By Emily Bialkowski
It was relatively quick work for the Houston County Board Jan. 21 when only a few items were presented for consideration.
Building up the most momentum was a decision on naming a new Planning Commission member. Months of talk, research and a public hearing came to fruition Oct. 29, 2013, when the County Board decided to impose term limits on Planning Commission seats. The new limit went into effect Dec. 31, 2013, and opened up the seat formerly held by Bruce Lee.
Six residents stepped up and applied to take the position, and all were interviewed. They included: Kent Holen, Wayne Feldmeier, John Beckman, Franklin Hahn, Rich Schild and Arlin “Pete” Peterson.
On Monday the board selected Schild for the position.
“They were all good candidates,” Commissioner Steve Schuldt said having sat in on the interviews.
“It was difficult, especially when you have several qualified candidates, but we had a good process and it was equal opportunity,” Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger added.
Schild was selected 4-1 with Commissioner Justin Zmyewski abstaining.
“I know some of these candidates personally,” Zmyewski said of his decision to abstain.
Schild will serve through Dec. 31, 2016.
In a related matter, the County Board said it wishes to offer Peterson the alternate seat on the Board of Adjustments. His decision on the offer is still being sought.
From the Human Resources desk came a notice of intent to retire from Gayle Stortz, effective July 31. Stortz has served Houston County for 34 years as a social worker. The board accepted her resignation.
The board also approved initiating a search to replace an outgoing public health nurse, also lost to retirement.
The Public Health Department had initially held off on requesting a replacement to make sure the position was vitally important to operations.
“They looked at all their numbers and did their due diligence and determined the position is necessary. They are really over their heads right now treading water, but I appreciate the fact that they really looked and looked before jumping ahead,” Arrick-Kruger said.
Finally, the board agreed to move Michael Rasmussen, part-time jailer and dispatcher, and John Dollar, custodian and systems technician, off probationary employment status to regular.
Human Services update
Managers from the Human Services Department presented their monthly update to the entire board under a new format that eliminates the same presentation at the committee level.
Human Services Director Linda Bahr introduced an intern from Viterbo that will help the department until May. Bahr said such internships are mutually beneficial as they give the intern experience while alleviating some of the department’s workload.
“They help us an awful lot, and they learn a lot, too,” Bahr said.
Bahr also asked for the board’s permission to write off $69,815 in bad debt. Each instance of debt has met certain criteria for write off, Bahr said.
“A lot of it is that the client has moved and we have no forwarding address, or someone has died or it is less than $100 and we haven’t received a response in years,” she said.
Although a significant sum, Bahr said the number has remained steady for over three years thanks to a diligent accounting staff.
“I will say that balance has maintained itself and not grown,” Bahr said.
The request received unanimous support, as did three annual contracts, including: the CREST Initiative Cooperative Agreement; the Semcac contract; and the Delegation of Licensing Function contract extension.
On the social services side of the department, Tim Hunter was pleased to report that a consortium of counties, including Houston County, has received a $130,000 grant from the state to set up a crisis program in the region for when the Human Services Offices are closed. The grant will pave the way for a crisis line for people to call between 4-11 p.m. and on weekends and holidays. The crisis line is expected to launch this summer.
Schuldt questioned how often the department receives requests for such help, and Hunter said several times each month.
In a separate matter, Hunter said the social services staff might soon receive training on how to properly code various cases. The codes are used in billing and universal statewide.
“We’re in good shape compared to most counties,” Hunter said.
He also mentioned a statewide glitch in new software the department is supposed to use, though there is not much that can be done about it until the state addresses the technical discrepancies.
Finally, a shortage in licensed psychiatrists was noted, which has caused a three- to four-month waiting period for individuals seeking such help, according to the report, but not helping the matter is the fact that the state has a 29-page application for providers to fill out to qualify for the program.
In final action, the board approved giving cellphone per diems to the assistant county attorneys who frequently have to answer phone calls and emails after hours and on weekends. County Attorney Jamie Hammell said the nature of the department’s work requires timely responses at all hours, especially when most law enforcement agencies work such hours.
“It makes sense to have contact like that,” Commissioner Judy Storlie said prior to unanimous approval of the request.