Commissioners get some homework

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

County commissioners received  plenty of information on Tuesday, July 25, but cast few ballots.

One item that did bring a vote was the upkeep of county-owned burial sites at Evergreen Cemetery in Caledonia. One hundred grave sites were originally purchased by Houston County at the facility “many years ago,” according to a letter from Evergreen Cemetery Association secretary Carolyn Hollatz. But since then, the agreed-upon rate of $100 per year to maintain those plots has proved inadequate.

The plots were purchased “to be used as a final resting place for those who, due to whatever unfortunate financial circumstances, could not provide for their own burials,” Hollatz explained.

She asked the board to bring county payments up to date (none were collected from 2014-16) and raise the county’s support (beginning with 2017) to $500 per year. Commissioners agreed.

Personnel votes

Senior highway engineering technician Pat Burns was hired as a probationary maintenance foreman, filling the job which was vacated when Tom Molling retired. Burns’ new assignment becomes effective on July 31. Karissa Meyer was hired as a probationary jailer/dispatcher, effective upon the successful completion of a background check.

A third vote approved a competitive search to back-fill Burns’ job.

Three presentations

• Ryan Smith of the Schneider Corporation briefed the board on a “staff augmentation” contract that  might take the place of hiring a new full-time GIS (geographic information systems) coordinator. Former Houston County GIS/E911 coordinator Dan Krzoska retired on June 9.

Schneider would provide 12 days of “on-site” staffing per year, plus 144 “remote project hours” for $33,600. That compares to a cost of approximately $85,000 per year (including benefits) to hire a new full-time staff person, Smith reported.

Houston County already contracts with the Schneider Corporation for Beacon. According to the company webpage, that product provides “an interactive public access tool that allows users to view County and City information, public records and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) via an online portal.”

There was no decision, but the board did schedule another meeting with department heads to discuss future GIS needs, and how to proceed. That session was set for July 31.

• The Houston County Historical Society gave it’s yearly report, asking commissioners to maintain  their current (2017) level of support. That funding totals $37,500 per year plus up to $5,000 in matching funds for monies raised by the group.

“We’ve been really busy this year,” HCHS president Shirley Johnson said. A $110,000 donation from the (Leland and Louise) Sundet Foundation allowed the society to pay for an elevator at the museum building, which freed up funds to finish the basement of the structure. Volunteers recorded 6,649 hours, which Johnson said was an understatement of the actual time freely given to the organization. “It’s a labor of love,” she added.

Visitors came to the museum complex from 29 states and five foreign countries. Many reportedly made trips of hundreds or thousands of miles to perform research at the archives. HCHS vice president Deb Wray said that the organization’s goal is to continue to provide education and save the past for future generations.

• Dr. Ross Reichard, chief medical examiner for the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiners Office, reported on the work that agency performed for Houston County during 2016.

Houston County, with an estimated population of 19,027, had 77 deaths reported to the medical examiner. Fourteen of those required a complete autopsy, while seven others were certified without a postmortem examination. Following investigations, the Medical Examiner’s Office did not need to certify the other 56 deaths, which Reichard said were well documented by other means, such as a family physician. Of the 77 cases, 70 had the manner of death classified as “natural causes,” four involved accidents, two were suicides, and one is currently listed as “undetermined.” Only one death occurred in the 26-44 age group, while the county’s 45-63 population included 13 deaths. The bulk (63) were 65 years of age and older.

Other News

By consensus, the board also supported efforts by the Houston County Sheriff’s Department (but did not vote) to address the concerns of La Crescent residents along Shore Acres Road. Those homeowners are reporting high-speed boat traffic causing wave damage to private property. One suggestion would be to establish a “no wake” zone.

“The tough thing is, if a boat goes by at an extreme speed, like 75 miles per hour over in Wisconsin, it’s throwing wake over into Minnesota,” chief deputy Travis Lapham said. “And even if it’s a no wake zone in Minnesota, there’s nothing we can do to enforce it. Unless Wisconsin would draft a no wake ordinance there’s really nothing we can do.

“We’re just trying to remedy something, and a no wake zone can be very tough to enforce, and the residents of Shore Acres know that,” Lampam continued. “However, the consensus last night (at a La Crescent City Council meeting) was (that) even if not everybody obeys it, and we’re not out there to enforce it, we’re hoping that this brings awareness and hopefully the majority of boaters will be courteous and obey it.”