Contracts made with Houston County

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

A slew of contracts and agreements got the attention of Houston County commissioners on Sept. 5.

One pact was approved by a narrow margin. By a 3-2 vote, the board accepted a contract from the Schneider Corporation (Indianapolis, Ind.), which offered to provide GIS (geographical information systems) staff “augmentation services” for $33,600 per year through the end of 2020. The 2017 portion of the agreement (September through December) will cost the county $8,950.

Commissioners Scott Connor and Teresa Walter cast dissenting ballots on the offer, citing a preference for “in house” GIS staffing by a county employee. Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said that the contract has a 30-day “out” clause, so “After a year we could go with a full time in-house (person), or if this particular arrangement is working well, we could continue with that, or a hybrid of the two.”

Former Houston County GIS/E911 coordinator Dan Krzoska retired in June of this year, and Schneider has been utilized for some specific Houston County projects both before and since then. According to the offer approved last week, the company will provide 12 days of on-site consulting per year, plus 144 “remote project hours.”

A unanimous vote approved an offer from Vanguard Appraisals (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). That contract runs from Sept. 1, 2017 through the end of November. The company will provide up to 80 hours of services from licensed, certified appraisers, who will be tasked with helping to eliminate a backlog of new construction valuations within the county. Priced at $120 per hour, the contract has a “not to exceed” limit of $10,000. Commissioners were told that the Minnesota Department of Revenue requires the completed appraisals.

Builders have remained busy within Houston County this summer. During the August 24 meeting of the county’s Planning Commission, zoning staff reported the issuance of 39 new building permits.

A new contract with Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Tracie Erickson will allow police dog “Chance” to retire and be replaced by a young dog (a German Shepard born 3/04/16) named “Ray.”  Erickson serves as the canine handler for the department, owning and training the dogs while leasing their services to Houston County.

Sheriff Mark Inglett reported that Chance has served the department since 2011, and “has been an invaluable asset to the work completed over the years.” Most recently (in July), Chance located weapons in a corn field by finding the trail left by a pair of attempted murder suspects, who had apparently deposited the guns there.

“I have been approached by a group of citizens that have formed a non-profit,” Inglett reported. “They’re calling themselves the Houston County Canine Foundation. Their goal is to solicit donations to supplement the canine program.” The contract runs from Oct. 1, 2017 through Sept. 30, 2018, at a rate of $250 per month.

Inglett also presented a joint powers agreement to the board for renewal, which was approved. Houston County will remain a member of the Southeast Minnesota Violent Crime Enforcement Team under that pact. The organization allows 14 members (8 counties and 6 cities) to cooperate while enforcing controlled substance laws and violent crime-related offenses, the document states. The renewal covers a three-year period beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

Other actions:

Members voted to hire Lucas Onstad as a probationary appraiser trainee, effective Sept. 14. The offer is conditioned on the successful completion of a background check. Commissioners also accepted the resignation of public health nurse Laura O’Heron effective Sept. 7. No search for a replacement was immediately sought by department heads, but the position remains in the Houston County Public Health/Nursing budget for 2018.

Commissioners approved a conditional use permit (CUP) for Steve Halvorson of Houston Township. Zoning administrator Aaron Lacher said that the document will “cure an nonconformity created by an illegal split” which occurred decades ago, and did not involve Halvorson. A CUP is required for homes classified as “non-farm dwellings” in an agricultural district.

The board voted to designate the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District as the body that will “prepare, implement and report annually” on an aquatic invasive species prevention plan for the county. By doing so, Houston County remains eligible for program aid from the State of Minnesota to combat those aquatic invasive species. In 2018, funding for the effort is expected to total $26,484.

Several highway department projects brought votes as well. A $197,179 state grant was accepted to help pay for a bridge replacement on CSAH (County State Aid Highway) 19 near Spring Grove. That project was set to begin after Labor Day.

Another bridge repair is scheduled to occur at the same time on County 6 near La Crescent. Icon Constructors (Mabel, Minn.), won that bid at $158,594. County engineer Brian Pogodzinski said that the work (which includes straightening bridge pilings) “could take three to four weeks, possibly longer.”

After two bid offerings seeking “double chip seal” fixes brought no takers, the board voted to dip into fund balance to asphalt pave a total of six miles of roadway on CSAH 15 and 26. Dunn Blacktop (Winona) won the bid for $799,587. The “chip seal” options first sought were expected to be less expensive, but would have had a shorter lifespan, Pogodzinski said following the meeting. The department originally budgeted $615,000 for the work in 2017.

Commissioners also approved the final payment for a $235,599 bridge replacement on Bush Valley Road.