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Heartland opponents ask for county board’s support

Fri, Aug 29th, 2003
Posted in Features

Over the past several months, citizens of Preston and outlying areas have been in a dispute over the proposed Heartland tire burning facility, dividing its residents.

Concerned citizens came to the County Commissioners on Tuesday asking for support. Hugh Fendry, a rural Lanesboro farmer, acted as spokesperson. A letter, which was sent to board members outlining their concerns, was read by Fendry at the meeting.

"As organic farmers and rural citizens of Fillmore County, we are here today as your constituents appealing to you as our elected officials, as our only voice concerning the proposed Heartland Tire Burning Facility," stated the letter. There were three questions proposed:

1) Organic Farming plays a vital role in the future of agriculture in the county. What will you do to promote and protect organic farming in the county?

2) MN Statue 145A.02 states that a county must establish a board of health and a health plan that addresses environmental health, water supply, and air quality. The county board may adopt ordinances to regulate actual or potential threats. What is the county’s health plan? What health ordinances are in place?

3) What will be the economic impact? You have a responsibility to the county’s economy. How will this facility affect tourism, and organic and conventional farming?

The concerned citizens requested that the county require an Environmental Impact Study (EIS), and pass an ordinance that requires all future manufacturing facilities to have an EIS as a prerequisite for obtaining a Conditional Use Permit. They also asked the board to have in place a community health plan to protect air, water, and environmental issues.

A second speaker, Jim Riddle of Hart (Winona Co) also shared his concerns. He is an organic farmer and has sat on organic farming boards. He believes the concerns shared by some Fillmore citizens will filter into other neighboring counties. The proposed tire-burning site would be one of the largest in the country. There will be repercussions Riddle said.

Another concern reflected back to a fire incident in California where a large amount of tires caught fire. The fire department had their hands full in containing the disaster. Is Fillmore Co. prepared to handle a possible hazard as this?

The decision to allow Heartland’s project is being appealed in the district court. The group hopes that a resolution from the county board would aid in the overturning of permit.

"If the board won’t represent organic farmers, who will? asked Trudy Joerg of Preston.

Commissioner Duane Bakke questioned whether it was too late for the county to step in, that this should have been brought to them several months ago. Several other commissioners shared this opinion. Commissioner Randy Dahl looked at where city zoning interplays with the county’s. Assistant County Attorney Matt OPat stated that if the board wished to pursue the issue, he recommended hiring outside council as their office is already swamped. He also pointed out that the board has only heard one side.

The group thanked the board for their time as they left. Later, when rehashing the subject, Bakke touched briefly on the resolution request. The board again questioned the timing of such a proposal at such a late date. No further action was taken.

Update on Courthouse project

The construction continues to be on schedule, reported David Johnson, Project Manager. Block crew will finish in another week. The brickwork will start in two-three weeks. The new brick is supposed to match the existing structure. Roofing will start in approximately three weeks. Johnson thought the building should be closed up in about six weeks. There is some deliberation going on with the windows yet.

The board received copies of requested change orders resulting in an additional $24,500, much of which centered around digging, soil corrections, and fill. It can be difficult to gauge what one will find when digging, but Johnson felt that the subject is a closed issue now as the first stages have been completed. The county is still roughly $300,000 in the black with their contingency budget. Approval was given on change orders.

Social Services Budget

Social Services Director Tom Boyd, outlined the proposed 2004 budget.

Several key points touched on included: 1) The department’s biggest expenses come from professional services from outside sources. 2) The county will be responsible for an additional $90,000 in costs with assisted residents 3) There is a real concern over the projected rising fuel heat costs. The county will have to step in. 4) Counties will be responsible for 10% of the cost for persons under the age of 65 in nursing homes starting in July of 04’ with a projected cost of $44,500. 5) Counties will be responsible for an additional 10% in fees for those in regional treatment centers. This amounts to an additional $20,000 in costs.

Fillmore’s general budget shows them to be running under the state averages. Regardless of this, the state’s cost shifts have hurt the county. Boyd recommends utilizing the Special Levy authority for recovery the $100,000 burden placed on the department.

Overall Budget Crunch

With department numbers coming in, the board is looking at a 26% levy increase—6.5% was their goal. The Special Levy, as recommended by Boyd will be definitely considered. The insurance program will be reviewed, especially since the county is looking at a 28% hike. Equipment and similar cuts will be considered first before looking at cutting staff. Employees can voluntarily take unpaid days. Fee schedules must be reviewed to ensure they reflect costs. Early retirement incentives will be researched. The dollars saved, in bits and pieces, will continue to grow as the board faces the challenge of providing services to its citizens without hurting the quality of those services.

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