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Board expects challenging year

Fri, Jan 10th, 2003
Posted in Features

The 2003 County Board. Standing (left to right): Duane Bakke, District Four; Marc Prestby, District Five; Randy Dahl, District Two; Chuck Amunrud, District Three. Seated: Helen Bicknese, District One; and Policy Coordinator Karen Brown who serves as Clerk to the Board. Photo by John Torgrimson

Editors note: Fifth District Commissioner Marc Prestby is the 2003 chairman of the Fillmore County Board. Journal editor John Torgrimson talked with Prestby about the issues facing county government in the next year. The following is a summary of their interview.Journal: Could you give us a preview of what you see are some of the issues facing the Fillmore County Board in the coming year?Prestby: Probably, first and foremost would be the courthouse addition and remodeling. Thats moving along at a fast pace right now. I dont know if it is answering all of the concerns and needs that the county has. Journal: The architect is talking about a 20 month, phased project. Is this the boards thinking?Prestby: If your phasing it in two phases, then it would be a 20 month project. But it could extend out to as long as 26 months if we do it in three or more phases.Journal: The county board hired a construction manager to oversee some of the remodeling and help the board with planning. How has that worked out?Prestby: I think it has worked fine. We are getting a good value on our investment because he can take care of the day to day issues that come up in a remodeling or expansion project. Hes doing a fantastic job.Journal: Whats the status of other county facilities? I know there has been some discussion about the jail adding some minimum security space. Is this a possibility?Prestby: It is a possibility and we are also looking at incorporating that into our five year plan. Our jail is at capacity most of the time now. In fact, it really gets bad when you have to call in about availability to see when you can serve your sentence. What makes me angry about this whole thing is that Decorah sits down there with a half empty jail and we cant take our prisoners across the border according to their county attorney in Winneshiek County. But I know over in Mower County that they take them across to Iowa.Journal: Other facility needs. Any thought of consolidation of highway shops? I know there was some discussion about merging the Lenora and Harmony shops. Also, there was talk of the Highway Department moving some of their facilities to the Resource Recovery Center.Prestby: The Harmony and Lenora shops are the oldest shops currently in use by the county. They have really outlived their expected use and are in dire need of replacing. We are exploring the possibility of maybe combining the two shops into one.As far as Highway moving out to the Resource Recovery Center, that is something that is taking place now. All of our salt and sand is being stored out there now and more of their operation will be moving there in the future.What we are looking at trying to fund that with is the sale of the county farm. Journal: What is the status on that?Prestby: Sometime in January, the DNR is coming in to go over their easement proposals with us. Well, wait to see what they will be offering us per easement and we will see if that is something that the county wants to do.Journal: Is the selling of the farm to the DNR predicated on LCMR funds or bonding money?Prestby: Last year we were too late to get into bonding, so, I think, the DNR is not a player at this point. That is probably why they are focused on getting the easement.Journal: So, the land will probably then be sold to the private sector? Prestby: Yes. We dont know how much we will need to hold back ourselves. Maybe all the tillable. There is no sense for the county to hang on to 500 acres of land when we could use that money for other things.Journal: Zoning was a big issue last year. A lot of work went into the planning side, but very few changes were made in the end. Do you see zoning being an issue this year and into the future?Prestby: Yes, I do. In fact, a few weeks ago, we changed some of the zoning and we are looking at changing more of it. It is an ongoing process that might take quite a few years before we get it where we want it. Journal: There are some natural conflicts between development and farming. These issues arent going to go away. Some townships are looking to create their own zoning to protect their own self-interests. Others would like to see development take place. How does one balance the needs?Prestby: Some townships are not in favor of development. You get into my old district in the southeast corner and they would like a lot more development. They want all they can get. They want people in their churches, in their school districts; they would like a bigger tax base. We just cant get enough development down in my area. Journal: So whats the recourse then, do you have to look at spot development?Prestby: I dont think spot development is the answer. Townships can go ahead and do their own zoning, but they have to be more restrictive than the county. Maybe the county should loosen theirs up more and let these individual townships decide how they want to go on with it. Journal: Any other zoning issues that you see coming into play in 2003?Prestby: Subdivisions will probably be tackled. There was talk at one time about keeping them all on paved roads. The way it currently reads you can have them on any road. And then there are some people who wanted them restricted next to cities. I dont know what the good answer is there, but I guess its something we need to work on. Journal: Minnesota has a $4.56 billion deficit and a new governor who does not want to raise taxes. Do you see cuts to local government aid having a dramatic affect on the county?Prestby: I think it is going to have a real dramatic affect. In fact, the governor has come out and said that townships, cities, and counties are going to take the brunt of it. It is something we need to prepare for - what services do we need to provide and at what cost. A lot of this is mandated by the state and they are going to have to figure out how they are going to fund it.If the new governor says that he doesnt want to raise taxes, thats fine. But if he takes away the money from the cities, townships and county government, the only alternative, if this is mandated, is to raise taxes. And thats something I dont want to do.Journal: I have heard that the Minnesota Association of Counties (AMC) has talked about the possibility of counties challenging unfunded state mandates in the courts. Has Fillmore County talked at all about that?Prestby: The county has. This week we passed a resolution back to AMC on how counties are going to have to restructure how they provide services and at what cost. And mandates was one of the issues brought up.What we are trying to do is hang together, the whole state. The county association wants to convey to the legislature that we cant operate under the current setup. Journal: There are levy limits imposed as well by the state and that is part of the formula for local government aid. Is that part of the lobbying effort as well? If youre going to cut aid you have to remove the limits?Prestby: Thats correct.Journal: Speaking of critical services, if there are cuts, has there been any discussion on what stays, what goes? Are we looking at across the board cuts?Prestby: Its probably going to be across the board cuts, but its really too early to tell. Well have to play the waiting game. The thing that was good, Governor Ventura went ahead and paid the townships, cities, and counties the money they had coming to them on December 26, which Governor Pawlenty wanted to withhold some or all of.Journal: What other issues do you see playing out in the new year?Prestby: I guess outside of the buildings, the jail and zoning, something that hasnt been updated for awhile is the Comprehensive Plan. Thats something that we might need to take a look at.Journal: Do you see bringing in outside help for that?Prestby: I think we have enough qualified employees in-house that we can give it a good shot and do it ourselves. Maybe we wont like the final plan when it is presented, then we could look at contracting outside.Journal: The new county board is pretty much the same as it was last year, with the exception that Chuck Amunrud has replaced Harry Root. While you represent individual districts, do you see the board as being pretty much on the page when it comes to issues?Prestby: I really dont think we are looking at this by individual districts. I think overall we are looking out for the whole county. I think each commissioner looks at what is in the best interests of all of the county, not just necessarily our individual districts.Journal: Any final thoughts on the coming year? Prestby: It is going to be a challenging year with the unknown at the state level. It is the uncertainty that is scary, but I am looking forward to the challenge.

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