Jones rescinds resignation as Lake County Fiscal Advisor
Restaurant and hotel owners in Lake County may soon see a new face when it comes time for their property's health inspections. Environmental Health Specialist Douglas Pearson has resigned. The Lake County Board of Commissioners moved to accept his resignation at Tuesday's meeting.
Health and Human Services Director Vickie Thompson said the future of the position is uncertain.
"We're kind of rare in that Lake County has continued to...do our inspections here," she said, adding that many neighboring counties have turned the responsibility for health inspections over to the state health department. St. Louis and Cook counties both defer to the state for inspections.
Lake County has maintained a delegation agreement with the state, employing an environmental health specialist at the County to perform inspections and enforce state health codes in establishments like restaurants and hotels.
Thompson explained that, historically this gave the County a degree of leeway. If local businesses violated the health code, the County could apply to the state for variances to the code. They could also request extensions to allow businesses extra time to correct violations.
This year, however, the County applied for a number of variances for local businesses. Thompson said they included violations for flooring, shelving and the use of refrigerators that weren't commercial grade. The State rejected the variances. Thompson said that state standards are getting more stringent.
"For a number of years we've been able to try to use a common sense approach and not be nitpicky, but I think our time is coming to end," she said.
The County is now at a crossroads. It can hire a new environmental health specialist, but Thompson and Human Resources Administrator Cammie Young said the turnover rate for the position is high and it's been difficult to find a qualified applicant. But if they can't hire a new specialist within 180 days of Pearson's resignation, the State will automatically take over.
"I don't think that we can effectively fill the position... and enforce these rules. I think it's going to be an uphill battle," Thompson said.
Commissioner Rick Goutermont said he worries that local businesses would be hit hard by a state inspector's more stringent standards.
"I think we have to think about the businesses here...it's going to be a hammer on them," Goutermont said.
In addition, it would likely be more expensive to have the State take over inspections, but Goutermont and Commissioner Rich Sve argued that, in this case, safety is more important that money.
"We need to protect the public," Sve said. "Secondly, (we need) to work with these businesses...and support (them)."
Pearson's resignation is effective July 25, after which the County will have about six months to decide what to do.
Dan Jones steps back from City job
Dan Jones, Fiscal Supervisor for Lake County Health and Human Services, resigned from his position in June and was slated to take a new position as Financial Director for the City of Two Harbors. Thompson informed the board that Jones asked to rescind his resignation, as he wished to stay on as a County employee.
"I'm delighted. When I heard Dan was leaving... I thought we would see a lot of impact from that. I just think he's invaluable," Thompson said.
The City did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
APEX moving forward with data center
APEX's Director of Business Development Elissa Hansen presented her marketing firm's most recent efforts to the board, along with a slight change in budget.
Hansen and APEX are marketing Lake County as a location for a data center. Data centers employ large computers that store information for companies. They require massive cooling systems because the machines produce heat as the backup systems keep information flowing.
Proponents have argued that the North Shore is an ideal location for a data center due to its cool temperatures. Hansen said Lake County has numerous other benefits: its in-progress countywide broadband network, a tax incentive thanks to the State and relatively low electricity costs.
Hansen said that APEX has been attending industry trade shows and making one-on-one visits to potential clients. She said they've found that one-on-one visits are more effective, and she proposed amendments to the budget to reflect that.
Though the total annual budget of $36,000 will not change, she said the firm will dedicate more money to meeting with executives and less to trade shows.