The county board reviewed budget proposals from several departments at their September 3 meeting. County Coordinator Bobbie Vickerman produced a very preliminary 2020 budget with a levy increase of over 6%.
Vickerman made it clear that she already could take about 1% of the increase off the top. Part of the reduction is a savings of $42,000 because the health insurance increase will be only a 5% increase; the increase had been estimated to be 7.5%.
The preliminary budget includes an additional two full-time staff members. Commissioners questioned whether additional full-time staff is necessary; a part-time staff member may be needed in the recorder’s office. The other additional staff member was requested by the auditor/treasurer.
The largest increases by percent were in human services, sanitation, and airport budgets. Commissioners requested that Vickerman find savings in order to keep the levy increase under 4%. The last few departments will review their budgets next week. The board will adopt the preliminary 2020 budget at their September 24 meeting.
Don Kullot, Emergency Management, and Sheriff John DeGeorge reviewed damage assessments from a flooding event beginning on July 18. The board declared a local emergency on August 6. The preliminary damage assessment was submitted to the MN Department of Public Safety, Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, for an amount in excess of $128,000 ($106,000 for Rushford Village, $10,000 for Norway Township, and $11,324 for Fillmore County).
Approval was given for the board chair to sign a letter requesting state disaster assistance. The program could reimburse 75% of expended repair expenses.
Trout stream conservation easements
Ron Benjamin, Lanesboro Area Fisheries Supervisor, DNR, reported on two property owners that willingly have approached the DNR to sell trout stream easements on Camp and Partridge Creek into the DNR Aquatic Management Area system. The easement areas will be available to the public for angling and other non-motorized recreation.
Benjamin explained that board approval is needed because Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) dollars are being used to purchase the easements. The easements will include 66 feet from the center line (132-foot wide) of the stream and they will go with the deed. Landowners will retain ownership of the land and property tax liability.
Chairman Duane Bakke was concerned that RIM dollars are being used for more expanded services. Benjamin shared his concerns. It is not really agricultural land. However, Bakke said he was not against the purchase.
Commissioner Mitch Lentz asked about a future landowner that is against the DNR having the easements. Benjamin said they can’t buy back the easements. Lentz stated he will be voting against the purchases because there is not a provision for a future land owner to buy back the easements.
A resolution to approve the easement purchase of 8.23 acres, or 3,230 stream feet from Connie Snyder, Section 20, Preston Township, was approved. Lentz voted no.
A resolution to approve the easement purchase of 5.21 acres or 2,500 stream feet from Kevin Elton, Sections 20 and 29, Preston Township was approved. Lentz voted no.
Commissioner Randy Dahl commented that the DNR has expended more money for proper maintenance of stream easements, but not so with other land purchases.
Other business in brief
•Mike Frauenkron, while reviewing his budget, noted that the county’s base feedlot grant will be $66,082 for 2020. This is about an $8,000 reduction from the prior year due to a loss of registered feedlots in the county. Frauenkron explained smaller livestock farmers are disappearing.
•Approval was given for Office Support Specialist, Sr. Heather Barth to attend Minnesota’s Secretary’s Conference on September 23-25 at Alexandria, Minn.
The 2020 VSO/MNDVA grant in the amount of $10,000 was approved. The annual grant will be used for the Veterans Service Officer office, including the replacement of computers every two years. The used computers will be used elsewhere in the county.
VSO Jason Marquardt noted, while discussing the budget for his office, that he will be stationed elsewhere during the coming year. He intends to continue to manage and research claims, which he can do electronically. Vickerman noted he will clock in and out and will have a secure line to wherever he is located. He said Heather Barth can take care of the day to day work in the office.
•Sheriff DeGeorge explained how the contracts with various cities in the county for law enforcement coverage work. Spring Valley, Harmony, and Mabel buy squad cars and equipment. In a contract with three cities approved in 2000, Harmony and Mabel each pay a third and the county pays a third of the actual costs. This contract includes Canton, which pays $24,000. Wykoff and Ostrander have agreements similar to Canton’s, paying $24,000 each, for law enforcement services.
•The final payment for a bridge replacement project on CSAH 1 south of Ostrander was approved to Structural Specialties, Inc. in the amount of $24,029.77.
County Engineer Ron Gregg reviewed a grant agreement for Bridge Bonding Funds for the bridge replacement project on CSAH 12. The bridge is a federal project ($353,000 federal funds). With a $76,399 grant from Minnesota Local Bridge Replacement program grant funding, the county will only need to use about $12,000 of CSAH funding for the bridge project. The grant agreement was approved and a resolution agreeing to the terms and conditions of the grant was approved.
•The purchase of a Portable Truck Lift System for the Preston Mechanic Shop from Midwest Lift and Works was approved. The quote with trade was $38,370.
•The effectiveness of spraying county road ditches to kill wild parsnip was discussed. The county has been spraying ditches one year in the northern half of the county and the next in the southern half. The sprayed areas will be surveyed; the board will then consider if it will be more effective to spray the whole county each year to control the invasive weed.
•There was a long discussion on the future of the Cherry Grove Shop. Several improvements have been requested. Lentz wants the board to look at all their options. In 2019 about $170,000 was put into a fund to upgrade the Chatfield Shop. Gregg was tasked with providing a longer term plan for the county shops, which will be brought to the board in the near future.
•Gregg suggested a portion of the Wheelage Tax, about $100,000, should be used for a bridge preservation program. The funds are currently being used for chip sealing that is needed. Bridge decks need to be maintained; Gregg said now we are fixing as we go. Bridges are as important as roads. The tax provides about $470,000 per year. Once the chip sealing of roads is getting caught up with the need, some of the funds could go toward bridge preservation in 2021. Every five to seven years roads are to be chip sealed to help extend their life.
•A request to advertise for a full-time dispatcher (sheriff’s department) internally and externally was approved.