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County airs legislative priorities


Fri, Jan 31st, 2014
Posted in All Government

Representative Greg Davids and Senator Jeremy Miller hear legislative priorities from the county board and department heads. Photo by Karen Reisner

Representative Greg Davids and Senator Jeremy Miller were given a legislation wish list for the 2014 session at the county board’s January 28 meeting. County department heads were on hand to explain how these legislative changes could have a positive impact on their departments and for the county.

Most of the requested actions are also 2014 policy positions of the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC).

Legislators’ comments

Davids referred to the 2013 session as one that produced “job killing tax increases.” He called the business to business taxes including the warehouse tax devastating (the warehouse tax will not take effect until over a month after the 2014 session begins). He berated the bonding bill produced by Governor Dayton for 2014 and said it will have to be rewritten during the upcoming session. Davids insisted MNsure was a disaster and should be scratched. He finished his remarks saying it is not good to have both the House and the Senate controlled by one party. Davids thanked the board for their part in making the Veterans Cemetery a reality. Chairman Chuck Amunrud thanked the legislators for their legislative work for the cemetery, adding that every department in the county was involved at some point, plus local veterans groups.

Miller insisted that they need to listen and work together for the constituents that they represent. The 2014 session will be short starting February 25 and will end in mid May. It is a bonding and capital investment year. He said he will be supportive of the elimination of unnecessary laws and regulations. Miller said he will continue to support the redesign efforts of AMC, the goal being to eliminate regulations and free up county resources. He agreed with Davids that it is not good for one party to be in total control, adding this is true for either party. One party control doesn’t allow for checks and balances. Miller said the bonding bill should focus on roads, bridges, and infrastructure; an area where both parties can come together. Miller has had numerous e-mails about MNsure and suggested they should work to improve the system or find a new system. He added he had not supported MNsure or the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but is willing to work to make them better. Miller explained that while the ACA was well intended at the federal level, it was forced onto states at the state level and there wasn’t time to get it right. Miller said they should do everything they can to get it right and fix the unintended consequences.

There are numerous projects located within Fillmore County looking to be included in the bonding bill. The Lanesboro dam has been included in the governor’s bill. There was agreement that it is a top priority for safety reasons.

County legislative priorities

•The county wants to have Veteran Preference laws for cities and counties that are consistent with state laws. Amunrud said they want to give every advantage to veterans, but the law doesn’t allow for a veteran hired by the county to be discharged during the probation period. Commissioner Duane Bakke explained the law gets the veteran into an interview, but may interfere with the decision to hire the veteran in the first place because of the county’s inability to dismiss if the hire is not working out. Commissioner Randy Dahl maintained that veterans don’t want this ‘stumbling block,’ which may get in the way of them getting hired.

•Community Services Director Beth Wilms requested administrative simplification to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their every day work. Investment is needed for improvement and updating of the technological infrastructure. Rules need to be changed with regionalization of services in regard to which counties pay for client services. Wilms agreed there are problems with MNsure and some inequities, adding they are fortunate to have a well-trained staff.

•Highway Engineer Ronald Gregg urged the legislators to move ahead with bridge bonding. This is especially important for Fillmore County which has 472 bridges, of which 404 are adequate, 55 are structurally deficient, and 13 are functionally inadequate. Five bridges have been closed over the last five years. MnDOT has requested $75 million for improvement of local bridges state wide over the next two years. There are 40 county bridges and 20 township bridges that are on the priority list for replacement in just Fillmore County.

Gregg encouraged support for long term funding to make necessary road improvements. He requested that the current truck size and weight limits be maintained at least until a federal study is completed that will be released late in 2014.

•Donna Rasmussen, SWCD, noted state financial support for local water management plan implementation is the same as last year. A plan is required to receive non-competitive grants. Stability in funding is needed and she requested state financial support be set at least at 2,000 funding levels plus inflation.

•Auditor/Treasurer Shirl Boelter encouraged the passage of Early Voting which would allow voters to sign a roster and place their ballot in the ballot box; this would save considerable staff time and money compared to the current absentee voting process.

•Commissioner Duane Bakke noted peculiarities in the tax exemption law passed last session for counties, townships and cities. For example, police cars with emergency lights are tax exempt, but not police cars without the lights. He complained that counties pay for court appointed attorneys, but the county has no say in who is eligible.

Commissioner Randy Dahl said that Semcac will burn through their money very quickly for home heating aid. He questioned how much of the LP shortage is a true crisis and how much is speculation.

Commissioner Tom Kaase asked the legislators to be willing to work together (to work with the other party) in order to get anything done.

County Coordinator Bobbie Vickerman suggested pay equity reports be required every five years instead of three. Also, she questioned the necessity of the evening meeting required to discuss the budget which is seldom attended as budget figures are reported throughout the budgeting process. She also questioned the need for four redundant reports.

Other Business In Brief

•The rezoning of Todd and Amy Soiney’s property, the former Stateline Motel in Section 26 Canton Township, from commercial to single and two family residential was approved.

A CUP to use the property for a multiple family dwelling was approved with three conditions. The Soiney’s plan to use the property to provide housing for their farm workers. Two comments had been received; MnDOT saw no impact and a neighbor said they were fine with it. The conditions include a limit of six units, no more than seven bedrooms, and immediate eviction of anyone found to be using, selling, or manufacturing illegal drugs. These were the conditions recommended by the Planning Commission.

There was a short discussion about ‘spot’ zoning which the county wants to stay away from. The above rezoning change is allowable under the current ordinance. Bakke asked if the board would like loopholes in the ordinance closed. Amunrud said he wouldn’t be opposed to cleaning up the language in the ordinance.

•Approval was given to form an Activity Group. The intention is give county employees across departments an opportunity to know each other.

•Approval was given to Jason Marquardt, Veteran Services Officer, to use some of the annual MDAV grant funds ($10,000), which are targeted toward office enhancement and outreach. The funds come from the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs. Marquardt will be purchasing a scanner, printer, document shredder, and tablet with keyboard and docking system for his office. Funds will also be used for about eight weeks of advertising on a billboard on the north side of Fountain, Minn. along Highway 52. Other items purchased include two computer monitors and small stick up calendars.

•It was reported that the total cost of repairs for the county due to the summer flooding was about $406,000. FEMA paid $304,000 and the state of Minnesota paid $101,000. Together they covered 100 percent of the flood damage.

•The Board of Appeal and Equalization meeting for the county will be at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 24.

•The 2013 Pay Equity Implementation report was approved.

•The low quote from Jim Olson, Leroy, was approved in the amount of $3,600 to replace six windows due to rot and mold at the county shop at Preston.

•The annual wellness grant from Southeast Service Cooperative in the amount of $2,490 was accepted.

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