News Categories: General News

27 May
By: Steve Fenske 0

New Election Law to Address COVID-19

One of the COVID-19 issues considered by the Legislature this year was how to address the State Primary Election on August 11, and the Statewide General Election on November 3. One early proposal suggested statewide mail balloting for all Minnesotans, but MAT successfully informed the Legislature of the desire in some communities to maintain their local in-person polling places. As a result, town boards have local control of whether they hold an in-person election. Town boards should consider: (1) whether their election judges are still willing to serve; (2) whether their polling place can accommodate social distancing which is expected to be required for both statewide elections; and (3) whether their community wants to have a local polling place this year.

Regardless of the town board’s choice on a polling place, voters who want to vote absentee by mail may do so by requesting a ballot at this link.

The new election law passed by the Minnesota Legislature addresses some local government needs as they address the State Primary Election and State General Election. The new law, 2020 Session Law Chapter 77, is found at this link.

The new law provides the following:

  1. Towns boards may designate a new polling place, if needed, to address social distancing, combined polling places, or any other COVID-19 related election location need. Towns must designate the new polling place no later than July 1, 2020, regardless of the deadline provided in Minn. Stat. § 204B.16, subd. 1. Town boards may designate the new polling place by resolution of the board and provide notice of the change to the County Auditor. Towns changing their polling place must send written notice by registered mail of the change of polling locations to all registered voters within the town at least 25 days before the election. The new law indicates that schools are not supposed to be used as polling places unless there is no other reasonable location is available. Towns using a school as a poling place should consider if any other reasonable public or private location is available to serve as a polling place. Per Minn. Stat. § 204B.16, subd. 1, towns may use a polling place that is up to 5 miles outside the township if no location is acceptable within the township. If no other suitable location is available within the town or up to 5 miles outside the town, the town board may use a school as its polling place.
  2. The period to count absentee ballots is extended up to two days after the election, and any corresponding extension needed for canvassing results is also allowed. There is no change to the time allowed for voters to submit an absentee ballot.
  3. Processing of absentee ballots must begin 14 days before the date of the election. Voters who submitted an absentee ballot may not withdraw their absentee ballot and cast a new ballot once processing of absentee ballots begins.
  4. Federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds and Federal Coronavirus Relief Act (CARES Act) funds in the amount of over $17 million was appropriated for election purposes. Secretary of State Steve Simon indicated his intention that most of that funding be released to local governments for their election administration needs.

To maintain local polling places, townships need to have properly trained election judges. All townships are encouraged to help recruit election judges needed for their township and for any other townships that may need help.

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27 May
By: MAT Staff 0

NATaT Coronavirus Update (updated 5/27/2020)

The House is back in session Wednesday with new proxy voting rules in place – a first in American history. The Senate is also in session but is only scheduled to meet in pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Thursday. The House is likely to consider a bill changing the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to extend the time small businesses have to spend government loans from 8 to 24 weeks.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said it is likely Congress will need to pass more stimulus legislation for the US economy and supported extending the PPP loan program timeframe. The outlook for additional relief legislation, including the HEROES Act and the SMART Act, remains uncertain as Republicans are generally in favor of waiting to see the results of relief legislation already enacted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said another relief bill is likely “in a month or so.”

The Trump Administration released a report Sunday on a new national coronavirus testing strategy. The report holds individual states responsible for planning and carrying out all coronavirus testing with some federal assistance. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the Administration report.

 

Capitol Hill. The Congressional Research Service published an overview of FCC-related responses to the COVID-19 pandemic including the Commission’s numerous rules waivers, grants of special temporary authority, and disbursements of CARES Act broadband funds.

Bills and Letters of Interest

S.3778 (Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)) allows the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to waive a requirement that states provide a 20 percent match for the $400 million in election assistance grants included in the CARES Act if circumstances related to the coronavirus prevent them from providing this match.

S.3805 (Sen. Angus King (I-ME)) adjusts PPP rules that have prevented some businesses from fully utilizing the funds to address severe economic impacts of the pandemic, extends loans over a longer period of time, and allows for some flexibility in where the funds can go.

S.3806 (Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS)) requires FEMA to provide a 100 percent cost share for all federal emergency declarations and major disaster declarations during calendar year 2020.

S.3823 (Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)) creates a new formula to ensure the Provider Relief Fund has a dedicated set-aside amount directed towards rural areas of America.

S.3825 (Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)) directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to award grants to establish a Coronavirus Mental Health and Addiction Assistance Network.

S.3827 (Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC)) rebuilds the Strategic National Stockpile and strengthens domestic PPE manufacturing to ensure the U.S. is better prepared for future public health emergencies.

S.3793 (Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)) provides businesses experiencing significant financial hardship as a result of the virus with a refundable tax credit big enough to rehire and pay laid off and furloughed workers up to $90,000 per year, including health care benefits.

H.R.6983 (Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)) creates a federal reinsurance program similar to the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program for pandemic risks in order to promote the availability and affordability of insurance coverage that includes pandemic risks.

H.R.6973 (Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D-IA)) allows small businesses to use funds from PPP loans on personal protective equipment for their employees and eliminates the 75% payroll requirement.

H.R.6968 (Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)) establishes a pilot grant program to deliver healthy meals to children in rural and difficult-to-reach areas who rely on nutritious school-provided meals during the school year.

 

Hearings

There are numerous Congressional hearings taking place this week related to COVID-19, including:

·     May 27, 12pm ET House Ways and Means Committee hearing on “The Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color”

·     May 28, 10am ET House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction—Veterans Affairs hearing on “Department of Veterans Affairs—Response to COVID-19”

·     May 28, 10:15am ET House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections hearing on “Examining the Federal Government’s Actions to Protect Workers from COVID-19”

·     May 29, 1pm ET House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation hearing on “The Status of the U.S. Maritime Supply Chain During the COVID-19 Pandemic”

 

Administration. FEMA released a “Community Mitigation Decision Support Tool” gathering all data from the President’s Guidelines for Opening Up America Again including cases, testing results, and hot spot percentages. The tool provides a large variety of coronavirus related data and an account is required for access.

HHS announced a 45-day deadline extension for providers who are receiving payments from the Provider Relief Fund to accept the “Terms and Conditions” for the payments. This grants providers 90-days from the date they received a payment to accept the Terms and Conditions of the loan or return the funds.

Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the Department will be making up to $1 billion in loan guarantees available to help rural businesses meet their economic needs through the Business & Industry CARES Act Program. Agricultural producers ineligible for Farm Service Agency loans may receive funding under this program.

The FCC is partnering with the Institute of Museum and Library Services to promote the use of the $50 million provided from the CARES Act to address the digital divide highlighted by the pandemic.

The CDC published guidance to help prevent exposures to the coronavirus in institutions and communities of faith as states and localities begin to resume normal operations.

HHS is distributing billions in additional relief funds to skilled nursing facilities to assist nursing homes that have faced significant expenses or lost revenue in order to serve the vulnerable senior population during the pandemic.

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22 May
By: Steve Fenske 0

Guidance from State Fire Marshal on Building Occupant Capacity

As townships return to in-person meetings, they must continue to maintain appropriate social distance among all attendees. Town boards should establish a room occupancy limit that ensures appropriate social distancing can be maintained. While the Open Meeting Law allows the public to attend town meetings, the occupant capacity of any room should be limited for the safety of those inside. Usually the occupancy limit is placed based on fire safety concerns, but the need for social distancing has provided another reason to limit the room occupancy. The State Fire Marshal provides guidance on determining safe occupancy limits, which can be used to determine the capacity a town board should allow in the meeting room during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click Here to down the Fire Marshal’s Guidance on this issue.

The Board of Supervisors may impose a room capacity limit on their meeting space, but it should be based on the actually capacity of the room to accommodate social distancing. Town Boards should continue to have a teleconference line in use for the use of the public and any town officer who does not want to attend the meeting in person, or who may be unable to enter the room because of room capacity limits.

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21 May
By: MAT Staff 0

LTAP Virtual Workshop: Current Practices for Lightly Surfaced Roads

Minnesota has thousands of miles of gravel and dirt-surfaced roads, and most of them are maintained by counties and townships. One method of preserving the surface (for dust control, stabilization, or to maintain grade) is to apply a light surface treatment. A light surface treatment (LST), also known as a bituminous surface treatment, is a thin layer of liquid asphalt covered with a layer of aggregate with a total application that is 1.5 inches thick or less.

Using LSTs is relatively new, and this free virtual workshop will offer information about how to select the right treatment and successfully apply it. Register to join us live via Zoom, or check the LTAP website after the event to watch the recording.

Date & Time

This workshop will be held virtually on June 10, 2020, from 9:00 a.m. to noon. Registration is required to receive the Zoom link.

Registration

  • Register
  • Cost: Free!
  • Registration contact: Katherine Stanley at sell0146@umn.edu or 612-626-1023

Who Should Attend

This training is intended for county engineering staff/design engineers as well as larger townships and counties with gravel roads that are starting to develop higher-than-average daily traffic rates.

Course Instructor

Dan Wegman, P.E., Braun Intertec, has worked with DOTs and local government agencies in several states with pavement rehabilitation and preventive maintenance strategies. As a former MnDOT construction and bituminous engineer, and with over a dozen years working as a private-sector material supplier, Wegman provides technical insight with respect to materials, construction, and implementation.

Credit

To the best of our knowledge, this course/activity meets the continuing education requirements for 3.0 PDHs. For more information, visit the event web page.

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21 May
By: MAT Staff 0

Rural Grant Guide now available

Grants to Support Projects in Rural Areas

This guide identifies potential funding opportunities to support community development, healthcare, broadband and energy, and water and wastewater projects in rural areas. These opportunities prioritize evidence-based, cost-effective programs for many of the most pressing issues that face rural communities. The grants included in this guide are opportunities that are typically reoccurring. Relevant funding opportunities that will not likely be funded were not included in the guide.  For questions about these or other relevant grant opportunities, please contact NATaT Federal Director Jennifer Imo at jimo@tfgnet.com.

The Grant Guide is 75 pages long.  It is broken into three parts for easier downloading:

TFG Rural Grant Guide (pages 1 – 25)

TFG Rural Grant Guide (pages 26 – 50)

TFG Rural Grant Guide (pages 51 – 75)

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20 May
By: MAT Staff 0

Teleconference Call with Gov. Walz and Township Officers Recording

MAT leaders and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz held a teleconference call with township officers on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

Listen to that call now.

 

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14 May
By: MAT Staff 0

COVID-19 and Operating the Township (May, 14th Update)

This article addresses how townships may hold board meetings, operate during the emergency, protections for employees subject to quarantine, and additional information on COVID-19.

On March 13, 2020, Governor Tim Walz declared a public health emergency related to the COVID-19 infectious disease and directed the Minnesota Department of Health to issue guidance on how to prevent and manage the spread of COVID-19. The latest information from MDH can be found here.

Governor Walz later issued Stay at Home orders requiring all Minnesotans to limit movements outside their homes through May 17th, 2020. The limitation to movement outside the home is subject to exceptions described in the Order. The full Executive Order is found here.

On May 18th, Executive Order 20-56 goes into effect, allowing for a slow reopening of the state. This order does not change much for townships in the way they should meet and conduct business. The order still asks that Minnesota Department of Health guideline are followed; these guidelines can be found here. The information below is still pertinent, as the operating a township during COVID-19 still provides certain challenges.

Executive Orders: Currently the governor has enacted three types of Executive Orders with certain dates in place, these are the stay-at-home orders, the peacetime emergency orders, and the recently enact stay-safe Minnesota order. The peacetime emergency order, currently set to expire June 12th at 11:59 p.m., is an order allowed by Minnesota Statutes § 12.31, subdivision 2 allowing the Governor the authority to enact other executive orders.

The stay-at-home order, set to expire May 17th at 11:59 p.m. These orders limited movement for the public outside of their homes. This included work restrictions for non-critical sectors.

The stay-safe Minnesota order, set to begin on May 17th at 11:59 p.m., and is currently set to expires May 31st at 11:59 p.m. This order is similar to the stay-at-home order, where certain gatherings are restricted. However, many businesses may reopen in some capacity, and the town board may conduct in-person meetings, so long as they are following MDH and CDC guidelines, holding in-person meetings will be discussed in more detail below.

Polling Places: Many municipalities have had difficulties with knowing whether their polling place would be available for the upcoming elections. Minnesota Statute § 204B.16 requires that a polling place be designated by December 31st, the year prior to the election. However, the Minnesota Legislature passed a law allowing for, in 2020 only, polling places to be designated by July 1st, 2020, more information on this issue can be found here.

Local government boards may now begin holding in-person meetings with social distancing if they choose to do so. Townships may hold regular board meetings in-person within the framework provided in MDH’s guidelines. Those guidelines require social distancing of at least 6 feet between people. The township may need to reduce the room capacity limit to ensure minimum distance can be maintained. Townships may not prohibit the public from attending a township board meeting.

However, township board are not required to meet in-person. The best-practice is to continue telephone or video meetings during the entire length of the public health emergency in order to prevent any unnecessary public gatherings. They may choose to continue meeting by telephone meetings as described in the Teleconferencing section below.

Township Clerks, Treasurers, and Administrative Staff may be able to Return to Work: Most office workers to return to work under certain circumstances. Office workers may return to work if: (1) the work duties cannot be performed from home; (2) the office area has adequate space for individuals to work while maintaining social distance from any other person;  (3) the township adopts a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. The Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) describes more details about Preparedness Plans here, and has a Sample Preparedness Plan Template in Word and PDF formats here.

Essential Services During Stay at Home: Local government employees and contractors providing services in “Critical Sectors” may continue their work outside their homes, in the same capacity as previously able to, if they are included in the list of Critical Sectors and their work cannot be performed from home.

Critical Sector employees include: (1) law enforcement, public safety, and first responders; (2) water and wastewater workers; (3) transportation workers who support or enable transportation functions, road construction workers, engineers, including maintenance vehicle operators; (4) public works employees described in the Federal Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) guidance here; (5) necessary building management employees; (6) security workers; (7) elections workers, including town clerks and election judges; and (8) data and computer systems management employees. Other Critical Sector employees are described in the Governor’s Executive Order and the CISA guidelines.

Teleconferencing: Because of the Statewide public health emergency and the status of COVID-19 as a pandemic illness, townships may want to use remote meeting options. They may use teleconferencing statute found in the Open Meeting Law to avoid in-person meetings.

Notice of meetings by teleconference should be posted usual. The board must ensure they take excellent minutes of their proceedings and may consider audio recording these meetings. If possible, the township must allow members of the public to join the teleconference.

Minn. Stat. 13D.021 allows a town board to hold a meeting by teleconference if there is a public health pandemic or emergency declared under Minnesota Statutes chapter 12, and the township meets the requirements of the statute. Minn. Stat. §13D.021 allows telephone meetings if:

  1. The township chairperson decides an in-person meeting or interactive television meeting is not practical or prudent because of a health pandemic or an emergency declared under Minnesota Statutes chapter 12;
  2. All township board members participating in the meeting can hear all other participants;
  3. All members of the public at the regular meeting location can hear all discussion and testimony and votes of the town board’s members, unless attendance at the meeting is not feasible because of health pandemic or emergency declaration;
  4. At least one member of the town board is physically present at the regular meeting location, unless unfeasible because of health pandemic or emergency; and
  5. All votes are conducted by roll call so each member’s vote can be identified and recorded.

COVID-19 has been labeled a pandemic illness by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Governor has declared a public health emergency under Minnesota Statutes Chapter 12. As such, township boards may choose to use teleconferencing for their meetings during the public health emergency.

Please refer to MAT’s resource Options for Meeting Remotely, found here.  For information on how to set-up and use a teleconferencing provider, please use this link.

MAT has also provided three options to townships looking to conduct teleconferenced meetings.

  • Option A: This is where townships would learn how to, and conduct the meeting on their own. Some more information on how to set-up a teleconference service can be found in document number: ES3000A.
  • Option B: MAT will create a teleconference line and train officers on how to use the teleconferencing service.
  • Option C: MAT will create and assist in hosting the teleconference for the township.

For more information of each of these options, please see: https://mntownships.org/news/additional-teleconference-meeting-options-for-townships/, or email OptionB@MnTownships.org or OptionC@MnTownships.org regarding the specific option listed in the email. If the township would like to conduct set-up and host the teleconference themselves, under Option A, please see: https://mntownships.org/news/options-for-conducting-a-town-meeting-remotely/, as well as document numbers: ES 3000 and ES 3000A in MAT’s information library.

Employees & Quarantine: Township employees showing signs of illness should stay home to avoid passing COVID-19 to anyone else. The township may not discharge, discipline, threaten, or penalize any employee, or discriminated in the work conditions of the employee because the employee has been in quarantine or has been responsible for the care of a person in quarantine. Minn. Stat. § 144.4196.

Townships may require employees to use any available sick or paid time off during their time of illness or quarantine. The township is not required to pay employees who are unavailable to work and have exhausted their paid leave. However, the town board may choose to offer additional paid leave or other accommodation to those employees. MDH has encouraged employers to be generous, understanding, and flexible in allowing employees to remain home for illness and to care for those who are ill.

Delegate Duties and Authorities: To accommodate fewer meetings and possibly absent supervisors, town boards should: (1) identify the essential operations that must continue each month; (2) delegate authorities and boundaries to individual supervisors, officers, or employees to manage those operations between meetings; (3) to the extent possible, provide individual spending authority to managers up to a certain limit for expenses that cannot wait for a board meeting; (4) establish procedures and permissions for officers and employees to work remotely; (5) consider any extended leave policies and reasonable accommodations that may be needed as employees become ill, are quarantined, or must care for other individuals; and (6) prepare for backup services to be provided by other employees, officers, neighboring townships or governments, or secondary contractors.

Signatures on Checks: Townships may arrange for checks to be signed or send by only one officer if certain processes and protections are followed. Minn. Stat. 367.18 says that claims audited and approved by the town board, and countersigned by the clerk, become a check on the township’s account once signed by the treasurer. Based on this statute, townships usually require the signatures of the chairperson, clerk, and treasurer for a check to be valid. This statute describes one method by which a township check or payment can be issued but it is not the only method of paying claims.

One option is to use electronic funds transfers (EFT), which is allowed by Minn. Stat. 471.38. An EFT does not have three signatures on the check, and instead relies on the town board approving a claim, the chairperson, clerk, and treasurer signing or indicating their approval on the claim form or in the township board minutes. Additional guidance on the use of EFT can be found here: https://www.auditor.state.mn.us/default.aspx?page=20090724.031 .

A second option is for townships to arrange for their checks to be signed by only one officer if: (1) the township board has audited and approved the claim; (2) the clerk has indicated his or her approval that the board took the action indicated; (3) the treasurer indicates there is money available in the township’s account to pay the claims; (4) the board has delegated the authority to issue the check; and (5) each of these elements are document in the township board minutes.

Last, townships should remember that payroll can be processed without a board meeting based on the authority described in Minn. Stat. 471.38, subd. 2, if the employees’ rates of pay have been set in advance.

Closure of Some Township Amenities: Pursuant the Governor’s Executive Orders in place right now, township recreational facilities, senior and youth centers, performance centers, fitness centers, or other recreational facilities are to be closed to the public. The Township Hall or administrative offices may be open to the public to maintain services provided by the township, but MDH’s guidelines should be observed as township’s continue to serve the community.

More Information: Some useful links and information can be found at the following websites:

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

CDC’s Facts About COVID-19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/share-facts.html

Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 Guidance: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html

 

 

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01 May
By: MAT Staff 0

MAT Conference Call recording from 4/30/2020 regarding new changes

The Minnesota Association of Townships hosted a conference call with township officials in regards to the latest loosening of restrictions in the state.  Townships are now able to hold board meetings during the recently expanded Stay-at-Home order.

108 Township Officials participated in the call!

To listen to the conference call, please use this link.

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01 May
By: MAT Staff 0

A Framework for Safely Returning to Work

A framework for safely returning to work

Today, Governor Tim Walz reviewed a framework for evaluating when it is safe to reopen a variety of workplace, social, and educational environments in Minnesota. That framework takes into consideration a number of health, economic, and social factors – and applies them to a variety of settings that have varying levels of predictability and size considerations.

As part of that framework, he issued Executive Order 20-40, which provides a limited first step in the process of safely returning to work, beginning only with workers at non-Critical Sector industrial, manufacturing and office-based businesses that are non-customer facing.

There are 2.6 million Minnesotans working right now. EO 20-40, developed in consultation with thousands of business leaders, labor leaders, and public health experts, will allow around 20,000 businesses and roughly 80,000 – 100,000 workers to go back to work beginning on Monday, April 27.

In order to reopen, EO 20-40 requires these business to do three things:

  1. Create and share with their employees a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan that explains the actions they are taking to ensure social distancing and keep workers safe. The Department of Labor and Industry has created a template plan, which is optional for businesses to use as a starting point.
  2. Engage in health screening of employees each day at arrival
  3. Continue to use telework whenever possible

DEED will also be hosting two webinars on EO 20-40 with presenters who will talk through the process of returning workers in industrial and office-based business back to work. Join the conversation here at the following dates and times:

  • Thursday, April 23 from 4 – 5:00 p.m.
  • Friday, April 24 from 11:30am – 12:30 p.m.

For now, the Stay at Home order remains in place until May 18, and we should all continue to limit travel to essential needs only. We have made progress on slowing the spread of COVID-19, and we need to continue to practice social distancing to save lives.

We are continuing to listen to feedback from businesses and workers about how to implement social distancing practices in their workplaces – and if you have ideas, we encourage you to submit them here.

For more information about EO 20-40, including what it means for businesses and workers and a number of FAQs and additional information, please visit https://mn.gov/deed/newscenter/covid/safework/. We’ll continue to update that site with content and information you need to know.

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15 Apr
By: MAT Staff 0

Current and Former Frontier Customers May be Eligible for Rebates or Bill Credits – Apply Before July 20 Deadline!

Current and former customers of Frontier Communications may be eligible for rebates or bill credits for past service quality and reliability problems.  Act fast and find out more today at https://frontier.com/forms/minnesota-bill-credit, because the settlement claim period lasts 90-days beginning on April 13, 2020 and ending July 20, 2020.

Thousands of Minnesotans across the state may be entitled to rebates or bill credits from this settlement.   Phone being out of service, problems getting timely repair, failure to cancel service, incorrect billing are just some examples of issues that may make you eligible for a rebate or bill credit.  Applications are due by July 20. Applications for refund or bill credit have been mailed to Frontier customers and are also available online at https://frontier.com/forms/minnesota-bill-credit

If you have questions about how fill out the form, contact Frontier Customer Service at 1-877-414-4777 or the Minnesota PUC at 1-800-657-3782 or locally at 651-296-0406.

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