County Board Chairman's View: From homelessness to bonding, county has work to do in 2023

From the column: "The first major use of American Rescue Plan Act funds (was) $5.3 million through the schools to help children struggling in the wake of the pandemic shutdowns."

R.J. Matson / Cagle Cartoons
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What an honor it has been to serve this year as chair of the St. Louis County Board. This past year certainly brought challenges. I am appreciative of our citizens who reached out with concerns and ideas, and I’m proud of the efforts of my fellow commissioners as we worked together on solutions that serve our entire county.

I’m particularly happy with the continuing success of the Check and Connect program in school districts in St. Louis County. This was the first major use of American Rescue Plan Act funds that the Board voted on — to invest $5.3 million through the schools to help children struggling in the wake of the pandemic shutdowns. Thirty-four school districts in St. Louis County have now hired mentors, connecting with 883 youth, helping them re-engage in school and develop good study habits. Among these students, absences have decreased by 60% and suspensions by 61%. Very encouraging!

2023 crystal ball.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

Commissioners also approved investing $750,000 of Rescue Plan funds in child-care facilities, and we’re aware the city of Duluth is committing additional resources on this front. The shortage and high cost of child-care options is a challenge for families — and for businesses trying to recruit and retain employees. Working with the Northland Foundation, which will manage these funds, the money can be used to help with expanding existing child-care facilities or launching new ones. Funds also will be available for facility and safety improvements and workforce solutions and training to help with the recruitment and retention of child-care staff.

We’ve seen a concerning increase in the number of individuals and families experiencing homelessness in St. Louis County, and the County Board committed more than $6 million toward new, stable housing throughout the county this year. A recent example is the $1.87 million to develop a 50-plus-bed shelter in Hibbing, which will be operated by AEOA, or the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency. This will cover the purchase price of an existing building and initial renovation costs. We expect it will be open and helping many people yet this winter.

We also are investing $625,000 to renovate and expand AICHO's Dabinoo'Igan Violence Shelter in Duluth. Worth noting, this is the only culturally specific domestic-violence emergency shelter in the northeast region. I am so grateful to our staff and to our partners throughout the county who are working to help our citizens until they can get back on their feet.


Another accomplishment I’m proud of and excited about this year: we established a joint powers ATV committee with Lake and Koochiching counties. Our ATV trails are important to so many people, providing great outdoor recreation for our residents and visitors. And, of course, we welcome the positive economic impact these ATV riders bring to our local businesses. Working with neighboring counties, we can expand trail options to make them even better.

I’m frustrated we weren’t able to accomplish more through the Legislature this year and am committed to working with our delegation, including our newly elected members, on priorities like passing a tax bill that reforms the funding formula for Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) lands, of which St. Louis County has an abundance. This will bring much-needed property-tax relief for our residents.

We also need a bonding bill passed. Among our priorities, St. Louis County is seeking $24.5 million to facilitate leachate treatment at the Virginia landfill and initial development of the Canyon landfill.

We still have a lot of work to do, and I’m grateful to be able to continue that work on your behalf. As I wrap this up, I want to thank Commissioner Frank Jewell for his many years of service and wish him all the best in retirement. I also welcome incoming Commissioner Annie Harala and look forward to the energy and perspectives she will bring.

I wish you all happy holidays and a prosperous 2023!

Paul McDonald of Ely is chairman of the St. Louis County Board. He wrote this at the invitation of the News Tribune Opinion page.

Paul McDonald
St. Louis County Board Chairman Paul McDonald of Ely

The News Tribune Opinion page again this year asked community leaders and area experts to gaze into a crystal ball and share what 2023 might bring. This column is part of that series.
Sunday, Dec. 25 — Northland economy
Monday, Dec. 26 — Business
Tuesday, Dec. 27 — Tourism
Wednesday, Dec. 28 — City of Duluth
Thursday, Dec. 29 — St. Louis County
Friday, Dec. 30 — Duluth public schools
Saturday, Dec. 31 — Minnesota Legislature
Sunday, Jan. 1 — Downtown Duluth
Monday, Jan. 2 — Public safety
Tuesday, Jan. 3 — D.C.

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