Fillmore County’s new economic development director, Marty Walsh, presented the 2018 Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA) contract for the Fillmore County commissioners’ consideration on Tuesday, Nov. 28, during the regular County Board meeting.

CEDA supplies economic development directors to the county, and the contract that Walsh brought before the board included a 3 percent increase in compensation.

However, Commissioner Duane Bakke expressed his frustration that the company has not met a commitment to serve the entire county as a whole, as several cities use CEDA’s services on separate contracts to handle their own economic development matters. He stated he felt smaller towns that do not employ CEDA should benefit from the county’s contract and the county’s contract should function to provide countywide services.

County Coordinator Bobbie Vickerman observed, “We have had Sam (Smith) and Stephanie (Hatzenbihler) and now we have Marty…within 18 months’ time. We’re asking for 0 percent, with the understanding that this needs to be a county economic development authority (EDA). There needs to be some movement and change.”

Walsh volunteered that he concurred there should be projects that engage all the cities across the county, and Vickerman pointed out, “Some cities are getting the value of the EDA (while others are not).”

Before the commissioners voted to approve a new contract with a 0 percent increase, Commissioner Marc Prestby offered, “I do appreciate that some small cities who don’t have their own CEDA rep do get to use the county’s EDA.”

Personnel matters

Human Resources Officer Kristina Kohn outlined changes to the paid time off (PTO) policy for the board’s first reading, then went on to share the first reading of the discipline policy, after which she presented the resignation of home health aide Samantha Drogemuller – effective Monday, Nov. 27.

The PTO policy draft was reviewed by employees and has been approved by the Local 49 Union. Kohn related that the union felt there should be more time before implementation.

“The dates are very much open to flux, otherwise, this is very much the PTO plan that was approved by the Local 49ers to be implemented,” Kohn said.

Vickerman noted that discussion had included whether to put the new PTO plan to the test after more time had passed, perhaps up to a year or more. This would allow affected individuals to make use of the benefits available to them. She also answered questions posed by county attorney Brett Corson related to non-union employees’ PTO, particularly in regard to dates included in the policy.

Bakke remarked that the dates in the policy were included for union employees and should have been removed before being proposed to the County Board so as not to cause concern or panic among non-union employees who might think they had only two days – until Nov. 30 – to deal with their PTO benefit options.

Highway engineer Ron Gregg stood to ask that if the county wished to maintain some transparency, it should have sent the draft to everyone involved instead of just to the department heads.

However, Bakke countered that the dates included would have been wrong, and Gregg agreed but shared that there had been some concern in his department regarding what benefits they would receive.

Corson questioned whether the process had been followed to establish the benefits being considered.

Vickerman explained what had been done to reach the first draft’s tenets, and Board Chairman Randy Dahl and Bakke countered Corson’s contention that the benefits committee had not been the presenting entity through Kohn.

Ultimately, Kohn and Vickerman acknowledged to Corson that the policy at hand was a first draft and that some of the items will need to be updated – such as the deletion of starting dates — but that delaying implementation by a year might prove beneficial. The board will revisit the subject at a later date.

Bluff Country

Brian Krenz and Eric Leitzen of Historic Bluff Country (HBC) introduced themselves to the commissioners. Krenz is the tourism organization’s executive director and Leitzen is the secretary of its board.

Krenz stated that HBC will be “more of a presence than in the past,” including promoting the region’s attractions in different ways.

HBC’s promotional region includes from south of I-90 to the Iowa border and from approximately Albert Lea to the Mississippi River and encompasses the Root River Trail system, the Insinours Forest Management Unit, Mystery Cave and Niagara Cave, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center and the Historic Bluff Country National Byway, as well as others.

Bakke questioned what HBC’s membership is at this point in time, and Krenz replied that currently, only six cities are members but it is at the end of overcoming some obstacles that were symptomatic of past management.

Leitzen pointed out that without HBC, the Historic Bluff Country National Scenic Byway ceases to exist. He also said he understood the commissioners’ reticence to allocate funding toward HBC, given its recent history of directors and staff not fulfilling their obligations to the organization.

“I’m well aware that this is a matter of trust…we have a vested interest in seeing this succeed,” Leitzen added. “This is something that has been in our families and we would like to see it succeed.”

President Robert Coe briefly spoke about the efforts that HBC has launched and how many smaller towns have engaged with the organization as part of its membership. He thanked the board for entertaining HBC’s appropriation request once more – for 2018, HBC is seeking $4,955.

Highway department

Gregg shared a resolution for the sponsorship to Carrolton Township for the application of local road improvement program (LRIP) to pave Goodview Drive into Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center and also on Heron Road leading into Old Barn Resort. Both were approved.

Bakke reported that construction on County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 1 has been completed for the year – the road is open until spring, at which time paving is set to begin. Bid opening for the project is set for Dec. 18.

Additionally, the commissioners are planning a fall road tour for the following day, Dec. 19. The draft itinerary includes visits to CSAHs 12 and 14, the County Road 109 bridge replacement project, the CSAH 1 and 3 Ostrander municipal project and CSAH 1 in advance of the 2019 paving project. Commissioners will also see the CSAH 1 corridor reconstruction project from Spring Valley to Highway 30 east of Stewartville and sealcoat projects on CSAHs 40 and 11 into Winona County and the County 115 reconditioning project that’s scheduled for 2020.

SHIP grant

Director of Nursing Jessica Erickson, Public Health Educator Brenda Pohlman and Social Services manager Kevin Olson appeared with an update on the State Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) grant, after which they broached the purchase of a service agreement between Fillmore County and Workforce Development, Inc.

Erickson outlined that some of the SHIP grant projects had to be put off until 2018 due to time and funding, and Pohlman read the guidelines for the projects that the county will undertake for the coming year, such as starting a tobacco-free housing campaign in Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing – efforts will begin to prohibit smoking in such housing, and resources will be provided to residents of HUD housing if they choose to participate in tobacco cessation.

Other business

Assessor Cynthia Blagsvedt reviewed 2017 property tax laws, including the ag property tax credit, which is new legislation to make it easier for agricultural landowners to weather school bond referendums for building facilities. The credit takes 40 percent of the original property tax responsibility away to equalize the tax burden placed on farmers and ag landowners.

Zoning Administrator Cristal Adkins brought forward requests for permits, including one for Gary and Joyce Hellickson to expand an existing field driveway in Carimona Township, for Edward and Cheryl Brekke to relocate an existing driveway to make way on their property to reach a new building site, for Carimona Township residents Gerald and Elaine Hellickson to relocate their field driveway, and lastly, for Paul and Louanne Hamann to expand an existing driveway access for a new building site in Fountain Township. All were given the board’s favor.

Next, Chief Deputy Sheriff Kevin Beck highlighted a resolution for the Minnesota 2017 State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) grant for radios and local fire departments. Beck shared that the fire departments would pay their half of the costs and the other half would come from the state. The statewide amount available to be distributed among fire departments is approximately $400,000, with a potential $62,000 grant to the county if it is chosen.

Lastly, Mike Tenney, of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, returned to the board with a request for the county’s support for the purchase of the Ione Larson farm as a means of adding it to the Choice Wildlife Management Area.

The consent agenda included approving successful completion of probation for social worker Alexis Hall, and giving social worker Kelli Dornink, eligibility worker Kim McCabe and eligibility worker Denise Zwart each a merit increase.