The Pine County Board of Commissioners stuck to their goal of keeping the property tax levy increase to 3% for 2020. That is the maximum preliminary levy passed at the board meeting in Sandstone September 17. It amounts to $19,354,383, and contains a contingency in the budget of around $56,000. The final levy to be approved in December can be lower than that, but no higher, by law.

Helping with containing costs is the fact that the insurance committee had gone out for bid for employee health insurance, and is keeping the increase to 7.5% by going with a proposal from Resources Training and Solutions. The proposal does have more contributions from employees, and they have to agree to it. It was reported memorandums have gone to bargaining units for review.

Noxious weed control

The county board approved an amendment to the noxious weed and invasive plant grant contract. The amendment extends the grant expiration one year to December 2020. Caleb Anderson, land and resources manager for Pine County, reported approximately half the grant funds have been spent and leaves about $10,000 left for 2020.

Anderson said, “There is a public benefit to controlling noxious weeds.”

Meadow knapweed is the one species in Pine County that is on the prohibited list and must be eradicated, according to state law. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture had been working in 2017 and 2018 to eradicate meadow knapweed in the Grindstone Lake area at the Audubon Center of the North Woods.

Anderson reported grant funds in 2019 paid for continued work against meadow knapweed identified on nearly 50 acres at the Audubon and two privately owned gravel pits. The Conservation Corps also used backpack sprayers to hit additional acreage. Anderson said they targeted meadow knapweed with the grant because of its limited appearance in the county, increasing the likelihood of its eradication.

Plants on the prohibited control list are required by law to be controlled as opposed to eradicated. Those common in Pine County are thistle, spotted knapweed, leafy spurge, purple loosestrife, wild parsnip and common tansy.

“Buckthorn,” said Commissioner Steve Hallan of Pine City, “is the worst thing that can happen to small wood lots.” Anderson said local weed lists can be adopted, but currently, buckthorn is on the restricted list whereby it is only prohibited to import, sell or transport it in the state, likely because of how widespread the species is.

Commissioner Matt Ludwig of Sandstone mentioned handling calls requesting spotted knapweed be eradicated from ditches because the farmers, who have eradicated it from their pastures, end up having it spread from the ditches. Spotted knapweed is common in the sandy soils of the Kettle River sand plain north of Sandstone.

Pine County does not have a county agriculture inspector who would be charged with issuing notices to residents regarding noxious weeds. Instead it relies on weed mapping and education of landowners on noxious weeds and training regulatory bodies such as township officers, through Soil and Water Conservation District and the National Resources Conservation Service.

It was noted the Pine County Soil and Water Conservation District has sprayers for residents to use to eradicate buckthorn. A forester comes out to assess the property for severity and the best eradication method, and residents pay for the cost of the herbicide. The sprayers come with the amount of herbicide already measured for use on their property.

Anderson said the next steps in the grant, beyond its extension, are to identify willing landowners who wish to eradicate or control noxious plants on their property, treat additional areas, follow up at the Audubon Center with treatment and to look at potential regulations for the future.

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