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Commissioners Report: Proposed courthouse project suffers major blow

Fri, Feb 28th, 2003
Posted in Features

The countys proposed courthouse project loomed precariously as a five page estimate with actual figures was passed out to the commissioners at the meeting on February 25th. Its sub total of $3,890,519 shattering the boards perception of a $3.8 million dollar budget as subtly as a lead pipe. That figure does not include a 10% contingency amount, construction management fees of $141,000, architectural fees $397,887.38, asbestos abatement, roughly $180,000-$190,000, and an unpenned amount for fixtures, furniture and equipment.

"This thing is getting out of hand," said Commissioner Bakke as a stunned board flipped through the pages. The board asked for an explanation, not having been clued in on the growing cost of the project in past meetings with the architects. Construction Manager Dean Sand, CAM, Inc. explained that several expensive changes had been added to the package including a hearing room, more details involving the basement, site utilities, and the unforeseen need to update water lines.

Commissioner Dahl pointed out that $64,000 alone was to be spent on excavation and back fill. He suggested the countys own highway deparmtnet. do the hauling. They had the trucks and manpower. At this point, Chairperson Marc Prestby turned away from Dahl a furrow between his brows starting to emerge. The more Dahl talked about the highway doing the work, the deeper Prestbys furrow grew, yet he remained silent. Never looking at Dahl as he flipped through the report, Bakke interjected saying that perhaps theyd better speak with John Grindeland, the highway department engineer before volunteering his employees. Prestbys chair swung forward once again facing the architects as he agreed with Bakke. That part of the project could be bidded with and without the highways involvement.

"We need to get to an alternate bid with mechanics only," said Bakke. Sand pointed out that the county was only a few days away from plans being finalized. It wouldnt cost the county any money to see how the bids actually fall. When it came time to call for the vote on giving authorization to advertise for bids on the project, Chairman Prestby and Commisioner Bakke voted no. The motion passed with bids to be in by March 28. The architects will open the bids, record and compare figures, check references, etc. and come back to the board with their recommendations.

Social Services passes review with flying colors

Thomas Boyd, Social Services head, and Wendy Ebner, Social Services Supervisor, passed out a report compiled by the MN Dept. of Human Services (DHS), which completed a review of the countys Social Services Department. The report was done in November 2002. Boyd recited a paragraph from the reports executive summary page - "Communication between social services and partners committed to the protection of children in Fillmore County is illustrative of how well a small agency is served by having a stable staff committed to maintaining good working relationships. The result is mutual respect among partners and a strong net for children and families."

It was also noted that the "five social workers provide child protection and related services, as well as a variety of other social service programs. Child protection staff have the benefit of a knowledgeable social services supervisor and the energy and morale of staff is high."

Boyd noted the only addition requested by DHS was to provide more documentation when possible on their cases. An action plan was sent to the state and approved.

State Budget

Because of the uncertainty of the governors budget, a media session with the board and department heads was held. The board wanted to make sure they were on the same wavelength as the departments in regards to what information is being passed along from the state. The cuts were hitting several departments exceptionally hard. Among them Soil & Water Conservation, which lost 100% of the Natural Resources Block Grant for $160,063.00 in 2003. The cut has the potential to damage the feedlot ($116,000) and local water planning programs ($33,075). Department head Lora Friest presented a counter proposal to the cuts including SWCD using 2002 carryover money to fund the states portion of the Feedlot Control Officer and Water Planner salaries and requesting that the county continue to provide dollars as previously agreed upon. More action on this later.

Tom Boyd, Social Services, said the proposed cuts are too broad to determine how it will affect his department, but noted "were creative" in regard to staying on task with available funds. According to Boyd, the lowest income people will be hit the hardest, the very folks who need help the most. Boyd said the department will have to be careful not to let individuals fall between the cracks.

Sharon Serfling, Public Health, told commissioners her department would be cutting back on scheduled immunization clinics and only visiting newborn babies and their mothers that really need guidance. One nurse will be on maternity leave for three months, which will save some money. Serfling explained that in the past, counties had to compete for several grants. This is now going to be pooled, and hopefully, spread funds out more equally to the 87 counties.

John Grindeland, Highway, stated that their budget is okay for 2003, however theyd be looking at a minimum of 14% less (over $400,000) in 2004. The state is looking to tamper with the license tab program, which has generated close to $185 million. This would test the countys budget further. Construction will slow down and it will take longer to pay off these projects.

Jim Attwood, Court Administrator, explained the state hiring freeze and the laying off of approximately a third of the state employees would bog down the courts system. In the past, the county had been able to hire a retired judge to fill slots, but this will no longer be happening. Paperwork will slow down immensely due to the layoffs.

Recycling Education Coordinator Sandra Benson passed out a handout depicting the last several years budgets. There had been no SCORE money coming through from the state in 1999 through 2001, $223,081 came through in 2002. The board questioned whether the entire amount should stay in her budget or is a portion of this actually the general funds budget because of no state support in those prior years. This will be discussed further.

The Sheriffs Department noted there is talk of the state sending prisoners back to their original county to serve out sentences. This takes the burden off the state and shifts it back to counties, many of whom do not have available space now, including Fillmore. Other avenues will be looked into.

Overall, the departments appeared to have the same take on the budget slashing. Bakke noted it was important to maintain communication with the board as each department head knows how tight individual budgets can be run, not the board. As of now, it appears the county would receive $394,000 less in the first years cut and another $800,000 less the second year.

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