County board takes on homework

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

On February 7, Houston County commissioners took some paperwork home to study – on several issues.

First, the board was asked to replace one retiring employee with two hires. Sheriff Mark Inglett brought the proposal, complete with an in-depth power point report.

Deputy Kurt Kuhlers will retire on March 10, after 11 years with the sheriff’s department and a total of 37 years in law enforcement, facilities/personnel director Tess Arrick-Kruger reported. Kuhlers served a dual role as the county’s emergency management director and court security officer.

“These dual roles for these critical positions – in my opinion – are destined to fail at some point,” Inglett said. “In the two years that I’ve been here, we’ve constantly been plugging holes in our dam.”

Inglett proposed two positions to fill the county’s needs. The first would be a full-time deputy sheriff assigned to court security, while the second would be a full-time emergency manager/civil process deputy.

The secondary role for the new emergency management director would include a wide range of duties (such as serving warrants, writs and court orders). Those have increased dramatically (up to 300% more for some items) since 2014, Inglett reported.

With two courtrooms often in use at the Houston County Justice Center, court security needs have grown, and now take up 85% to 90% of Kuhlers’ time, he added. That’s left time for emergency management tasks at a bare minimum.

Inglett recommended hiring a deputy rather than contracting for courtroom security for several reasons, including the county’s liability in case an incident occurs. The sheriff also said that a grant of $17,000 to $20,000 would be available to offset some of the costs of the new emergency manager’s job, leaving an average of $4.90 per property tax statement to pay for the additional position.

Commissioner Justin Zmyewski made a motion to replace Kuhlers’ courtroom security position with a full-time officer, but later withdrew the item when the board reached another consensus, deciding to look into various ways to fill the jobs. Talks centered on  several suggestions, including the possibility of sharing an emergency manager with another county.    

“I don’t think we’re quite to the point of making a decision on this just yet,” commissioner Teresa Walter said. The topic was slated for further talks on February 21.

Conditinoal use permits issued

In other news, the board voted to issue four conditional use permits (CUPs) to two applicants. Both Thomas Hoscheit (Mayville Township) and Joshua and Jerry Dahl (Yucatan Township) sought approval to do the same two things – expand a feedlot in terms of animal units (AU), and expand/improve existing manure storage facilities. The herd expansion (beyond 300 animal unit) CUPs included the standard condition that “All federal, state and local regulations are to be followed,” while the second set of permits held more stipulations, including some aimed at keeping mud and manure off public roadways when emptying the manure pits, the size of those structures, and more (such as construction dates and installing screening from roadways).

Items for approval

County engineer Brian Pogodzinski brought several items for approval. Those included making final payments for sealcoating completed last year, and various flood repairs stemming from heavy rains last September. All of those passed. In addition, commissioners approved the purchase of a new “robotic total station” for surveying county road projects. That gear will also be available for use by the Surveyor’s Office. The purchase totaled $28,770.

Pogodzinski also asked the board to decide what to do about a possible $31,370 penalty that the county could collect from this year’s salt supplier. “The issue that we ran into this year is that the salt supplier did not provide the salt in a timely manner (as contracted),” the engineer stated. However, that late delivery may have only cost the county $1000 or less, he added. The concern for Houston County is that if fined, the vendor may decide to discontinue bidding in the future, leaving only one or two others to pick from. The county could opt to charge less than the full amount of the penalty (as it has done before) Pogodzinski stated, adding that each year, Houston County uses anywhere from $150,000 to $225,000 worth of salt on it’s roadways. The matter was tabled for additional review of the contract by county attorney Samuel Jandt.

Highway department

Pogodzinski also gave a 48 minute presentation on the past history and current needs of the Highway Department’s headquarters and maintenance facilities in Caledonia. Built in 1947 with additions in 1966 and 1969, the now-dilapidated buildings have been a sore spot for commissioners since the early 1990s, he reported. Numerous studies on the problem and possible solutions followed. “To go through it all takes forever,” the engineer said of those boxes of paperwork. The current site spans six acres near the Houston County Fairgrounds. An alternative could be a 10 acre site in Spring Grove which includes some office space and maintenance bays and is already situated near another county highway facility.

Workforce development

The board also met with human services director John Pugleasa, who presented a contract for services from Workforce Development. Commissioners accepted the pact, which will provide employment and training services for the county as mandated under the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFI). Pugleasa said that payments to Workforce Development will come from “pass through money that is part of the MFI consolidated fund allocation. We use those resources to be able to contract for these services, or (pay  for them) if we choose to provide them ourselves.” The state funding is driven by usage, and has gone down from $92,000 during the last couple of years to $80,000 this year. “We’re seeing the number of  people receiving those benefits trending down in Houston County,” Pugleasa reported.

Commissioners also signed a 2017 farmland lease agreement with Dennis and Annette Holte for $5,761. Holte will utilize the 22 acres which the county originally purchased near Caledonia High School as the site for a new highway department headquarters facility.

Other news

In other news, the board set the county’s Board of Equalization hearing for June 20 at 6 p.m. Commissioners also took home  six different options on making citizen appointments to the Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment. Five of those were complied by Arrick-Kruger, with another added by commissioner Scott Connor. There was no action on the matter. Finally, the board set a public hearing for  a new set of bylaws for the Houston County Economic Development Authority. That will occur on February 28 at 10 a.m.