By Keith Englund, Douglas County commissioner
This has been a difficult year with COVID-19 changing our lives. However, Douglas County residents are not taking our COVID situation lying down. After being stuck at home for months, we are doing our best to move on with life.
The county board is pleased it could allocate more than $3 million dollars in federal funds to our hardworking businesses and nonprofits that were devastated by COVID-related losses. The board realizes the importance of providing them hope for the future and maintaining a strong tax base.
We are also keeping service levels high and taxes low in 2021. With the help of Auditor Treasurer Char Rosenow, we have set a preliminary levy of $29,143,109, which is a 2.5% increase from 2020. Please believe that we, the commissioners, know the money to run the county is not the county’s but rather that of the taxpayers. We try to never waste the money everyone has worked hard for over their lives.
This summer the Land and Resource Management office saw reason for optimism. Staff has been very busy issuing permits for new homes, new out buildings, and new lakeside decks and patios. The county staff issued 371 land use permits – 81 for new homes! More good news came from Land and Resource Management, which, each summer, monitors aquatic invasive species. Only two lakes were confirmed with new invasions. Zebra mussels were found in Lake Aaron and Lake Moses. The county also added three do-it-yourself boat cleaning stations with grant funds from the state. These are located on lakes Ida, Mary and Geneva.
This summer our residents and visitors made incredibly good use of the county parks. The weather cooperated to allow for swimming, biking and hiking. The county is very excited about the possibility of a new recreational area at Pilgrim Point on Lake Ida. The details are still being finalized, but we hope to announce very soon the purchase of land that will allow all of us to enjoy one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in the county.
Use of our seven current parks continues to be well above average as folks look for ways to spend time in wide open spaces. Chippewa Park camping sales were up 16 percent from last year. We had more than 3,000 guests from 15 different states stay with us. The county also installed a new outdoor warning siren at Chippewa Park. Bicycle riders enjoyed the mountain bike trails at Kensington Rune Stone and Lake Brophy Park. The Department of Natural Resources also did a count of the number of people who accessed the Central Lakes Trail from Brophy Park and reported that in one week in late May, 1,908 people accessed the trail. That doesn’t include the number of people who used the beach, the fishing pier or the playground. A big thank you to our staff who worked extra hard to keep our parks in tip-top shape.
Up in my neck of the woods, the western part of Douglas County, we will be working to improve the watershed around Lake Christina. This effort is one part of the Pomme De Terre River Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan. I also serve on the Chippewa Watershed. These important districts work together to preserve our land and water.
This year we approved projects we believe will make Douglas County an even better place to live. (It’s already the best county to live in Minnesota). To get your input on the big decisions we had several open houses. Examples are the cost and safety reasons for a roundabout at the County Roads 8 and 40 intersection, the best way to utilize the former church property, which was purchased for expansion purposes, and the increasing high water levels on certain lakes. We also sit on the county ditch boards and are involved with the lake associations. Our phones are always on so if you have ideas on how to improve our county, please contact one of the commissioners.
This past year as the board chair has been a wonderful experience for me and has gone by very quickly. I would like to thank our residents for their support and the trust you have given us.
Keith Englund is the chair of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.