By Emily Bialkowski
The Houston County Board of Commissioners continues to address the future of the airport and selected a consultant at their Feb. 12 meeting in an effort to maintain federal funding streams.
County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski explained that federal funding sources are directly tied to the county selecting a consultant.
A contract the county had with Mead & Hunt expired Aug. 9, 2009, and was extended until Dec. 31, 2011. The FAA and MnDOT Aeronautics recognized that the previous contract had expired and told the county that it needs to go through the consultant selection process again and enter into a new agreement with a term up to five years.
Pogodzinski recommended that Mead & Hunt continue to be used for administrative work.
Oddly, the county must first select a consultant and then negotiate rates, according to state policy.
“At this point I don’t really know what the fees are going to be,” Pogodzinski admitted, and added that based on the proposed overlay project for the airport runway and based on the past projects at the airport, he felt Mead & Hunt would be a good choice.
That said, he also admitted to being privy to some complaints about Mead & Hunt’s reputation, which Commissioner Steve Schuldt echoed.
“Two residents said they did not care for Mead & Hunt, but they didn’t point out a specific reason why,” Schuldt said.
Schuldt also said he wants to see the airport commission get reinstated in light of the upcoming project.
The county engineer agreed, and the item will likely be addressed in the future.
The board agreed to select Mead & Hunt unanimously.
Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger brought forth a recommendation from the personnel committee to change the status of interim Human Services Director Linda Bahr to permanent, effective immediately.
This action follows one of two recommendations presented by a consultant at the Jan. 30 board meeting. At that time Dave Unmacht of Springsted Inc. recommended the county either make Bahr permanent or hire a qualified, outside director. The department has been struggling with leadership changes and departmental divides, Unmacht said.
The board minced words for a short time over Bahr’s probationary period and decided to maintain up to a one-year probationary period.
“You can’t judge Linda on what went on over the last year,” Commissioner Judy Storlie said.
The board unanimously agreed with the recommendation.
In a similar matter, Arrick-Kruger presented a proposal to restructure the supervisory lines of the child support division of the human services department to gain greater efficiencies.
She recommended that Karen Kohlmeyer be named supervisor of the child support division, effective March 1. Currently child support workers report to the human services director.
The item passed, but human services issues are far from resolved.
Department morale – and what to do about it – is a topic set to be addressed at the Feb. 19 board meeting.
In continuation of discussion that started at the Feb. 5 county board meeting, Commissioner Judy Storlie presented a comparison chart of what commissioners in other counties make. Storlie was advocating for more flexibility in per diem pay after action in January limited such pay to committee assignments. The comparison chart showed commissioner pay in:
Freeborn County - $22,450 per year with no per diems
Winona County - $21,000 per year with no per diems
Fillmore County - $20,000 per year and a $40/day per diem for county business
Wabasha County - $45 per diem
Dodge County - $60 per diem
Houston County – $18,687 per year; $40 per diem for committee meetings; $65 per diem for out-of-county meetings; and $100 per diem for plan commission meetings
Storlie had two suggestions, including bringing back flexibility in claiming per diems and looking at going to strictly salary in 2014. The board unanimously approved adding flexibility in per diem pay. They also agreed to revisit the salary concept next year.
County commissioners, in addition to their salary and per diem stipends, receive mileage, health insurance and retirement benefits.
In other business the board discussed:
• Fiscal housekeeping matters with Finance Director Carol Lapham, who brought forth a letter of acknowledgement for the state auditor’s office as part of the county’s annual audit. The 2012 audit cost taxpayers about $57,000, which represents a savings over year prior. “We’re getting in tune with the state’s expectations thereby saving time and money,” Lapham said.
• A solid waste delivery agreement with Two Guys and a Dumpster. The county requires such haulers to be licensed and sign a long-term agreement that requires the firm to take Houston County’s material to La Crosse.
• A letter from the Department of Natural Resources stating that the DNR intends to purchase land from Larry and Patricia Van Gundy for state forest purposes. The property adjoins the Money Creek Forestry Unit near Hwy. 16.
• And finally, a $2,500 radio replacement from the county engineer, who said he is hoping purchasing just one radio will suffice as opposed to two.