Commissioners approve new floodplain ordinance, FEMA maps

Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Fillmore County’s commissioners held the first meeting of August this past Tuesday, Aug. 6. Zoning matters dominated a portion of the meeting. The board held a public hearing for the updated floodplain ordinance and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps that have been brought before the commissioners at previous meetings.

Zoning Administrator Cristal Adkins asked that the ordinance and maps be approved, sharing that the definitions of words used in the ordinance have come from the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) definitions – such as the word “fence,” which applies because a landowner is prohibited from installing a barrier across a stream that might cause the accumulation of debris during a flooding event, though farmers are exempt from that prohibited use, and the word “flood” itself – to help identify specific terms, objects and occurrences.

She said, “The definition of ‘conditional use permit’…we liked theirs better than what we had, and ‘fences’ – farmers are exempt, but we want to make sure that people don’t put a fence in that will cause debris to accumulate as a dam. Also, if you have a structure in the floodplain, even a pre-existing one, you risk your ability to have flood insurance.”

The commissioners broached the topic of manufactured homes and campers, beginning with manufactured homes, as Commissioner Mitch Lentz said that manufactured homes have to be “bumper-ready” and that decks should not be attached, bringing Adkins to point out that while dwellings in the floodplain aren’t allowed, there are two campgrounds in the county that may be in the floodplain that qualify as exceptions to the policy, one of them being Eagle Cliff Campground. She informed the commissioners that picnic tables at the campground are to be secured so they don’t float away in a flood.

After more perusal of the ordinance, Chair Duane Bakke stated, “We, and I, don’t know what’s changed from the last one to now.”

Adkins replied that she didn’t think much had changed. “If anyone’s property status was changed in any huge way, they were notified,” she said. “We don’t allow someone to engineer something in the floodplain – FEMA does if they put it on blocks or stilts – but we don’t.”

Bakke observed there had been an instance of a home built on a mound that was constructed for the purpose of raising the elevation for a building site, and Adkins answered that was an unusual allowance and it is not likely to happen again.

Bakke called for comments from the public and Bonita Underbakke from Holt Township approached the desk. “I thought the FEMA maps were connected with insurance and talking about planning for the future. What I found is that FEMA maps are based on the past and do nothing about the future,” she said.

She remarked that she “strongly supports” the implementation of new maps.

The commissioners voted in favor of the new maps’ acceptance.

Adkins went on to seek an access permit for a field drive on Dale Payne’s Beaver Township property and for one on Kenneth and Janet Flugum’s Beaver Township property.

Nathen Yutzy of Bristol Township needed a property driveway to relocate an existing driveway, and the board chose to approve two of the three, but wanted further confirmation that Yutzy owns both parcels of land on which he wanted to relocate the access before giving their nod to his request. The county has a policy that states that properties should have only one access. Adkins returned to the boardroom with information confirming that Yutzy owns both parcels, and the board agreed to allow the permit.

Finally, the commissioners heard Adkins’ budget request for the coming year, and discussion quickly turned to splitting people – specifically their time in particular offices – to make the best use of staff time.

Finance department revisited

Human resources officer Kristina Kohn introduced the classification setting of the finance director position as recommended by David Drown & Associates and setting the salary for finance director Lori Affeldt at grade 16 — effective Aug. 1.

There was some vehement disagreement between County Attorney Brett Corson and Bakke regarding the reclassification of the job description as related to the allocation of duties assigned to the auditor-treasurer, and at the end, Bakke made the recommendation not to take action on the finance director’s position and setting the director’s salary.

Corson pointed out that further discussion should take place because of the statute that governs taking away more than 25 percent of a position’s duties, but Bakke countered that the county had engaged the services of an employment attorney who deemed the description as legal.

Corson challenged Bakke, reiterating that he based his opinion of the finance director’s job description on the law’s requirements. Bakke pressed that the county had used the employment attorney’s services.

Corson said, “I’ve not seen those opinions. This is the law.”

Bakke stated, “We’ll do what we can.”

Corson repeated his position that he based his opinion on the law, and someone brought up that there were other counties operating with a finance department in place that use some of the same tenets as were being proposed.

Vickerman suggested that she be given the task of surveying other counties’ practices.

Kohn interjected that Corson was carrying out duties as expected. “It is his statutory duty to give his opinion and advice, however, the board is the final authority on whether it is going to accept that advice,” she said.

Further arguments ensued involving the auditor-treasurer’s financial transparency practices and how checks and balances are built into the county’s system.

Auditor-treasurer Heidi Jones registered that she had taken her own survey of three counties. “I reached out to three of the counties to see how they are handling them, and some of them are reflecting the statutory duties that Mr. Corson discussed.”

County coordinator Bobbie Vickerman contended there has been a lack of transparency and checks and balances within the financial department for the past several years.

Bakke presented his determination that the finance director’s job description should be forwarded to the employment attorney and to Corson for further review, at which point the argument between Bakke and Corson rose again, with frustrations and personal disagreements entering the array and Corson repeating, “I don’t work for you. I work for the people of Fillmore County.”

Lentz gave his conclusion after tensions settled slightly. “I’m for moving forward, but if you think we should, we can let it sit until the attorneys can resolve their differences.”

Bakke concluded, “It’s a grade 16 when I think it’s a grade 15 (pay).”

Commissioner Marc Prestby said, “It’s better to pay retroactively.”

Departmental reports

Highway Engineer Ron Gregg presented the final payment resolution for the 2019 Milestone Materials rock contract for County State Aid Highway 11 in Carimona and Fountain townships in the amount of $1,980.89. The commissioners approved the payment, but spoke generally about how much the county spends in time and replacement of gravel for shoulders of roads.

Commissioner Randy Dahl noted, “These events are happening more frequently, and I think that it’s coming to a time that we have to, on our blacktop roads, constantly restructure our gravel shoulders because they’re washing away. The state is going to have to make some adjustments. I don’t think this is going to change for a while. The weather patterns have changed, and the rain patterns have changed. We do the best we can, but do we need to start looking at our practices? I think we all need to start looking at that and realizing the weather patterns aren’t going to change.”

Vickerman informed the board that copiers and printers have been a point of debate as staff had done a review of necessary county office supplies amid an effort to centralize copy machines and printers, that electronic signatures have been part of a separate debate – apparently, whether they qualify as authentic, that the planned veterans’ court opening ceremony will take place on Sept. 20, and gave an update on the 2019 audit as still in the works.

Disagreements festered again when a request from the recorder’s office to hire Sandy Solberg at $20 per hour as a temporary employee in the recorder’s office came up. Recorder Dave Kiehne cited a shortage of staff to handle his department’s duties as the reason he’d taken on Solberg as a volunteer before bringing her hiring to the board, relating that he felt she would be an asset in the handling of property abstracts. However, the board expressed its displeasure that the proposed hiring hadn’t gone through proper channels. Ultimately, though dissatisfied with how Kiehne acquired Solberg’s commitment to the county, the board proceeded with her hiring.

Director of Nursing Jessica Erickson sought approval of the evidence-based home visiting expansion grant memorandum of agreement that funding will be directed through Rice County for the administration of that grant. “This is just an agreement for the finance portion of it,” she explained. “All of the other stuff is already settled. The state can only send the financials to one county, and we have seven participating, so Rice County just volunteered.” The motions for the grant passed.

Solid Waste Administrator Andrew Hatzenbihler registered his 2020 budget request, as did building maintenance supervisor Terry Schultz.

The consent agenda included granting a request from the city of Chatfield to use generator/light towers during Western Days.