Commissioners discuss options for nuisance properties

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/NEWS LEADER The former Preston Oil Products site is now property of Fillmore County, but the city of Preston is planning to clean it up and make it saleable with the proper paperwork.
By : 
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
News Leader

The Fillmore County Board of Commissioners rounded out the month of March with a variety of agenda items, ranging from cleaning up nuisance properties to feeding babies at work.

County Attorney Brett Corson appeared with news regarding the Preston Oil Products building and lot the city of Preston has sought to clean up but needs state funding to carry out the work. Corson noted the process requires the county administer some of the paperwork.

The Preston Oil Products site has been abandoned and has been in tax forfeiture for quite some time. The commissioners noted the empty tanks had been used for gas and kerosene but have not been pulled out of the ground, leaving plenty of years for leakage to occur.

Corson said, “The city of Preston is willing to inspect and clean it up, and they hope to buy it as a blighted property. We could sell it right now, but there’s additional mitigation that the state may be willing to pay for some or all of.”

Commissioner Randy Dahl attempted to clarify some of the issue at hand. “My understanding is that it has to proceed in a specific order for them to get the state funds,” he said. “It would be a prudent thing to let the city of Preston get through it this way.”

Commissioner Mitch Lentz relayed, “In my district, the municipal gets the first option.”

Commissioner Duane Bakke inquired, “What are we looking for? A preliminary agreement with discussion later? They’re volunteering to spend that much money ahead of time and do the work for us.”

The commissioners observed that if the plot were let as a lease, it would likely become storage for junk, agreeing that allowing the city to carry out the necessary processes would make the most sense.

Other legal matters

Corson advanced to the next topic, presenting the need for a quit claim deed for a property on which the county needs an easement for the highway department.

“We would be conveying some land,” he said. “We had a portion of highway where we acquired it in fee title…the idea was that we would get rid of our ownership in fee title…I amended the description to say that we’re trading a quit claim for that easement…that Fillmore County reserves the easement and we’re also going to get an easement.”

He added that he would hold the documents on the quit claim until the easement papers are in hand.

“I will not give them the quit claim until they give us the easement,” he said. “We’ll exchange documents and get them recorded.” The motion passed, 3-1.

Corson went on, “There was property in Preston that had some health issues — some pests, for lack of a better term — and the county public health got involved. We had a long discussion when we first started, and they determined that we could because it’s a public threat, like a clandestine lab. The county can proceed with the cleanup and that would be placed against their taxes…we can get reimbursed for that.”

Fillmore County Public Health Educator Brenda Pohlman contributed, “There’s one bill coming forward that would be coming next week.”

The nuisance abatement costs stood at $8,022.54, according to Corson, who said, “We can give that to the auditor, and the auditor can place that against the taxes. I had it in the ‘now therefore’ that it could be assessed over five years, but if you want, it could be assessed over one year. This property will probably sell in the next few months.”

Bakke asked Corson whether a charitable organization had become involved as conservator of the property owner’s affairs, and Corson affirmed that statement.

Pohlman interjected that a sheriff’s sale had been held on the property, making it the county’s, and Corson went on, “We will file an affidavit.”

Bakke sought further information. “How do you assess to taxes – is it assessed against the property?”

Corson answered, “Yes, it’s against the property, on the taxes, over a period of time. It’s going to show up on the taxes, and it can be recovered as a part of their taxes.”

County coordinator Bobbie Vickerman added, “It’s like a lien.”

The board concurred that the work is necessary.

Personnel issues

Human Resources Officer Kristina Kohn presented a list of items for the board’s approval, including hiring a summer highway department employee effective May 10 at the request of the county engineer; the first reading of draft changes to the early retirement incentive program (ERIP) policy; hiring an intermittent deputy effective April 1; and the first reading of the county’s proposed breastfeeding policy.

Kohn related that there is currently funding in the budget to hire two individuals for the highway department, but engineer Ron Gregg wanted to wait to hire a second person. The individual chosen for the first position is Jackson Rindels, a college student going into civil engineering, and the intermittent deputy hired is Todd Reagan.

She explained the ERIP policy change proposals next. “Basically, there are a couple of things that need to be updated – the intent of the program was to allow someone to retire early and build a bridge between retirement and Medicare eligibility, so if I’ve been here 20 years and I’m ten months away from Medicare, I’d receive this benefit for ten months, not 20 months.”

The board acknowledged the minimum work requirement that accompanies the policy as Kohn moved on to the State Health Improvement Program (SHIP) wellness initiative that the county had yet to implement.

Pohlman told the commissioners, “Some of the efforts with SHIP involve worksite components, and one of those components is so women have the opportunity to breastfeed or express milk at work…in addition to that, it’s about being able to purchase equipment for spaces for them to use.”

Bakke ventured, “You use the term ‘express milk’ and also ‘breastfeed’…not (employees) bringing kids to work with them….”

Kohn stepped in, “That’s why the room will be secluded – it’s also for patrons of WIC, and the main use of ‘breastfeeding’ language is for patrons. That’s the main focus of that language.”

Pohlman shared, “By law, they should not be doing it in a restroom.”

Conversation focused on how employees would manage their work hours and breaks in relation to feeding their children. Kohn volunteered, “It would not usurp work hours. If we have an employee who needs to breastfeed, they would have to work that out with their supervisor. It’s included in the flex time policy, and either way, it applies.”

Vickerman said, “They’re already using flex time, adjusting their day one way or the other.”

Kohn concluded, “It’s considered reasonable accommodation.”

The commissioners approved the SHIP grants that provide supplies needed for the county public health breastfeeding room.

Other reports

Economic Development Director Marty Walsh asked that the board approve the 2018 annual report, citing that Fillmore County’s economic development authority (EDA) had accomplished quite a lot in the past year.

“I wanted to draw attention to the Bluff Country Collaborative working on Houston and Fillmore County schools on workforce development. The collaboration has gone well,” he noted. “A lot of outreach to the county…visiting in every single township last year. A lot of this has been reported on.”

Bakke commented, “I appreciate the efforts and energy that you provide to this contract that we have. Hopefully you stay here for a while.

Walsh responded, “It’s great working down here — the people are the most engaged.”

Auditor-treasurer Heidi Jones spoke about a request for proposals for a primary financial institution to serve the county’s banking needs. She then suggested that F&M Community Bank would best serve the county’s needs and that delaying getting requests for proposals would afford her an opportunity to settle into her new position and make better recommendations.

Lentz wanted to know, “Is there any use to discuss it? All I can do is express my disappointment that it didn’t get done and I’ll move on.”

Bakke countered that Jones asked for an extension of time to become better acquainted with her role as auditor-treasurer, citing that the finance committee had agreed.

Lentz reiterated his disappointment, and Bakke stated that he didn’t mind having an open motion made earlier to help make way for further action.

“If you want to make a motion…the timing doesn’t say that it has to be done by Feb. 1, Heidi’s trying to say she’d like to hold off on this until she gets a better chance to understand this…does the board want to take any action, or just leave it and discuss it later in the year?”

Lentz said, “If we take any action, I want to set a timeline for it. I take the blame for that.”

Jones went on to introduce a resolution that authorized absentee ballot processing for the upcoming elections. Jones informed the commissioners that several individuals have been or are being trained for the elections.

Solid Waste Administrator Drew Hatzenbihler shared a resolution requesting funds for an educational program from the Winneshiek County Solid Waste Agency to be used to promote the annual household hazardous waste collection day that helps residents properly dispose of household materials. Dahl stated, “A good use of the grant.” The commissioners obliged with a vote in favor of the resolution.

Highway Engineer Gregg outlined a resolution supporting long-term sustainable funding for transportation to be brought before the Minnesota state Legislature.

“This resolution was actually generated by the AMC transportation policy committee, for long-term sustainable funding. The goal is to get all 87 counties sustaining some kind of funding,” he explained.

Bakke pointed out he felt the board should support the measure because it had been discussed in various organizations and arms of government that it should be given such.