and ROI (return on investment) for their agency,” she said. “This, along with the health benefits for both mom and baby, is a win-win for all parties.”

Fussy will oversee the allocation of SHIP time and funds to the Princeton farmers market to purchase an EBT machine, as well — an agreement also approved by the board during the meeting.

Access to healthy foods is one of the barriers faced by those who struggle with food security issues, according to Fussy.

“Accepting SNAP/EBT at farmers markets is important because it allows all community members to take part in the farmers market experience. It also supports local farmers and increases access to healthy affordable foods for all,” Fussy said.

The board also approved a payment of $22,749 to Nolan, Thompson & Leighton, PLC for legal services relating to the federal lawsuit filed by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe against Mille Lacs County regarding policing rights on the Ojibwe reservation.

A payment of $4,968 to the same law firm was approved for legal services related to legislative attempts by the county to amend Minn. Stat. 626.93, which covers the law enforcement authority of tribal police officers under Minnesota state law.

At the end of the June 18 meeting, the board approved a closed-door session to discuss a grievance by Local 49 against the county. A Local 49 representative did not respond to comment before publication.

Oman said the board will take action on the grievance agenda item during the board’s regularly scheduled meeting July 2.

In other actions, the board:

·Approved new infant mental health agreement, which includes a grant of $15,825.

·Approved a termination letter for the contract between the county and Medical Transportation Management to provide social service rides. Rides will now be provided by Tri-Cap Transportation.

·Awarded a $80,057 contract for pavement markings on roads to AAA Striping Service Co.

·Approved the closure of CSAH 1 from MNTH 23 to the south corporate boundary from 8 a.m. July 4 to 1 p.m. July 5 for a parade and other city activities.

·Awarded SML Appraisals a contract for $49,500 to appraise the acquisition of parcels of land along CSAH 14 for a grading project. SML Appraisals bid $1,100 a parcel for 45 parcels; Johanneck Appraisals also put in a bid for $1,500 a parcel.

·Approved a request by Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office to scrap a 1999 Crown Victoria vehicle that is no longer usable or safe.

·Listened to an annual presentation by the Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services regarding the services they have provided.

·Approved a contract for $250 annually with Morrison County to use their website to transfer child support income maintenance case files.

·Approved a resolution to not need an environmental impact statement for a project on the Rum River Campground because the environmental assessment worksheet did not demonstrate the potential for significant environmental effects.

·Authorized a $180 per diem and $146 mileage payment to Commissioner Roger Tellinghuisen and a $90 per diem and $201.84 mileage payment to Commissioner David Oslin. The year-to-date totals for per diem payments for the board are $1,755 and $2,424 for mileage payments.

Mark Wasson is an APG of East Central Minnesota freelance contributing reporter who covers municipal and county government.

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