County to avoid making political proclamations

The Isanti County Board approved a Policy for Symbolic Resolutions and Proclamations at its June 17 meeting.

The policy states the board “will continue to consider and issue, as appropriate, ceremonial resolutions and proclamations” such as public awareness, arts and cultural celebrations, and special honors. 

It also states the board “will not consider or issue resolutions and proclamations for the following:

•matters of political or ideological controversy;

•matters generally identified and known as supported by one political party and/or opposed by a political party;

•topics with no explicit and unambiguous relationship to the County of Isanti’s programs, services, policies, or budgets;

•campaigns or events contrary to policies of the County of Isanti.”

“(Isanti) County Attorney (Jeff) Edblad is in court right now, otherwise he would probably share a few words, too, but he and I worked together on this resolution,” County Administrator Julia Lines informed the board, noting it is similar to one that was adopted recently in Aitkin County, and several other counties have considered similar resolutions. “This is something the board has talked about for a little while now. The purpose is for the board to make note that there will not be decisions on things that are political or contrary to what the laws are. Some of the items that have come up recently are second amendment sanctuary and that kind of thing.”

The policy does not impact individual Isanti County Commissioners’ first amendment rights or any other rights under the Constitution of the United States of America or the State of Minnesota. It also does not impact the board’s responsibility to collectively and actively advocate fiscal and public policy through its County Administrator to support the county’s mission and constituents. 

Driver’s license and passport services open via appointment

Isanti County Auditor/Treasurer Chad Struss informed the board the auditor/treasurer’s office is open for driver’s license and passport services via appointment. 

The information desk at the Isanti Government Center is staffed to handle traffic flow and set up appointments for walk-ins. Once an appointment is scheduled, the patron receives a text message confirming the appointment. They also receive a message and phone call an hour before the appointment. 

Once they arrive at the government center, they click on a link in the text message to inform staff they have arrived for their appointment. They are then directed to come into the government center when staff are ready for the appointment.

Appointments for passports are only being scheduled for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Struss informed the board the US Department of State has indicated it is not giving a time-line as to when passports will be issued. Although its website states six to eight weeks, it is taking months, Struss said. 

Veterans Office presentation

Veterans Service Officer Dan Meyer gave a presentation regarding the total yearly applications from veterans, distribution of US and Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs expenditures in Isanti County, community partnerships with the office, Heartland Express use by veterans using the VA volunteer program , and how the office is supported and other highlights.

Isanti County saw a decrease in veteran population, which is not unique to Isanti County, Meyer noted. There have also been a decrease in deployments through the National Guard reserve. 

In 2018, the total expenditures from the VA was $25 million, Meyer stated. In 2019, it was $26.6 million, according to Meyer.

Meyer informed the board the expenditures were for compensation of pension for disability and for financial assistance based on income, as well as medical expenditures contracted out to the local facility, dental work referred outside of the VA agency, and tuition at Anoka-Ramsey Community College through the federal GI bill.

State Soldiers Assistance Program is a program provided by the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs for optical and dental, as well as the MN GI bill. It also provides disaster relief and special needs grants. Isanti County received a little more than $9,000 from the state, Meyer said, adding that he expects that to increase significantly this year due to COVID-19. The state issued a $1,000 stimulus check to veterans in the state, as well as special needs grants up to $3,000 for any veterans having financial hardship during the pandemic. 

Meyer noted there was a 19% decrease in forms processed through the Veterans Office, partly due to online access to applications and partly due to a smaller veteran population. 

When talking about large number of community partnerships with the Veterans Office, Meyer stated, “It’s really amazing how Isanti County works together in support of veterans.” 

There was a 20% increase in rides through Heartland Express from the previous year, according to Meyer. There were 267 total rides, 46 unique veterans using the service more once, and 11 unique destinations throughout the area.

Other support was offered to veterans throughout the year through community partnerships, including food and gas gift cards, a baby layette, multiple ramp installations, holiday gift cards, emergency lodging assistance, multiple packages for those who are deployed, vehicle repair, and dental assistance.

Isanti County Beyond The Yellow Ribbon (BTYR) donated a total of approximately $21,927 in direct support to veterans coming through the Veterans Office, Meyer said, adding that they also provide $2,500 for holiday gift and gas cards. There was a total of $46,187 provided for Isanti County Veterans and in support of other organizations for things such as scholarships, Veterans Memorial Park, VFW, American Legion and Auxiliary. Flag Wavers Hope donated $3,000 to be used towards veterans struggling with chemical use. 

In the upcoming year, St. Paul Veterans Center is providing a licensed social worker to conduct individual counseling in Isanti County, and are also planning to facilitate a support group for veterans.

Support the Troops MN has provided more than $5,000 in support to veterans. The VFW provides funds monthly to supplement the transportation program. MN Department of Veterans Affairs grant is used to provide a veterans outreach coordinator at no cost to the county. 

“I’m just so proud,” Morris said. “Thinking back years ago when we started Beyond the Yellow Ribbon and how that was going to look and just to speak to the genius in how it got put together in working with your office. So thank you to you and your staff for all the amazing work that you do. I realize that your workload is probably a little higher because we do those extra outreaches, but I know how impactful it is.”

Meyer reminded the board that he would be gone on deployment in two weeks, and be gone for 12 months. During that time, the State of MN will be sending in representatives to work out of the Isanti office two days per week to assist with the state and federal claims processed through the office. Veterans Services Outreach Coordinator Stacey Brown will be the local resource and local access to resources through the community partnerships in addition to also assisting with state and federal applications. 

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