By Emily Bialkowski
Two key county employees have tendered their resignations, both of which were accepted by the Houston County Board on Oct. 8. Deb Rock, director of Public Health, and Gary Bubbers, lead jailer, have given notice of their intended departures.
Bubbers’ last day will be Dec. 28, and the board agreed that an internal search for another lead jailer would offer the opportunity for someone to be promoted. Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger said Bubbers will be sorely missed, a sentiment echoed by Commissioner Steve Schuldt.
“He is a great guy,” Schuldt said.
Similar sentiments were shared about Rock, who, in addition to managing, made a very strong push to publicize the activites of the Public Health Department.
Commissioner Judy Storlie said she’d accept the resignation “with regret.” Rock’s last day will be Nov. 1.
In other personnel matters, closed-session discussion on allegations of employee misconduct topped the 2 1/2 hour mark Oct. 8. More than an hour of closed session discussion took place on the same topic Sept. 24. Despite the length of time, no decision has been made on the matter in open session.
The county also spent some time reviewing the budget to make sure each department is on target for 2013.
Finance Director Carol Lapham said everything looks typical for this time of year with the exception of the Public Health Department, which has spent approximately 132 percent of its budget when only 75 percent of the year is complete. In that light, the director of the department will be called into a future County Board meeting to explain the disparity.
Another item of note is the medical budget for jail inmates. Budgeted for inmate medical expenses in 2013 was $25,000, but $54,000 has been needed thus far. The unpredictable expense is difficult to control.
“Every county is really hurting on that,” Commissioner Teresa Walter said.
Efforts continue to be made to see if any of the expense can be subsidized by Medical Assistance.
In a separate matter, Lapham also mentioned that the county’s financial advisor from Ehlers and Associates will be in town Oct. 29 to discuss the county’s current bonding situation and offer insight on any future bonding needs. The board agreed to meet with him at 9 a.m.
Finally, this County Board has kept a sharp eye on its own budget and can boast a trend toward the conservative. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, the County Board exceeded its per diem budget. This year, however, the trend seems to be moving in the opposite direction. See chart for details.
County Board members receive a regular salary and benefits and are paid per diem stipends for any extra meetings they attend outside of their committee assignments.
A decision on imposing term limits for County Planning and Zoning Commissioners has yet to be reached. The topic will likely be considered Oct. 15.
County land lease
Twenty-two acres of county-owned land is up for lease again. The land is just south of State Highway 76 and north of Caledonia Area High School. The land had originally been purchased to construct a new Highway Department shop, though that scenario is looking less and less likely.
The lease allows producers to grow crops on the land for three years, though the county retains an “out” just in case it wants to sell the land, for example.
A competitive auction will be held on Nov. 2 at the Houston County Highway Shop at 10 a.m. for another three-year lease.
While discussing the matter, Commissioner Steve Schuldt said, “Right now I don’t see a good point in selling it. I think we try and keep it as farmer friendly as we can.”
Frac sand help
The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board has reached out to counties, townships and city officials with correspondence indicating its progress on developing programs to help local units of government grapple with issues related to silica sand mines.
Part of the EQB’s work includes developing a technical assistance team, creating a library of local government ordinances related to silica sand projects, developing model standards and criteria for mining, processing and transporting silica sand, amending the environmental review rules for silica sand mining and other objectives as directed by the state.
Three meetings have been scheduled by the EQB to gather input from interested citizens, local units of government and industry representatives. The meetings are set for:
• Oct. 25 at the Blue Earth County Library, Mankato, from 2-4 p.m.
• Oct. 29 at the St. Charles Community Center, St. Charles, from 9-11 a.m.
• Oct. 29 at Wabasha-Kellogg High School, Wabasha, from 1-3 p.m.
Environmental Services Director Rick Frank said he plans to attend one of the sessions and asked if other board members wanted to go.
The response was favorable with several commissioners saying they will check their calendars and try to attend one of the sessions.
Wildcat improvement effort
The board voted in favor of giving the Economic Development Authority permission to pursue a Department of Natural Resources Park Legacy grant to help fund improvements at Wildcat Park in Brownsville.