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Change of venue

Sun, Jul 30th, 2000
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By John TorgrimsonMonday, July 31, 2000

The Fillmore County board is now meeting where the zoning office used to be.

The change of venue occurred after commissioner Donald Boyum complained that the U-shaped arrangement at the former commissioner's meeting room left some board members' backs to the audience. Board chairman Gary Peterson suggested the switch to the vacant zoning office.

For those of you who were unable to attend last Tuesday's commissioner meeting, the new room looks like it was built in 1957, which it was. It has brown-checkered tile flooring and white walls. A cabinet on the south wall is stained blond, a style that was popular back in the 50's. The ceiling is yellowed with age and the florescent lighting gives everything a goldish patina. The only thing on the wall is a big round clock.

The room has some history. Apart from all the zoning permits that have been issued; last March, Candace Rasmussen, the attorney for convicted child-murderer Howey Kramer met the media in the room after her client was found guilty of second degree murder. She said that her client maintained his innocence and that the whole thing was a terrible tragedy. The prosecutor, William Klumpp, on the other hand, couldn't quite understand why Howey didn't get murder one. After a six week trial, it made for high drama. But, I digress.

The folding tables and green padded chairs in the room look haphazard, as if they've been hauled out of deep storage. The tables, in particular, could use some resurfacing, as patches of pressed-wood particle board are showing through.

The commissioners, as they came into the room, looked confused.

"Is this the official door?" Commissioner Duane Bakke inquired, as he tiptoed over to the chair by his nametag.

There are two doors to the room, which must remain open to comply with open meeting laws. Both doors face south, which is a big time no-no in the Feng Shui world (Chinese spiritual energy), because the big bad dragons that spawn in the hallway get trapped in the room and have to pass over the commissioner table to get out the other door.

People walked up and down the hall during the meeting and you could hear the click, click, click of their heels. Next door, the heating and cooling system belched and hummed.

The audience, if there had been one, sits on folding chairs that have been hand painted a cream color. All in all, the room had a third-world feel to it. I fully expected the commissioners to start spitting beetle nut juice on the floor at any moment. If truth be told, I felt right at home and wasn't sure if I should sit in a chair or squat on my haunches.

The room, which is an interior designer's nightmare, provided an appropriate backdrop for the commissioner's discussion about what issues to present to the Facilities Evaluation and Planning Committee when it convenes. The committee's purpose is to help make decisions on what to do about the county's buildings.

Commissioner Peterson presented a possible committee job description, which read as follows:

With department assistance, examine the current physical condition of facilities and based on needs recommend to the county board their conclusions. Particular attention should be paid to facilities such as courts, corrections, law enforcement, highway, courthouse and solid waste. The committee should concentrate their study on the requirements of the departments and how well those requirements are currently being met rather than design and construction techniques. How well these facilities are meeting the needs of the public should be paramount in any decision making process.

Commissioner Boyum argued that the commitee should keep financial considerations in mind as they go about their business. Commissioner Robert Underbakke opposed this notion, commenting that the committee should identify the building needs first and then worry about how much money it's going to cost later.

Boyum also tried to persuade his colleagues that they should concentrate on the courthouse first, before considering any of the other facilities.

"The courthouse should be our first priority," Boyum said.

Peterson argued that the committee needs to have a general understanding of all the county's facilities before focusing in on one building.

"They need to have a broad understanding of the county as a whole," Peterson commented.

Boyum countered by saying he'd like the committee to help make decisions on the elevator, which has been held up by the board's lack of decision on what to do about the asbestos.

"They're all linked together," Boyum said. "The elevator, the asbestos, the electrical."

"The elevator has been approved," Peterson stated. "What are we waiting for. I don't want this committee held hostage to the elevator and asbestos."

There seemed to be board consensus that the elevator was a done deal and that they should take care of the asbestos associated with that construction rather than take care of the whole building.

"Put it on the agenda for next week and it'll take five minutes," Peterson said.

Commissioner Helen Bicknese then raised the question of how long the committee would serve. She was under the understanding that it would be for one year. Others felt that the committee should stay together until its work is done.

In the end, it appears that the committee will take a quick overview of the county's facilities, before focusing in on the courthouse. There appeared to be consensus that the committee would meet for as long as is necessary to get its work done. And the committee will not focus on finances.

But then this all may change once the ten people who have been appointed to the committee are asked what they think about any of this. Look for the committee to begin sometime in August.

Public Health Fees. The county board raised rates for immunizations, flu shots and other public health services to make them more in line with other counties. Compared to nine other counties in the region, Fillmore County's rates were the lowest. Contracted school services were raised from $20 per hour to $30 per hour; immunization shots were increased from $2 per shot to $5; flu shots were upped from $7 per shot to $10; and footcare fees were raised from $10 to $20.

Nursing Director Sharon Serfling said that the increased costs would generate an additional $13,000 in revenue based on the same amount of service that has been given in the past.

Health Cafeteria Plan. Yvonne Johnson of Stanton Group spoke to the county board about a proposed package of benefits. The county is looking at alternative health plans at the recommendation of the Insurance Committee. At present, the county offers health and life insurance benefits to its employees.

Under a cafeteria plan, employees would be given a menu of benefits that they could choose from that best meet their individual needs. It would also provide credits to those employees who opt out of the plan because they are covered under a spouse's plan. The board will study Stanton Group's proposal and revisit the issue in two weeks time.

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