By Emily Bialkowski
A new year and few new faces greeted the Houston County Board Jan. 8 when they met to cover a variety of yearly housekeeping matters.
This first gathering of 2013 is set aside to pick a chair and vice chair, realign committee assignments, set schedules and take care of other county matters.
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski was selected as the board’s chair, and Teresa Walter will hold the vice chair seat. With that, the board dove into the agenda.
The county’s list of committee assignments is literally 31 pages long. The board pretty much swept through the document quickly and adjusted for the loss of former commissioners Jack Miller and Tom Bjerke. A few residents were reappointed to various terms, and three committees were disbanded, including the committee to explore combining soil & water with environmental services, county wide policing committee and the Lawrence Lake Marina no wake zone committee.
One committee was left on the table for future consideration – the plan commission.
Zmyewski said he was concerned about re-appointing Terry Rosendahl to another three-year term because he does not believe Rosendahl acts in the best interest of all constituents.
Zmyewski said, “He has been insubordinate and not easy to work with. There’s a lot of back talk and unprofessional conduct.”
Zmyewski recommends that a county commissioner replace the citizen member because decisions made at the plan commission often have far reaching consequences, he said.
Concern over committee’s bylaws, and whether they allow such changes, was expressed, so the board tabled the item.
La Crescent request
Due to increased landfill, fuel and other costs, the county board voted in November to increase the per household solid waste fee from $2.50 to $3. The city of La Crescent currently collects this fee on utility bills and remits the dollars to the county on a quarterly basis.
La Crescent City Administrator Bill Waller sent a letter to the board requesting the county take over collecting the fee.
The letter states, “Please be advised that the city of La Crescent City Council has indicated that, effective Dec. 31, 2013, the city of La Crescent will no longer collect this fee.”
Environmental Services Director Rick Frank said the program started in the early 1990s to avoid illegal dumping. “My complaints about illegal dumping are practically nil and it used to be an ongoing problem,” Frank said.
County Finance Director Carol Lapham said the county would need to invest $5,000 to $10,000 to upgrade their software to add a solid waste charge on taxes. She said she didn’t feel it would be a good investment at this time, and mentioned that it would also add work for employees.
The board agreed that now would not be a good time for such a change and agreed to send a delegation to La Crescent to find out more about the request.
County Auditor Char Meiners asked the board to formally approve 2013 appropriations so that she may pay them out upon request. The items have already been set in the 2013 budget. Please see “2013 Houston County Appropriations” chart.
Commissioner per diem
The board approved a commissioner per diem rate of $40 for in-county meetings; $65 for out-of-county meetings; and $100 for plan commission meetings. This is in addition to the board’s yearly salary of $18,687. Meetings that fall on Tuesdays will not qualify for the per diem unless they are out-of-county.
Conflicting opinions over the highway department’s need for a new maintenance truck were expressed after County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski and Maintenance Supervisor Tom Molling requested $34,000 for a new vehicle.
The current truck is about nine years old and has roughly 109,000 miles on it. Despite the truck’s decent condition, the highway department says the vehicle is inadequate and unsafe.
“To be honest it’s still a good truck but it is just too light of a truck,” Molling said, adding that the truck is over weighted and the brakes aren’t capable of handling the load.
Zmyewski argued, however, that the county’s budget, or lack thereof, must be considered on all purchases.
“We took $300,000 out of general fund last year and $200,000 this year; I’m going to be very much against purchasing anything this year,” Zmyewski said.
Other commissioners said they felt differently. “I don’t like spending the money either but I don’t like letting things go,” Commissioner Steve Schuldt said.
“My feeling is it looks like a really good deal for us at this time. I don’t think we can fix our truck up to handle the same issues,” Walter said.
Resident Chuck Schulte urged the board to consider whether this was a want or a need, but the majority ruled in favor of the purchase.
The county agreed to accept sealed bids on the old truck to help offset the expense.
The county received a letter from Attorney Jay Squires indicating his move away from his old firm and the start of a new firm, of which he is a partner.
Frank suggested the county retain Squires’ services and asked the board’s permission to complete a File Transfer Request. This action gives Squires access to all documentation pertaining to county business from his old firm.
Frank strongly recommended approval, saying, “He’s a very sharp land-use attorney. He’s very good at what he does.”
Squires has intimate knowledge of land-related lawsuits against the county, in addition to the county’s work on frac sand mine regulations.
“We want to continue the continuity we have,” Frank said.
The board gave a unanimous nod on the File Transfer Request.
In final business, the Houston County Board approved the following human resources requests:
• Hiring Wylie Steele as a 67-day seasonal maintenance specialist at $17.88 per hour.
• Approved the change of employment status from probationary to regular for Wendi Ruesgen as a children’s mental health social worker and Heather Fee as a child protection worker. This means these two individuals have met all performance expectations.
• Approved a $50 mobile computing device stipend each month for the human resource director.