County Board approves next step in CSAH 5 reconstruction project

Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Fillmore County commissioners held their regular board meeting during the afternoon last Tuesday, June 18, due to a lineup of other meetings in the morning and the board of appeal meeting slated for that evening.

Highway Engineering Supervisor Darrell Schmidt sought approval for advertising the County State Aid Highway 5 reconstruction project in Wykoff.

He answered questions about the project, such as where it starts and ends – the southern end is on Highway 80 to the north end of Wykoff on CSAH 5 – and that it will include all-new underground water service, sewer, curb and gutter where possible and an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant sidewalk upgrade.

“There will be curb and gutter on the east side in front of residences…on the west side, we had right of way issues,” he added.”

Commissioner Mitch Lentz wanted to know whether anything would be done to replace a section of guardrail that used to be on the west side of the former Kingsland bus garage in Wykoff because of the building’s too-small setback of approximately four feet from the roadway.

“There used to be a crash railing by the old bus garage,” he noted. “Are we going to put that back in, or are we going to let people crash into the building?”

Schmidt replied that he wasn’t certain that state funding could be available for that purpose, but that he’d examine the matter.

“There’s not a lot of right of way to put that back in,” he said. “The biggest thing is there is a gas line in there, and we’d have to get a variance to put a 25-mile per hour curve in there.”

Lentz related that the school district sold the building to a local contractor, and Board Chair Duane Bakke said the sale of the building to a private owner might affect how the county deals with the replacement.

The board turned to Zoning Administrator Cristal Adkins for zoning answers, and she stated that the building is in city limits and is presently utilized for what is defined as “nonconforming use.”

Schmidt commented that state aid might still be in doubt, but Lentz interjected, “That amount of money…if we don’t get state aid, I don’t think it’ll break the county. There’s another garage just like it around the corner that’s about four feet off the road, too. We’ve got a chance to make something better, so we should.”

The commissioners voted to approve the CSAH 5 project’s advertisement.

Personnel matters

Human Resources Officer Kristina Kohn gave the first reading of the county’s new employment policy, as well as that of the new announcements, recruitment and selection policy.

She then went on to register the resignations of Deputy Sheriff Matt Schultz – effective Aug. 5 — and Public Health Nurse Kari Schultz, effective June 13. The board granted both resignations with thanks for Matt Schultz’s 19 years of service and Kari Schultz’s seven and a half years with the county.

Kohn also asked to be allowed to hire a temporary employee, Donald Hanson, for the sanitation department for up to three months, and to add a registered nurse’s position to the current posting.

After that, she spoke about seeking requests for proposals (RFP) for health benefits through the county’s benefits consultant, after which she asked the board to proceed with the RFP for ancillary benefits through the benefits consultant, which it approved.

Kohn explained that the employment policy contains language that helps delineate action should the county have to choose an employee to keep if faced with reduction decisions. The announcements and selection policy addresses succession planning, internal recruiting and promotion policies.

The board proceeded to the RFP items, and Kohn cited, “A lot of factors went into this…a fairly significant increase in cost.”

She noted that she hopes to be able to present final numbers from the Southeast Service Cooperative (SSC), the entity that helps the county find benefits packages and carry out other functions, at the end of August.

Also, RFPs will be put out for benefits, including dental insurance.

Zoning matters

Adkins presented an application for an access permit for a new driveway for Judith Tieman’s property in Bloomfield Township, which was approved.

Adkins then shared that her department is working on floodplain and feedlot ordinances to meet Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requirements.

Coordinator’s report

County Coordinator Bobbie Vickerman outlined the 2020 budget and the proposed timeline that accompanies it.

“Today starts the budget process,” she stated. “I’m working with department heads to get their budgets in place.”

The preliminary budget is due in September, and Vickerman pointed out there is work to be done because of a forecasted 18.3 percent increase in health insurance benefits costs that she said she and the financial department hope can be shaved down to a more tenable figure.

The county has also historically granted cost of living increases. The coordinator cited that the county is still negotiating with the Law Enforcement Labor Services (LELS) union, and that there are some positions within the county’s rolls that have not been replaced following a departure or retirement.

She placed a request with the commissioners for them to discuss what percentage point at which they would like to register the county’s budget increase for the coming fiscal year. “I know it’s kind of early, but if you can give me an idea what you’re thinking, where you’re thinking for percentage increases…my hope is to get all the budgets by August,” she said.

EDA desk moving

Additionally, before adjournment, the board talked about relocating the economic development authority (EDA) desk to the zoning and feedlot office to allow taxpayer services access. County EDA Director Marty Walsh, on contract from Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA), had suggested he might be better able to serve the public if he were to be made available alongside the rest of the county’s staff.

Minor concerns regarding who would respond when a member of the public needs assistance at the feedlot and zoning front desk arose, but the board concluded that having Walsh in a more visible location would make sense in that he’d be at the public’s disposal and convenience for business development purposes.