By Emily Bialkowski
State Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, and Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, updated the Houston County Board Aug. 27 on flood relief assistance while also entertaining the county’s request for bond money to renovate the historic courthouse building.
The two took a tour of the facility before the meeting. The county has requested a 2014 capital appropriation of $500,000 from the state to fix significant deficiencies in the structure, including the roof, entrance steps, HVAC system, fire alarm system, windows and doors and exterior walls.
The politicians agreed to fully support the request but warned that many other projects have stood in line longer.
“We appreciated the opportunity to see the building. We’ll do what we can to advocate on behalf of Houston County, but the request for the courthouse is going to be a challenge,” Miller said, adding, “It’s not a quick process as many of you know, and we’re just trying to be realistic.”
Davids echoed the sentiment and said there are requests that have been waiting for funding for upwards of seven years. “That said, we will carry it forward with all the effort we can give it,” Davids said.
On the positive side, the county has been awarded a $10,000 grant to pay for a re-use study on the empty historic jail.
Those dollars came from the state’s Legacy Grant program, and Davids and Miller were optimistic legacy dollars could be awarded to the courthouse, though not in the $500,000 range.
The two were also optimistic about Houston County’s ability to get federal and state disaster funding to offset expenses incurred from the June flash floods. About $6 million is expected to make its way to Houston County.
Davids lauded Houston County’s response to the flood, saying it was a textbook example of how to work cooperatively and efficiently, to which the board credited emergency services and the highway department.
A somewhat momentous decision about committee assignments and employee evaluations was made by the County Board after Commissioner Steve Schuldt asked a simple question about an upcoming public hearing.
Schuldt wanted to know what the procedure will be – and when a decision will be made – after the county attains public input on Sept. 30 regarding term limits for Planning and Zoning commissioners.
Schuldt said he didn’t want to see every single Plan Commission member suddenly kicked off and the county left with no experienced decision makers.
“My concern is we may shoot ourselves in the foot by immediately going to term limits,” Schuldt said.
The county has received numerous requests to implement term limits on the commission because many of the members have held a seat for decades.
But Commissioner Judy Storlie said she thought part of the problem lies in that committee assignments are made by the new County Board members in January just as newly elected officials are getting their feet wet. She recalled not having enough knowledge at the time to make a good decision and also bemoaned having to evaluate employees she didn’t even know.
“When you come to that first meeting, you might make a poor decision,” Storlie said.
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski echoed the sentiment saying the practice was “stupid.”
Storlie said she thought committee assignments should take place in December as well as employee evaluations.
The concept was greeted warmly, and the board agreed to make the switch to December evaluations and committee assignments.
Zmyewski further added that part of the Plan Commission’s problem might be linked to the old practice.
“I don’t think it was done intentionally, but if you don’t have something set in place (like term limits) it’s easy to just continue,” he said.
Storlie agreed and said, “Maybe part of the problem was with the board who kept renewing and renewing old members.”
The new system will be tested this December, while the term limit public hearing will still take place Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the courthouse.
Board members addressed several other items during the meeting.
• They agreed to lower the sale price of a tax forfeited property at 505 S. Sherman, Houston, from $11,000 to $6,000. County Auditor Char Meiners said the higher asking price seemed to deter buyers, as no bids were received. The county will open the property up to auction again at 10 a.m. Sept. 30 with the new base price.
• The Army Corps of Engineers has asked permission to haul 250 tons of riprap through Wildcat Park to an island on the Mississippi in Raft Channel below Brownsville. The board asked County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski to draft language stating that the corps will be responsible for any damage created by the delivery of rock.
• In a semi-related matter, the board approved final payment to Milestone Materials for aggregate used on County Road 32 in the amount of $207.
• The board also approved spending roughly $31,300 to repair dangerous dips in the road on County Highway 3. “It will become a safety concern if it’s not addressed,” Pogodzinski said, adding that the repair is budgeted.
• The board entertained preliminary budget requests from the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District as well as the Environmental Services Department. The two entities join a long line of departments introducing 2014 numbers to the County Board.
The board will set a preliminary levy in early September, which is most often pared down by November.