By Emily Bialkowski
County facilities continue to draw the attention of the Houston County Board. Both the historical jail and highway department shop were discussed May 14.
The board unanimously agreed to enter into a contract for $3,500 with Robert Vogel from Pathfinder Cultural Resource Management to “Develop a preservation plan for the historic jail property that would provide the basis for future grant-financed studies.”
This represents what Vogel described as the “initial step” toward a sustained effort to find a compatible use for the jail building that requires minimal alternation of its architectural features.
The plan will allow the county to apply for grants to fund additional research moving forward.
Vogel said, “If you authorize the preservation plan, I can have results in time for the county to apply for the legacy grants.”
He said if the county decided to sit back a little longer, they would have to wait a biennium (two-year state budget cycle) to apply for any grants.
“If you don’t que up, you wait another two years,” Vogel said.
Commissioner Teresa Walter supported the proposal and said, “I think we need to proceed.”
The board gave the project a nod, and Vogel said he’d be back the first part of June with his report.
Future studies are likely, but this sets in motion the ability to have those studies paid for.
Numbers are not yet in on OSHA-regulated improvements that need to take place at the county highway shop in Caledonia, and the board is growing anxious over the structure’s future.
“I think we need to get going on this. I hate wasting money that’s going nowhere with a repair here and there,” Commissioner Judy Storlie said after Commissioner Steve Schuldt said repair costs were not yet available.
“It’s going to take a little more time,” Schuldt said.
“I think we need cost analysis done and options. We are spending a little bit here and there,” Walter said.
Schuldt said the best thing the board could do was give the county engineer, Brian Pogodzinski, some direction on the matter.
The idea of building a new facility or retrofitting the existing building for today’s needs have been tossed around. A presentation was also heard in mid-April over the cost of building new, but no concrete action as been taken.
The board agreed to have Pogodzinski prepare options for the board’s review.
Storlie further pushed the issue by asking about bonding, since rates are at an all time low.
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said he would not be in favor of bonding for a project and said $600,000 has been set aside to develop a solution.
The issue will undoubtedly be back on the agenda at future meetings.
In other news
The board also entertained several brief but nonetheless important matters.
• The board approved the resignation of Gary Bolstad, engineer supervisor and county highway department employee, effective Aug. 1. Bolstad came on board in 2009 and was paramount in helping the county recover from flood problems sustained in 2008.
“He will be dearly missed, and we’ve been fortunate to have him around,” Pogodzinski said.
In similar action the board approved posting Bolstad’s position with a hire date on or before July 22.
“We’d like to have that person work with Gary before he’s gone. We need that consistency and hand off on current projects from the incumbent,” Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger said.
• The board also approved a change in employment status from probationary to regular for Chelsea Senn, social worker, effective June 5.
“She’s doing a wonderful job, and we’re really glad to have her on board,” said Linda Bahr, director of Human Services.
• Resident Marilyn Frauenkron Bayer asked the board to take a look at the potential long-term effects of frac sand mining before passing any ordinances regulating the industry during the public comment portion of the meeting. The topic continues to draw a lot of attention, mostly during that portion of the meeting.
Frauenkron Bayer said her great-great-grandfather moved to the area after the Civil War, and her lineage has maintained ties with the land ever since.
“We do not want what has happened in western Wisconsin, without proper regulations of the frac sand industry, to happen here in Houston County,” she said.
Zmyewski said the board is currently awaiting word from land-use attorney Jay Squires before proceeding forward. He is not expected to have information until June.
• Finally, county Finance Director Carol Lapham updated the board on this year’s budget with “no surprises.”
She said the board will want to look at the jail’s budget and Public Health budget in relation to salaries in the coming weeks to make sure “things are lining up.”