By Emily Bialkowski
It was a mixed bag for the Houston County Board Feb. 19, though spending needs seemed to dominate – and dampen – discussion.
Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger brought forth a proposal to increase a .5 network technician position to full-time. The added cost to the county is about $24,400 over the course of a year, and it has not been budgeted for.
Almost simultaneously, the board accepted the resignation of Economic Development Coordinator Jordan Wilms whose annual salary is $52,000 without benefits. Wilms is relocating to Germany and held his position with the county for four years. His resignation is effective April 5.
“This is bittersweet for the county,” Arrick Kruger said. “We’re looking to cover our cost internally. There is a one-time salary savings from the economic development resignation on a temporary basis,” Arrick-Kruger said.
IT Director Andy Milde further explained: “As you know there are projects coming down the pipe, and there is a need for a lot of extra manpower. Jordan was instrumental in getting the new website up, and now we’ll take that back completely. We just need the manpower.”
Commissioner Teresa Walter said the request was not unexpected. “We’ve been talking about this quite awhile. Maybe with Jordan leaving this may be our opportunity to shift,” she said.
The board accepted the proposal as presented.
Another unbudgeted item presented itself from the desks of the county auditor, finance director, county treasurer and assessor. The Minnesota Counties Computer Coop (MCCC) has been in negotiations with Xerox to develop a property tax system utilizing Windows-based technology to enhance and simplify the tax system. MCCC, of which Houston County is a member, has presented a proposal in which the county pays $126,262 over the course of three years to update its system.
The county doesn’t actually have much choice in the matter. If it doesn’t participate in the upgrade it will have to pay an outside programmer.
“We don’t have a lot to say because the state is constantly changing and we need a property tax system. Personally, I wish the Department of Revenue would pay for the software. If the state was paying to update the program they wouldn’t make so many changes,” County Auditor Char Meiners said.
Finance Director Carol Lapham said she can try and massage money out of some other departments’ technology funds and that she’ll get back to the board with more details as soon as possible. She warned, however, that it would be in the county’s best interest to fall in line with this by next week to take advantage of all discounts.
The buck didn’t stop with the tax system. The IT department requested about $60,000 worth of licensing fees, hardware and software upgrades. The item was budgeted for and drew little discourse.
Switching topics, the board entertained a request from the Economic Development Authority (EDA) to approve three loans, including:
• Spring Grove Soda – $30,000 for replacement of their bottling equipment. The county’s portion is 14 percent of the project cost and creates two full time positions.
• Camp Winnebago – $30,000 for working capital to restart and expand camp programming. The county’s portion is 38 percent of the project cost and helps retain two full time and one part time position.
• Root River Market – $5,300 for equipment and renovation to add an in-house bakery at the Root River Market. The county’s loan is 50 percent of the project cost and retains four full time and 17 part time positions.
The recommendation was warmly greeted and passed unanimously.
In a separate matter, the EDA recommended the removal of the tax abatement for K-Properties, which was signed in 2008. The CDA reports that K-Properties has been out of compliance on their reporting and have notified the board that they do not intend to regain compliance. The property in question lies next to Subway in Caledonia and received the board’s approval.
Resident Chuck Schulte spoke to the board and expressed concern over the fact that the board does not have a section on their agenda for public comment. “I would like that added to the agenda,” he said. “The reason I feel this is very important is because without it, I’m not sure how the citizenry of the county gets to visit with you. I feel this is the right of citizenry and privilege of the board.”
The board is attempting, under the guidance of new County Board Chair Justin Zmyewski, to better accommodate all interests in county government while maintaining order. “We’ve been planning on this for some time – to conduct more thorough meetings and in a better matter,” Zmyewski told Schulte.
Commissioner Steve Schuldt said he thought it was a good idea as well, and the board gave Schulte assurances that the item will be addressed during a policy meeting scheduled later that day.