County pledges fiscal support for state veterans home

By : 
GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY
Bluff Country Newspaper Group

Fillmore County’s commissioners met with a busy agenda on Tuesday, July 24.

A donation request to benefit the state veterans home garnered the commissioners’ attention as a significant item, and Commissioner Duane Bakke suggested that the county put $350,000 toward the effort to build a state home in Preston.

Previously, the board had made a late-spring decision between Spring Valley’s proposed site and Preston’s, concluding by a vote — taken at the behest of state officials — that Preston’s proposal included more solid funding and infrastructure planning.

“The hope is that if we pass this $350,000, that can be put into a letter to the other counties to show that we’ve put a substantial amount of money into this…I think we need to step up and that we’ve been going through this process for a while,” Bakke said. “There’s been knowledge that there would likely be a pledge of money from the county.”

Board Chairman Mitch Lentz commented on the order of the decisions the board has had to make, particularly as related to how Spring Valley and Preston were put in an awkward competitive situation in spite of the consensus that Fillmore County would be giving a pledge to help secure the home’s location.

“It would have been nice to eliminate any emotional play between the communities by doing this, making our decision before this…this is towards the building project, a donation to the state of Minnesota, to build the building,” Bakke said.

He also acknowledged the push-pull that the towns endured in the process and that the city of Preston has committed a large sum of money and the land for the project, adding there is room for the county to do more or less if it chooses.

Commissioner Randy Dahl spoke up, relating that he has received verbal statements of support from the residents with whom he has had conversations about the home’s construction and that he would like to see the county match the city of Preston’s contributions.

Bakke agreed, citing that he feels that it shows other counties contending for the home’s location on their land that Fillmore County is serious about the home being constructed in Preston.

Dahl reiterated that the amount should be stout because he feels privileged to live in a county that supports veterans.

Discussion ensued regarding how the county might set aside the funding, and Bakke set forth a motion to proceed with the contribution.

Lentz pointed out that Preston has put forward a significant sum and the land as he stated, “I’m sorry, $350,000 is a very nice number, but you made a statement earlier that (Beltrami and other counties) are putting in $50,000. The land is secured, the infrastructure is secured.”

Dahl inquired, “Just a question…we write the check to the state?”

Bakke answered Dahl’s unfinished and implied question as to whether the donation would be returned to the county if something were to happen that it were to not be used by informing him that it likely would be placed in escrow.

Commissioner Marc Prestby, speaking of the moment’s notion to delay the decision, said, “I think the time to make a commitment is now.”

Bakke changed his mind on his original motion, saying, “I’m going to make a motion for $500,000.”

Lentz concurred and seconded, “That’s the number I showed him.”

Bakke’s original motion for $350,000 was brought up to $500,000, and Dahl continued conversation about how much is applied for and what is shortfall.

Prestby remarked that he was thinking the same as Dahl, and gentlemanly debate followed to reach an amount that satisfied everyone’s understanding of the county’s commitment to the effort.

After Lentz reminded the board that a motion for $500,000 was on the table, Prestby and Dahl registered that they felt that $350,000 would be feasible.

Bakke agreed with Dahl that his statement that $350,000 is “responsible.” An amendment to Bakke’s motion changed the amount to $350,000, and the board voted in favor. The board then voted unanimously to proceed with that amount for the veterans home’s future in Fillmore County.

Tax forfeited property

Coordinator and Auditor-Treasurer Bobbie Vickerman shared a resident’s request for authorization to repurchase forfeited property.

She stated Wayne Hall wanted to buy parcels 09.0078.020 and 09.0078.010 in the city of Canton. Hall submitted a letter to the board that read that he has recently encountered hardships and he intends to pay delinquent and current taxes and will keep his taxes paid if given the opportunity to buy his land back from the county.

County policy reads, “The property owner or taxpayer does not have a right to repurchase. The property owner or taxpayer has the privilege of submitting a written application to the county board, requesting to repurchase a parcel of tax-forfeited land. The county board by resolution has the authority and responsibility to approve or disapprove any written request for repurchase. This is in contrast to a redemption, which is the right of the property owner or taxpayer. The county board’s approval is to be given only if at least one of the following conditions is determined to be true…The county board determines that undue hardship or injustice resulting from the tax forfeiture will be corrected by the repurchase, and the county board determines the repurchase will best serve the public interest.”

The amount due on Hall’s land stood at $1,366.07, and the commissioners chose to grant his request to return home.

Closed meeting

The meeting was closed briefly pursuant to Minnesota Statute 13D.05, subd. 2 (b) regarding employee discipline action, with the Law Enforcement Labor Services (LELS) union present.

When the meeting was reopened, Vickerman announced that further discussion would be held during the Aug. 7 board meeting.

Text to 911

Sheriff Tom Kaase then updated the commissioners on progress related to the Text to 911 Program, which will allow individuals who do not have access to calling 911 in an emergency to text to the dispatcher.

The program is especially useful in situations in which someone who needs help has a phone in hand but cannot be heard by others while speaking to authorities.

Kaase highlighted the county will continue to work with the Rochester and Olmsted law enforcement departments that are overseeing the piloting of the program, as the sunsetting of the cooperation between the county and the departments has changed.

“What we’re looking at is ‘Is there a system or way to do this regionally?’ Budgeting-wise, we’re hoping that there might be a way to fund this regionally. Otherwise, we can use out of our 911 dollars,” Kaase said.

Housing grants

Economic Development Authority (EDA) Director Marty Walsh presented a request to apply for a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Service Home Improvement grant to be used to assist residents in finding housing or improving their housing.

The memo he submitted to the county stated that during the July 18 county EDA meeting, the board approved applying for the USDA Rural Housing grant and that it would require partial matching loans from the EDA.

The funds would be used for weatherization and other home improvements for low-income residents, as the memo noted, “The improved livability of more homes is one element of dealing with housing issues the county and region face.”

The commissioners gave their nod for Walsh to pursue the grant.

Other business

Human Resources Officer Kristina Kohn brought forward the first reading of draft updates to the sexual harassment policy, the harassment and violence in the workplace policy, the termination policy, leaves of absence, access to not-public data, employee personnel records, overtime and compensatory time policies.

Additionally, the board granted the resignation of deputy sheriff Nathan Olson, effective Aug. 7, and the advertisement for a replacement deputy sheriff.

Next, Solid Waste Administrator Andrew Hatzenbihler outlined his proposed 2019 solid waste budget of $210,377.81 — a 2.5 percent increase over the 2018 budget, and assessor Cynthia Blagsvedt gave a preview of her proposed 2019 assessor’s budget of $318,213.77 — for a 2.5 percent increase.

Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Administrator Donna Rasmussen asked that the board approve an agreement for a contractor to carry out herbicide treatments for Japanese hops on county-owned land along the Root River on a stretch from Preston to Lanesboro, and possibly beyond downstream. The commissioners concurred that mitigating the invasive plant is prudent.

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) President and CEO Tim Penny presented his annual review of SMIF and registered the organization’s 2019 appropriation request so that Fillmore County may continue supporting SMIF.