Blessings from Ulen to Barnesville and Hawley to Glyndon

Karen Newman

Fulfilling his last official duty as Clay County Commission Chair, Kevin Campbell addressed the commission at their January 4 meeting. The State of the County address highlights county government activities from the previous year while providing an overview of plans for the new year. To the amusement of his fellow board members, Campbell joked as he began the address, “I want to point out that this is scheduled for ten minutes. With all the work that Steve (Larson) and I have done in covering all the county departments, I am going to go long. Imagine that!” 

Campbell began his speech with a general overview of county government in 2021. Opportunities for achievement included business resurgence and county facility upgrades which succeeded despite challenges presented by Covid-19 variants and issues pertaining to workforce recruitment and retention. He said, “We continue to see unprecedented growth in Clay County, being one of the fastest growing counties in the state of Minnesota.”  He continued by noting that, according to initial US Census data, the county gained 6,310 new residents, bringing the total county population to 65,318 which is a 10.71% increase since the 2010 census. He concluded, “From Ulen to Barnesville and from Hawley to Glyndon, we have been blessed with commercial and residential expansion that only further strengthens our communities.”

Eight departments moved from the Clay County Courthouse to the Clay County Government Center which was purchased with dollars provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES). The move enabled the departments to provide social distancing space for customers and staff. As the departments relocated to the new center, courthouse space opened to begin remodeling to add an additional courtroom which will increase capacity to overcome backlogs in the courts due to Covid-19 restrictions. It is due for completion sometime in 2022.

The Clay County Public Health Department (CCPH) provides leadership, flexibility, resiliency, and guidance to meet the demands for Covid-19 information, vaccines, and boosters in addition to their other duties. CCPH coordinates with the Center for Disease Control, Minnesota Department of Public Health, K-12 schools, higher education, congregate care facilities, diverse and homeless shelters, worksites, and health care systems to participate in pandemic response efforts. CCPH secured hotel housing for quarantine isolation for citizens with no housing of their own, provided case investigation, contract tracing and offered vaccine clinics to the public.

The American Rescue Plan Act, signed by President Biden in May 2021, will bring more than $12,000,000 to Clay County. The US Treasury paid the first half in June 2021 and the remaining dollars will be released in June 2022. The Corona Virus Relief Committee, led by Commissioners Mongeau and Campbell, meets to bring forward funding opportunities for consideration. The funds must be spent by 2024. “The Clay County Board is being very deliberate in allocating these once-in-a-lifetime funds in hopes of leaving a legacy that goes far beyond the next few years,” Campbell summarized. 

Campbell continued, “The Detox Program has continued to see demands for its services increase, highlighting the need for a facility that better meets the needs of the clients it now serves.” Clay County Social Services and CCPH partnered in a successful application, through the State of Minnesota, for a $5,000,000 grant to remodel and/or construct a new facility. He noted that the Social Services Department voiced concerns about increased truancy and lack of student engagement in the schools. 

Calls for service to the Clay County Sheriff’s Department increased from 16,881 in 2020 to over 20,000 in 2021. Due to diligent adherence to sanitation standards by this department, there were no Covid-19 outbreaks among residents of the Clay County Correctional Center in 2021. Workforce recruitment and retention remain issues. 

Clay County’s Highway Department maintains more than 1,575 miles of county and township roads. The department plans to replace 1,300 signs over a four-year period to ensure that emergency services can reach the homes of individuals who require their services. Discussion of the fate of the North Broadway bridge is ongoing.

In other county departments, Campbell reports:

• Planning and Zoning Department approved 176 building permits, 33 use permits, 31 variances, 70 minor subdivisions and 2 major subdivisions. 

• Auditor/Treasurer’s Department received a verification of applicable accounting processes from the State of Minnesota.

• Clay County Assessor’s Office provided classification and valuations for close to 28,000 parcels.

• Clay County Record’s Office completed digitization of 100 years of real estate records.

• Information Services reports more than 80,000 visits/month to the Clay County website. 

• GIS and the Recorder’s Office are working with township officials to officially record each township’s roads to make it easier to clarify easements. 10 of 30 townships completed the task to date.

• Clay County is actively working to restore missing monuments. Monuments are markers placed on section corners in the late 1800s. The monuments continue in use because they reduce surveying costs and are the basis of accurate digital map data. 

• The Clay County Veteran Service Office reports no homeless Clay County veterans in 2021 due to the office’s outreach to the veteran community and coordination with local agencies.

• Construction began on the Clay County Resource and Recovery and Problem Materials Facility. It is slated for completion in October 2022. 

• Clay County supports a two-year tax abatement program in cooperation with the cities and school districts of Clay County.

• Clay County estimated expenses for 2022 are $102,000,000, including federal and state-reimbursed programs. 

• Clay County Property tax levy is $38.7, 3.82% more than 2021. Funds are used to meet unreimbursed expenses in addition to grants and fees. 

“I am confident that Clay County continues to be in an excellent position to meet the ever-changing needs of our citizens,” declared out-going Commission Chair Campbell.

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