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Board resists York Township claim

Sun, Oct 15th, 2000
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Monday, October 16, 2000

With Chairman Gary Peterson back at the helm, the Fillmore County Board engaged in another lengthy round of "to pay or not to pay," at its weekly meeting last Tuesday. This time the fracas was with York Township officials.

York Township is claiming that the county owes them $30,665 for extra rock applied to their roads during the construction of County Road 44. The issue, which began at the previous board meeting, was centered this week around York's contention that they had an unofficial, "gentleman's agreement" with the former County Engineer, Gene Ulring, to be compensated for extra expenses.

"We were told to keep records for three years," explained York's Clerk, Fred Scheevel. "If we weren't to be reimbursed, then why would we keep records on this?"

According to the York officials, Fred Scheevel and Roger Sanford, Ulring had told them at an informal meeting in Harmony that they would be reimbursed for extra expenses on township roads which bore heavy, detoured traffic during the four year construction process. But the project is now over, all previously related claims have been paid, and there does not exist any formal mechanism left in place which could pay the township claims using state or county funds.

To complicate matters, York Township did sign an agreement in 1998 with the project engineers in which they accepted a $10,527 payment for costs incurred in restoring township roads used as haul roads. But according to Sanford, that payment was just for a very wet two-week period during which concrete hauling was occurring and causing excessive damage to the township roads.

As discussions intensified, Commissioners Duane Bakke and Robert Underbakke seemed to be the most vocal opponents of any county money being paid to York.

"Other townships will come and want more money," cried Underbakke.

Commissioner Bakke seemed more concerned about the County's legal responsibility. Turning to the County Attorney Matt Opat, he exclaimed, "I want to know what our legal obligation is on this."

To this, Opat replied, "I haven't seen any legal obligation to pay this."

As if there weren't already too many twists in this claim, the new County Engineer, Steve Voigt, produced a letter from the county highway department files written to York Township in January of this year which showed that Ulring had given the Township a $6,995 credit for engineering design service on an unrelated bridge construction project. The county was supposed to bill the township for the engineering, but the letter states that Ulring was giving them the credit because the Township had complained about "extra expenses incurred due to County #44 construction," and that the "engineering charges for this bridge project would be close to a wash." While the letter seemed to nullify York's claim to extra money, it also displayed proof of Engineer Ulring's tendency to use "gentleman's agreements."

Recognizing that Ulring probably didn't have the authority to give this credit, and that the county could now have a legitimate claim against York, Commissioner Bakke exclaimed, "in reality, we could bill them the $6,995 and not have to owe them anything!"

As the tension in the room seemed to be increasing, and the progress to solve the dilemma was noticeably decreasing, the clock revealed that this administrative issue had already consumed one hour and fifteen minutes of the Board's time. Even a bee that had been circling the room throughout the discussion had already left, though he did return later to meet his doom at the hand of the janitor's swatter.

In typical form, Chairman Peterson asked the Board what they wanted to do with this issue. "I think we need to get more information, and put it on for next week," he announced.

This proved to be the course agreed upon, and engineer Voigt was asked to gather additional data on detour routes, informal meetings in Harmony, and York's grader hours during the restoration process.

In other highway related matters, the Board approved payments to Mathy Construction for road work; approved the County Engineer to get gas credit cards for convenience purchases when out of town; and set November 28, 2000, as the date to hold a public hearing on a county five-year road plan.

New Furniture
As the township officials made their way out of the building, the Board moved quickly to approve the purchase of new office furniture for the County Attorney's office. Attorney Opat presented the Board with two quotes, and on a motion by Commissioner Helen Bicknese and seconded by Commissioner Don Boyum, authorization was given to purchase the furniture from Corporate Express for $7,2.

"How does this relate to what other (department) offices are doing?" inquired Commissioner Bakke. "What about the recorder, the treasurer, the assessor? How does this compare with their furniture?"

To this, Coordinator Karen Brown replied, "They all need to be updated. Matt had the money in his budget."

Solid Waste
In a brief visit before the Board, Resource Recovery Center manager Jon Martin sought approval from the Commissioners for amendments to the five-year Solid Waste Plan.

The County continues to study its one option of turning over the landfill and recyclable operations to Waste Management, Inc., the only firm to submit a proposal to the county. Under the proposed plan, the composting operation would be eliminated.

However, the county received a grant from the State's Office of Environmental Affairs to compost organics that are source-separated from municipal solid waste. Failure to meet grant requirements could result in the county being obligated to repay the grant money to the State.

The conclusion of the Solid Waste Plan analysis calls for the County to continue to pursue a "decision making process to determine what the County's solid waste management system will be over the five-year plan period."

Before approval, Commissioner Bakke asked that the conclusion also state that “any changes to the current system would do a better job of, or would even increase waste recovery.” Despite Martin's concerns about adding such language, Bakke's request was added to the motion. So, as stated in the conclusion, the process will continue.

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