Truck plows hole in budget
By Emily Bialkowski
As the Houston County Board attempts to trim $200,000 from the 2013 budget to offset the need to tap into the general fund, expensive problems keep popping up.
On March 12 County Engineer Brain Pogodzinski said the county’s chloride/water/brine truck is no longer certified to be on the roadway, per DOT inspection. The truck is more than two decades old and simply can’t be patched up anymore, Pogodzinski said.
Simultaneously, one of the 2001 plow trucks needs the plow and box repaired or replaced prior to next fall. Based on MnDOT state bid prices, Pogodzinski said a new plow costs $9,405 and a new box runs about $25,897 not including hoses or labor.
“In this last round of budgets I proposed to purchase a new plow truck and that was cut,” the engineer said. “At this point instead of keeping a 2001 truck going, I propose to buy a new plow truck and convert the existing plow truck into a chloride truck.”
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski asked if the highway department has thought outside the box at all in terms of getting something used or revamping a piece of equipment in another way.
“The equipment’s aging and our supply costs have just skyrocketed. In 2005 we spent $99,000 on parts; last year we spent $250,000,” Pogodzinski said. “You keep putting money into old equipment to save money and you keep pushing your fleet that much older. We’re getting a lot of these trucks up there at 12 to 15 years old. At some point we need to start getting new trucks back on the road.”
Commissioner Steve Schuldt agreed with the sentiment, saying, “You’re better to have a program of rotation. If you stay in the cycle of cash outlay and maintain a good fleet, I think you’re better off.”
Pogodzinski said he combed the budget with the county finance director and found some unreserved fund balance. “My recommendation is to go into fund balance,” he said, adding that his department has under spent for the last four years.
The board unanimously agreed to purchase a new plow truck at an estimated $220,000 and convert the 2001 truck into a chloride truck.
In other county business, two parties stepped up to speak during the public comment portion of the board meeting.
First, Robin Danielson of Money Creek Township asked the county board to consider the fact that golf carts in county highways are a public safety issue.
In September 2012 the board was asked to open up a quarter-mile portion of County Hwy. 26 to golf cart traffic. The topic took several months to research, and by early December the board voted against the proposal citing safety issues as a factor in their decision.
At the Feb. 5 county board meeting the topic came back for more discussion when Money Creek Haven Campground representative Wayne Fitting said he didn’t feel the campground received proper representation on the matter.
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said he could see where the request might have been misinterpreted. He suggested Fitting go back and write up an exact proposal so the topic can be reviewed again.
Danielson wanted to remind the board that the proposal is a public safety concern per the county engineer.
Second, Kelley Stanage requested that plan commission agendas, meeting minutes and contact information be posted on the county’s website, www.co.houston.mn.us.
“The more open and transparent you can be as a county, the more open you can be about decision making processes, the more the public will trust the decision making processes,” Stanage said.
Commissioner Teresa Walter said she didn’t see how it could hurt any to publish such information, and the county auditor took notes to address the request.
• The board unanimously appointed Elizabeth Johnson to the extension committee as a youth representative.
• The board unanimously supported two fundraising requests from Ability Building Center for lawful gambling for events scheduled to be held in May at Ma Cal Grove and in August at Wildcat Park.
• The board unanimously approved multiple budget amendments as presented by County Finance Director Carol Lapham.
“Really I’m just requesting budget amendments to accurately reflect what’s happening – what the board’s approved what the board hasn’t approved,” Lapham said, indicating the changes were for record keeping purposes.
• The board entertained an update from Semcac Director Wayne Stenberg, who thanked Houston County for its annual appropriaition of $4,000.
Semcac serves Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Houston, Mower, Winona and Steele Counties with limited services in Olmsted, Goodhue, Rice and Wabasha Counties.
Semcac’s mission is to “assist people to achieve or maintain independence and self-reliance through their own and community resources.”
In Houston County, Semcac offers senior nutrition, senior and caregiver advocacy, retired and senior volunteer programs, weatherization and housing services, outreach and emergency services (Food Shelf), Head Start, transportation assistance, energy assistance and family planning.
Stenberg said the federal government’s sequester will effect his funding streams, though details on that were not readily available.