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Floods dominate county board agenda

Fri, Aug 31st, 2007
Posted in Government

PRESTON - The Fillmore County Board of Commissioners had only one item on the agenda listed pertaining to the recent flood at their August 28 meeting. However, the tentacles of the flood's effect reached into almost all of the issues for the day.

Deb Teske, Emergency Management, updated the board on progress in the devastated city of Rushford. Telephone service and electric power were being put back into service. Houses were to be checked one by one to see if they can safely have electrical power use restored. If not, a temporary power supply will be provided. Damaged residences have been inspected for safety. The waste water treatment plant is functional enough to allow for use of flush toilets. Teske added that there still might be leaks in the system. Tap water is not safe to drink because of e-coli contamination. She hoped that by the end of the week, public water might be usable if boiled.

The large number of residents put out of work by the flood can make contact with MN Work Force. Disaster unemployment packets are available. The contact number is 877-898-9090. Randy Dahl, commissioner for the Rushford area, reported that Rushford had already taken a hit before the flood with the loss of about 700 jobs at TRW. Now the city is hit with additional unemployment as a result of the flood.

A mold specialist, Dan Tranter explained that mold can be a problem in closed up houses in hot, humid weather. Water wicks vertically up sheet rock, so mold can be found in parts of the home that were not touched by the flood waters. Tranter said that he will be available to give advice about mold and moisture issues. He added that raw sewage in the water requires that any porous item be discarded including clothing. Teske added that mold was growing exponentially and that she was working to make masks available to protect people from mold.

Gary Peterson with the Red Cross has been in Rushford since the flood hit. He praised the local officials for doing a good job. He noted that all the people who had sought shelter at TRW have found homes in which to stay. He added that the nursing staff has vaccinated thousands for tetanus. Peterson reported that there are two hazmat units for showers, which he said are like a human car wash. He was impressed with the locals ability to maintain their sense of humor. He repeated Rushford's Mayor Les Ladewig's remark that this is going to be the greatest spring clean-up we have ever had. Peterson said that the Red Cross will be there as long as they are needed.

Teske summarized area county damages outside of the Rushford area. The city of Spring Valley estimates that it has about $150,000 damage to public property. The townships of Preble, Newburg, Canton, Pilot Mound, and Sumner all have reported estimated public damages ranging from $20,000 to $70,000. The city of Preston lost a squad car.

Craig Strand, from the state office of Homeland Security Emergency Management, insisted that the most immediate need is for housing in both Fillmore and Winona Counties. The counties are now in the recovery phase, which is a long term process. He suggested that the county needs to get a liaison posted in Rushford so as not to tie up Deb Teske's time going back and forth. He suggested someone from Public Health or the Assessors Office. He stressed that Teske needs to work with FEMA. He suggested that Rushford and the county have to look at where they will be two months from now, as well as a year from now. Strand also explained that some planning and development people may need to be consulted.

County Coordinator Karen Brown said that there are rumors floating around about businesses surviving or not in Rushford. At this point, she noted that there are no plans for relocation.

Teske said that a major coordinated volunteer effort started Monday. Volunteers will be 'staged' in Peterson and then bused into Rushford. Volunteers will have to be current on their tetanus vaccination and will wear a wristband to identify them as volunteers while working. Volunteers will need to register in Peterson so as to be covered as an unpaid county employee and to be eligible for workman's compensation. Lunch for volunteers is provided by the Salvation Army. Volunteers will be assigned work and it helps if volunteers are in organized groups. People wanting to volunteer can call 1-800-543-7709 for more information. Lutheran Disaster Relief is helping with this effort.

Commissioner Dahl said that people who want to help need to help with the right things at the right time. Teske said that at this point they need generators, pumps, and power washers. She added that the city of Canton has helped by sending a paid employee to help answer phones.

Commissioner Chuck Amunrud suggested getting a temporary veterans service center in the TRW building. State funds are available for veterans.

Dahl wanted to take note of the "remarkable quality of our citizens." It took everybody working together including the responses from Sheriff Daryl Jensen and his staff, the Rushford Fire Department, local city governments, the Red Cross, the DNR, emergency management, dairy and hog farmers and their lagoon pumping equipment, and more.

Special Session Resolution

Commissioner Dahl asked that the board consider passing a resolution requesting that the governor call a special session to deal with the overwhelming losses from the flood. The board unanimously approved the resolution, which will be sent to Governor Pawlenty, local legislators, and legislative leaders. Dahl added that many politicians have stopped in to see the devastation in Rushford, but that only Rep. Ken Tschumper picked up a shovel to help in the clean-up.

Budget Update

Karen Brown noted the impact the flood will have on the county tax base. The county will spend money to help deal with the flood. On top of that, incoming revenues will be reduced. Auditor/Treasurer Shirl Boelter updated the board on the current fund balances. She then explained that flood damaged residences and businesses are being assessed. With the revised assessments and reduced property values, the expected revenue from property taxes could be reduced already in the second half of 2007 and also in 2008.

With this uncertainty in mind, Commissioner Duane Bakke reluctantly suggested that the county may have to plan for a higher levy increase, which can be reduced at a later date if possible. Brown noted that the projected levy increase now is thirteen and one half percent. Much of the budget increase is driven by insurance costs and cost of living increases.

Southern Minnesota

Initiative Foundation (SMIF)

Former U.S. Rep. Tim Penny is now the president of the SMIF. The foundation's mission is to invest in the region's future economic growth with grants, loans, expertise and partnerships. The foundation was established by the McKnight Foundation in 1986. Penny stated that he was not here to ask the county for funding, but to notify the board of a fund being established to help flooded businesses.

The business recovery fund will give money in the form of grants for businesses that are rebuilding to reopen, probably for the purchase of office equipment and supplies. The intention is to work with low interest lenders and to reduce the amount businesses have to borrow. The amount granted each business will depend on the amount that is donated to the fund. The foundation will work with businesses in the six or seven county area affected by the floods.

Other businesses or people wishing to donate should contact the SMIF at 507-455-3215 or go to its web site at www.smifoundation.org. Penny said that donations to help the businesses could be funneled through the foundation.

Other Business

• The board unanimously voted to go ahead with County Based Purchasing. An agreement was approved with Olmsted County on the four county plan. Thomas Boyd, Social Services, said that the state will be notified of the plan by October 1. The plan, if approved, would not go into effect until January of 2009. The state Department of Human Services needs to give approval.

• Richard Junge, supervisor in Bristol Township, expressed concern about the inadequate township roads and bridges for today's large farm equipment. He explained that large manure tankers run over the legal weight limit of 5 ton per axle. He claimed most all semi trucks and grain trucks also run overloaded.

Duane Bakke said that there has been an initiative to add extra dollars to township budgets for the last two years without success. He added that the more people make their concerns known the greater the chance of getting something passed. Dahl agreed that increased funding is needed for townships, as they are not a large enough government unit to handle the costs themselves. Amunrud and Dahl encouraged lobbying for increased funding. Amunrud added that without more funding from the state, local governments will be forced to raise property taxes to pay for needed maintenance. Junge noted that road rock has gone up $3,000 per mile this year alone.

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