Sheriff updates county commissioners on Memorial Day tornadoes, damage to farms

Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Fillmore County’s commissioners held their Tuesday, May 28, meeting, hearing a short update from Sheriff John DeGeorge on the Memorial Day tornado that skipped through the county, nicking four farms and several houses in the Greenleafton area.

DeGeorge related, “I don’t have any numbers yet, but it looks like we’ve got four different farms that sustained damage. There are no reports of injuries to people or livestock. Initially, we got reports of the first tornado touching down in Howard County at 1:39 p.m., and it moved northward to the Greenleafton area. We got information from the fire departments pretty quickly and it was relayed to us…I think we dodged the bullet on this one because it went through an area that was pretty sparsely populated.”

He noted that Fillmore County Emergency Manager Don Kullot is still collecting information on the effects of the storm that erupted quickly on a day that was humid and cold.

DeGeorge noted that advances in weather technology have been beneficial. “It seems we spend more time preparing for weather — blizzards, snowstorms and tornados – in the past five years than we have done in the 22 years I’ve been in law enforcement.”

The board thanked DeGeorge for his report, then went on to handle highway business.

Highway Engineer Ron Gregg brought forward the concrete overlay project for County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 1 award to Croell, Inc., for $3,516,637.47, pending approval of the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) Office of Civil Rights. The board approved the project.

Gregg also recommended entering into an airport maintenance and operation grant contract with MnDOT, which was approved.

The commissioners passed a resolution authorizing Gregg and the highway and airport office manager to execute the contract on behalf of Fillmore County.

Director of Nursing Jessica Erickson approached the board with an update on the Fillmore-Houston Joint Powers Agreement. She cited that the joint powers agreement bylaws will be ratified in November and that it was found that they are not up to date and recommendations to meet insurance needs have not been met. She said Assistant County Attorney Marla Stanton would be willing to work cooperatively to bring them up to date.

She then went on to discuss the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Peer Breastfeeding Support Grant program. The Peer Breastfeeding Support Program grant that Houston County receives to share with Fillmore County isn’t put to use by Houston County, she reported. “Houston doesn’t utilize that grant anymore, and since they are not utilizing the grant, they are hoping we can employ their person so they’re not a pass-through,” Erickson said. “We’ve proposed working with our HRs to see if we can work it out. We haven’t talked to the HRs yet, but my hope would be to transfer the employee seamlessly without consequence.”

Human Resources Officer Kristina Kohn had hires and resignations to bring to the board’s attention, beginning with a request to hire an intermittent bailiff and transport officer effective May 29. She also presented the resignation of child support officer Jonathan Holger no later than July 10 and asked permission to advertise for his replacement. Kohn also asked to advertise for a support enforcement aide, a request for the social services support enforcement aide to be classified into the new pay system, advertising for a replacement senior office support specialist, and adopting the merit system EEO/AA policy for 2019. The board voted to welcome Lyle Johnson as new bailiff and transport officer, granted Holger his resignation – the board thanked Holger for his 12 years of service to the county and his willingness to continue working in his capacity two days a week until a replacement is found in early July.

Discussion turned toward advertising for a support aide internally and externally, and Kohn stated the new position would be reimbursable. “This would be reimbursable at 66 percent. This is not a position we currently have, but a lot of other counties have their support aides doing things that we currently have our county attorney reviewing. Social services pays approximately $24,000 to the attorney’s office for reviewing things today, and with this, we’d be paying nothing because that person has to be 100 percent in the child support office.”

Commissioners Marc Prestby and Randy Dahl made the motions to approve, but Commissioner Duane Bakke questioned, “Are we adding a position?”

Kohn explained that with the non-replacement of another position, the county is essentially exchanging one position for another. The board voted to approve that exchange, then to have the new position sent for review and classification.

Next, they heard a request for a senior office support specialist’s hire to replace retiring office support specialist Audrey Inglett, who works in the coordinator’s office. Coordinator Bobbie Vickerman explained that Inglett is clerk of the board in her absence and that she is responsible for meeting agendas and other matters.

“The replacement person we talked about, we’re thinking we’d like to see that person stepping up in the maintenance of the website once we find a new provider, to see that person spearhead that,” Vickerman said.

Commissioner Mitch Lentz commented, “I would like to see the title stay as is so down the road, we don’t see it become a tech position, because we’re contracting with Marco for tech services.”

The board agreed, then Lentz inquired about the efforts to transition from the merit pay system to another structure.

Kohn said, “We are still working toward the goal of getting out of merit, but we recommend approving this so that we can get it into compliance.”

Lentz asked, “What’s the timeline to get out of merit?”

Kohn answered, “The goal is to have the initial packet in by July of this year so that they can review it and have it back to us.”

Zoning Administrator Cristal Adkins presented an access permit for a field drive for Carrolton Township resident Aaron Gillespie, and also spoke about the new FEMA floodplain maps being drafted and the need to ensure that they are accurate before Aug. 15, the date on which they are made official. Dahl inquired of the administrator whom people should call if they find that they have been zoned into the floodplain, and she replied that they should call the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for more information.

Administrative items encompassed discussing closing the section of Fillmore Street East in Preston by the memorial entrance to the fairgrounds on Tuesday, July 16, at 6 p.m. for a veterans’ tribute. Vickerman outlined that the street closure would normally be handled first by city administrators and then passed to the county for acceptance, but that this particular closure would likely be discussed at Preston’s June 3 meeting.

The board also discussed transferring a lawful gambling exempt permit from May 19 to June 8 for the Preston Area Chamber of Commerce due to a golf tournament and raffle being rescheduled. Vickerman went on to relate that the golf tournament and raffle were rescheduled due to rain during Trout Days, affecting the associated gambling permit.