Medical examiner presents annual report to commissioners

By : 
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

“We’re not running from homicide to homicide, despite what’s portrayed in the media,” stated R. Ross Reichard, M.D., of the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office, reviewing the 2017 medical examiner services for Fillmore County during the Commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, May 22.

Reichard updated the board on how many deaths involved medical examiner’s office, citing that 117 deaths had been reported, that 88 were investigated and that 18 were certified after postmortem examination. 

He said that falls are typically the leading cause of death for older individuals, but that overdoses of illegal substances — what the medical examiner’s office calls “poisonings” — are showing a significant uptick nationwide, outpacing car accidents for the first time. 

“We had two here, one methamphetamine and the other, mixed prescription drugs,” Reichard added. “Accidental overdose has skyrocketed across the nation, and the people who overdose are typically Caucasian and in their mid-20s or middle-aged.  We did have a number of infant deaths last year, but for the most part, people are dying of natural causes…disease.”

Tax-forfeited land

County Coordinator and Auditor-Treasurer Bobbie Vickerman and finance officer Heidi Jones outlined a resolution concerning tax-forfeited land. 

Jones spoke about public or protected waterways, timberland and the requirements of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in relation to tax-forfeited land, highlighting what she had found regarding the parcels in question. 

She stated the DNR determined it would have to purchase them if they are to be sold as tax forfeits due to its definitions of protected waterways and timberland. 

Commissioner Duane Bakke countered that he felt the property in question didn’t require a protected waterways buffer and the DNR should be able to figure out for itself whether or not it needs to purchase the land. 

Some of the land being put up for sale would have to be considered un-platted agricultural land, Jones noted.  She informed the board that the DNR has 60 days to decide whether it should buy the parcels. 

Bakke wanted to know what the DNR has to pay for parcels, and Jones replied, “After 60 days, all of you will review these parcels for prices.  The DNR will have to evaluate the timber on the land separately from the actual land value.” 

Vickerman clarified that the DNR will propose a price for the land and the board will have to accept or decline, and that there is potential for private buyers to purchase the parcels. 

Commissioner Mitch Lentz commented that he felt it would be best for them to be back on the tax rolls if at all possible.  Commissioner Marc Prestby made a motion to approve the resolution — with minor changes — and the vote was made in favor.

Phone system

Next, telephone systems came up for discussion. An assessment of the county’s phone system shows there are too many different phone systems installed in the county buildings, including the courthouse and office building.

Vickerman and Jones presented options to streamline the system to allow better communications between the buildings’ staff. 

Vickerman described the county’s phone system as “antiquated” and explained that repairs are becoming costly and difficult to make.  Upgrading the entire system would mean the county would have a four-digit dialing tree so that if a highway employee needs to speak to someone in the courthouse or another shop, that person can do so without having to dial an entire phone number. 

Marco representative Christina Welke outlined the options the county might explore to replace its phone system, remarking that Marco’s lease proposal would mean the county would use its current Mitel phones at the office building and expand them to encompass the courthouse and highway department. It would include software support, hardware for the courthouse and highway department building, installation labor and training. 

Vickerman suggested the option Welke offered might incorporate headsets instead of handset telephones, which could improve productivity and efficiency for certain individuals who might need headsets. 

Additionally, Welke stated that a newer system would allow the county to communicate more effectively in case of emergency, such as a weather warning. 

Options included three-year or five-year contracts, with the three-year contract estimated at $102,000 and the five-year contract at $115,000.  A motion passed to move forward with a three-year contract. 

Highway department

Highway Engineer Ron Gregg and Airport Manager Pam Schroeder had a few items for the commissioners’ consideration, including awarding a Beaver Township bridge replacement project to the lowest bidder, a resolution to reduce the retainage amount on the County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 1 reconstruction project, an overnight stay request for Gregg to travel out of state, and a cooperative service agreement between Fillmore County and the U.S. Wildlife Service to conduct a wildlife hazard survey at the airport. 

The engineer’s estimate for the Beaver Township bridge stood at $155,500, and Minnowa Construction was the low bidder at $135,533.40. 

The CSAH 1 project’s retainage for curb and gutter — delayed because the contractor prefers not to install curb and gutter until the paving is completed — was reduced to the amount that the curb and gutter installation will cost. 

Gregg reminded motorists that CSAH 1 closes for the summer on June 5 and that it will be completed by the end of September. 

Schroeder told the board about the wildlife hazard survey and that the study would cost $3,077.36 to have the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirement fulfilled — essentially, taking a look at how many critters might wander onto the runway and cause accidents, then reporting that to the FAA so that the FAA can conclude whether a fence is necessary. 

She stated the airport staff did trap some coyotes this year and that a bill for such will be forthcoming, but she wanted to get a more consistent gopher-trapping schedule established.

Personnel issues

Human Resources Officer Kristina Kohn brought forward Cindy Mensink’s early retirement request through the county’s early retirement incentive program (ERIP) – effective July 26 after 34 years of service.

She also presented a request to advertise internally and externally for a replacement property appraiser, started a discussion regarding a shift differential in the building maintenance department, and finally, made a request to hire three intermittent courthouse security officers. 

The courthouse security officers have to be licensed and would be used for courthouse service and not deployed to serve in the sheriff’s office, according to Kohn.  The officers’ hire was approved, as was the shift differential. 

Mensink was given a special sendoff by the commissioners, who jokingly denied her retirement request and wished her well as they thanked her for her years of dedicated service to the county.    

Other business

The commissioners held a public hearing to consider an enabling resolution for the Fillmore County economic development authority (EDA), meant to allow the county to continue using the services of Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA) and its representative, Marty Walsh, as its EDA director.  No members of the public gave input, so the board passed the resolution.

Solid waste manager Drew Hatzenbihler explained to the board that Winneshiek County’s landfill has tightened its restrictions on medical sharps due to an exposure incident and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) requirements.  He stated the county is working with SteriCycle, a medical waste recycler, to find a means of safely disposing of sharps.  Anyone who uses medical sharps should dispose of them in a hard-sided plastic container marked to warn waste handling workers of the biohazard.