County board tackles a variety of topics

By Emily Bialkowski
Caledonia Argus

From phased retirements to funding the psychological evaluation of an inmate, the Houston County Board took action on a variety of topics at their Oct. 9 regular board meeting.


Psychological evaluation

In follow-up to a request for $1,250 to pay for the psychological evaluation of an individual serving time for a 2009 conviction for criminal sexual conduct, County Attorney Jamie Hammell said her department can scrape up $750 from the “other professional and technical fees” line item in her budget but needs the remaining amount from elsewhere.

This individual was also arrested on a 2010 sexual assault that occurred in La Crosse County and is scheduled for release soon. The evaluation will determine if he is a danger to society.

This is the first of such cases in Houston County in at least five years, so the expense has not been budgeted.

“At this point I’m asking for the difference with the understanding we’re going to need to address this before the budgets are set. Perhaps we could look at funding once a year,” Hammell said.

Commissioner Tom Bjerke asked what would happen if the county did not fund the evaluation.

Hammell said her office could attempt to do it themselves, though they are not necessarily qualified or staffed to do so, and that ultimately he could be let go without proper assessment.

“This person would be cut loose,” she said.

“If Jamie (Hammell) says it’s a public safety thing we need to consider that,” Commissioner Teresa Walter said likening it to an inmate that needs medical attention at the cost of the county.

“We’d be concerned about that – absolutely,” Hammell added.

The board agreed to designate $500 toward the psychological evaluation of this individual.


Veterans service funding

The board approved a $2,800 state grant for the veterans service office to help offset expenses related to operational improvements.

Houston County Veterans Office Director Rob Gross said the money, as stipulated in the grant, is typically used for software or related technology upgrades.

He said he would like to see the office’s seven-year-old laptop replaced. The board unanimously approved the grant.


Phased retirement

Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger and Public Health Director Deb Rock requested the board approve the phased retirement of county nurse Mary Thompson.

The option allows employees to draw from retirement funds while working part time.

In this instance, the health department recommended having Thompson work 12 hours per week at a cost of approximately $14,000 per year as opposed to $62,000 per year for her full-time wages.

“It is a cost benefit and we retain institutional knowledge,” Arrick-Kruger said.

Rock said she supported the idea 100 percent. “I value her. I value her experience,” she said, adding that it will allow her department time to train other employees for when Thompson does decide to fully retire.

Thompson has been with the county since 2005 and has 40 years of nursing experience.

“I think it’s a good thing to use her expertise and save the county money in the long run,” Walter said.

With that, the board approved the request.


Human services

For many months the human services department has been on the county board agenda to provide updates on a state-mandated effort to research sharing services with neighboring counties. The purpose was to see if there was an opportunity to cut costs.

Many of the 12 counties surrounding Houston County have bowed out, and the board is now considering creating its own partnership with willing neighbors.

In that light, the board agreed to take the item off the agenda and place discussion at the committee level in the spirit of efficiency.


Closed session

The board entered into a half hour closed session to discuss threatened litigation against the county. Hammell said there is no suit filed at this point, but a demand letter has been received. There was no action on the matter upon returning in to open session.

Contact Emily Bialkowski at