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Send the money back?

Sun, Nov 12th, 2000
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Monday, November 13, 2000

The county board was back in its chamber last Tuesday after having had a week off. The Commissioners, settled comfortably into their new, blue, high-back chairs, took on a full agenda as they got down to business.

Conspicuously missing was Commissioner Robert Underbakke who was recovering in St. Marys Hospital in Rochester from a stroke suffered on November 4. Chairman Gary Peterson briefed the board on Underbakkes stable condition, and all wished him well and a speedy recovery.

The real business began with Jail Administrator Tom Smith coming before the board with a proposal from DLR Group of Minneapolis. The board had recently instructed both Smith and Sheriff Jim Connelly to obtain a quote from DLR to look at how the county jail campus might be expanded to include a new courthouse.

Smith presented the proposal, but discussion on it was limited and brief when the commissioners saw the price tag of $11,000. Originally, the Sheriff and Smith had asked the boards approval for spending $2,000 on a DLR Group study that could show how the jail itself might be expanded. The scope of the study broadened when the board added in a new courthouse in the hope of getting conceptual drawings of what a whole new county campus might look like.

But it was obvious that no one expected the expanded proposal to carry such a high cost, and on a motion by Commissioner Duane Bakke and seconded by Commissioner Helen Bicknese, the board approved the original $2000 proposal.

Spring Valley Joint Powers

The Spring Valley City Administrator, Mike Bubany, was back on the agenda with a rewritten Joint Powers Agreement for a flood study to be conducted between Fillmore County and its Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Mower County and its SWCD and the City of Spring Valley.

As the Commissioners began to review the revised agreement, Commissioner Bakke took exception to some wording which included "improving habitat for plants and animals" and allowing "environmental groups" to be included in the review of the study.

"Environmental groups is a red flag for me," exclaimed Bakke. "Will you also have ag groups in there?" he asked.

In a consoling manner, Bubany replied, "I dont have a problem pulling out habitat improvement and environmental groups."

Discussions on the proposed agreements reference to environmental language broadened when Chairman Peterson added his opinion. "Im a little hesitant about striking environmental groups," Peterson announced. "Id rather have environmental groups working with us."

To this, Bakke added, "You better put ag groups in there then."

The language barrier was broken when County Attorney Matt Opat offered that the word "landowners" be used, and all seemed to agree that some combination of "watershed citizens, government agencies, businesses, and other interested groups or stakeholders" should be used.

Mike Bubany was soon off with his draft approved on a motion by Bakke, and with instructions to add the amended language. Neither Spring Valley nor Mower County officials have yet to comment on the draft agreement.

Buying Computers

The board revisited the purchase of a new computer for Public Health and new computer equipment for the Veterans/ Emergency Management department. Both departments have received grants to purchase the equipment, but at a previous board meeting the requests for approval to purchase were unsuccessful when separate motions failed for lack of a second.

This time both Sharon Serfling of Public Health and Larry Hunt of Veterans Services made separate visits to the board to explain both their needs and the source of the grant monies to be used.

The request for Serflings computer, a laptop model to be used by Public Health workers in the field, was approved rather quickly on a motion by Commissioner Don Boyum and seconded by Bakke. The cost, covered by grant money, is $3,067.

The Veterans Department purchase, however, met some resistance from Commissioner Bakke as it included the purchase of a $2,625 state-of-the-art flat screen monitor that would be used in conjunction with a Geographic Information System (GIS) program utilized by Emergency Services.

Hunts entire purchase request also included a $400 printer and a $1,064 digital camera for a total package price of $4,088.93, of which $4,000 would be paid from a grant.

Commissioner Bakke seemed disturbed that so much money was being spent on a monitor and that there had not been any coordinating between departments prior to the grant application. As the grant is only for the specific equipment listed, the choice became either buy the expensive monitor with the grant money or return the money for another county to use.

To Bakkes reluctance, Hunt offered that he has received equipment grants totaling $28,000 in the past, and in desperation he added, "If you dont want me to apply for this stuff, we can send the money back for another county to use."

Send the money back? Not in Fillmore County, and on a motion by Commissioner Boyum the purchase was approved on a vote of 2 to1, with Commissioner Bakke opposed.

Shorter Visits

County Engineer Steve Voigt answered questions for the board on why so many of the Countys road jobs run over the bid amount. The questions were instigated by final payment requests for several contracts with Mathy and Minnowa Construction that were all completed for amounts greater than the original bids.

Voigt informed the board that some problems in construction are foreseeable and some are not. He explained how road contracts often require change orders because "when you actually get into construction it never works out exact."

Solid Waste Administrator Jon Martin and Recycling Coordinator Sandra Benson briefed the board on the Solid Waste Committees recommendation that the County accept a Waste Management, Inc. (WMI) proposal to haul out the countys landfill waste and recyclables. Under the recommended proposal, the Resource Recovery Center would become a transfer station staffed by only two county employees.

The board directed Martin and Benson to have the Countys solid waste consultant, Barbara Johnson, work with WMI to draft a specific contract proposal.

Before adjournment, the Board voted unanimously to oppose a land exchange between the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and RMJ Enterprises of Preston. Under the proposed exchange, the DNR would get 104 acres and RMJ would get 90 acres. The Boards opposition is just for the record, and would not stop the transfer if the DNR decides to pursue it.

By Mike McGrath

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