Several veterans and Rep. Greg Davids attended the April 11 County Board meeting for a discussion regarding the proposal for a state veterans home to be located in Fillmore County.
County EDA Director Sam Smith, Preston and Spring Valley EDA Director Cathy Enerson, and Rep. Davids lead the discussion. Smith explained the EDA is looking at the proposed veterans home from a financial, investment stand point. The EDA has recommended the county along with municipal, non-profit and donations from other sources pledge funds to help facilitate bringing this project to Fillmore County.
Davids maintained this is a long term project, calling this the first year in maybe nine years. His bill had a hearing in the Veteran Affairs Committee, was referred to State Government Finance, and has now moved to Capital Investment. Davids said there is a great need for a veterans home in Fillmore County. The facility would serve 15 counties in southeastern Minnesota.
The original bill called for a 140 bed facility. That is to be changed as there is a call for 144 more beds statewide. Two facilities each would provide 72 beds. Davids said he will have an amendment drafted to make the change to 72 beds. However, he does not expect a veterans home to be included in a 2017 bonding bill. Operating funds would also have to come out of the Finance Committee. Davids suggested that even if everything passed today, the facility wouldn’t be built for at least five years.
A state veterans home will only be for Minnesota residents and will be owned and operated by the state. Commissioner Mitch Lentz said if it is based on need, there is no doubt a veterans home should be in southeast Minnesota. Statewide there are 1,900 veterans awaiting placement before getting access to one of four Minnesota skilled care facilities.
Commissioner Duane Bakke commented that the 2016 “Need” study shows there are currently 25,000 veterans 65 and over in the 15 county area. This is nearly 30% of the state’s veterans. He maintained that if a number was estimated for 2022 (the very earliest a Home could be a reality), that number will be bigger. Bakke was interested in the total number of veterans in the 15 county area. Enerson said they can work on that.
Two surveys have been completed and there is local support for a veterans home and a desire to donate land for a home.
Bakke said there is a lot of work to be done between now and next year when there is a greater chance of being included in a bonding bill. Davids noted that all spending bills originate in the House. Many legislators want a tax bill before a bonding bill.
A recommendation passed out of the EDA committee to have the county pledge up to $5 million of matching funds to help make up the total of $10 million, which is the state’s portion. This would reduce the state’s contribution. Bakke said we will have to do something; from the county’s perspective can we build a fund over the next several years.
Lentz commented if 50% of the state’s portion is funded through the county is it really a state veterans home. The state would receive a one time $20 million contribution of federal funds to match the state’s $10 million. About $3.8 million would come into the state annually to support operations. Over 100 health care jobs would be created.
Bakke took the opportunity to let Davids know we support the Transportation package. He said normally we would not be in support of taking money out of the General Fund for transportation, but we are in favor of a compromise as transportation dollars are needed.
Other business in brief
• Approval was given to appoint current EDA ex-officio members to full voting members to fill slots of members that have resigned. Ex-officio member slots will be eliminated. There will be seven EDA board members including one member from each district and two commissioners.
• Sheriff Tom Kaase reviewed the nursing services that have been provided for the county’s detention center since May 2015. MEND Nursing Services provide 24/7 on-call nursing services. Kaase said the services drastically reduce the county’s liability.
Dr. Todd Leonard explained the service provides two visits per week to the jail and is available 24/7. Correctional health care has evolved and includes physical and mental health plus care for chemical dependency. Officers are trained on DOC requirements, repricing invoices can save 75%, and MEND gives good appropriate care and is fiscally responsible.
Kaase said it is hard to compare costs of the service to costs of pre-nursing service. Jail administrator Jamie Fenske reported that a repricing ability can reduce certain costs substantially. He gave an example of a bill that was reduced from $32,000 to about $3,300. Fenske said the DOC had told them prior to contracting the nursing service that they had to do something.
There is a three-year agreement with MEND. There was a 2% increase from 2016 to 2017.
• Kaase announced that a National Institute of Corrections (NIC) Jail and Justice System Assessment (JJSA) will occur tentatively from May 15-17. There is no cost to the county. There will be a town hall style public meeting to go over information gathered on May 16.
Chairman Randy Dahl maintained a study isn’t necessary to let us know we have an “outdated, broken facility.” He added that all the (other county) facilities around us have capacity; we need a good, solid place to hold local people, a safe, efficient facility.
• Approval was given to update the Voice Logger for the fire and ambulance paging system at a cost of $2,147.80. It will be paid for with 911 funds. The new equipment will interface VHF radio channels to logging recorder equipment.
• An LETG Jail Module Program software upgrade was approved. There is no cost for the license for the upgrade, but there is a total cost of $3,774 for a camera package and training.
• The purchase of a seven-foot disc ditch mower for the Highway Department at the lowest quote of $5,061 with trade from Hyland Motor Co., Spring Valley was approved.
• April was proclaimed as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. One in six boys and one in four girls will experience sexual assault by age 18.
• Two new driveway access permits were approved, one for Kim and Kathryn Chiglo to County Road 107, Section 17, Norway Township and one to Matthew and Jordan Nelson to County Road 21, Section 5, Amherst Township.
An access permit to widen an existing driveway on County Road 2, Section 11, Sumner Township was approved for Reagan and Diane Miller.
• There was a discussion about rural dumpsters for recycling, especially in Spring Valley and Canton where there have been complaints about over full dumpsters and wind blowing the trash around. The rural dumpsters are meant for use by rural residents. The possibility of constructing a fence to contain the garbage on windy days was discussed.