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County board debates snow removal policy

Fri, Dec 21st, 2007
Posted in Government

PRESTON - Commissioners hashed over ways to improve snow and ice removal with Highway Engineer John Grindeland and Maintenance Superintendent David Nelson at the December 18 meeting. Complaints from the public about the recent ice and snow events have been heard both by commissioners and the highway department employees.

Grindeland and Tom Miles have sent out a list of questions to several regional counties about their policies, equipment, early morning starting times, salt and sand mixtures, shift schedules, and use of pre-wetting, anti-icing solutions. Only four counties have responded so far with a variety of policies. Nelson said that Fillmore County trucks start at 4:00 a.m. with a 10% salt and 90% sand mixture. He noted that salt is not very effective under 20 degrees. Grindeland added that only calcium chloride works well under 20 degrees.

Commissioner Randy Dahl asked about running "shoes" on the plows. Grindeland made it clear that most of the trucks don't use "shoes" and suggested that it was mostly ice that was left on the roads. He said that the county is going to have to start applying anti-icing solution and that the county doesn't have the equipment to do that. Grindeland said that hills and curves should be prewetted when there are weather forecasts for winter storms. He maintained that the solution will be effective for about six days or through two snow events if applied to a dry road. He warned that refreezing can be an issue.

Dahl asked what equipment the county needs. Nelson suggested that the next two trucks the county purchases should be equipped with underbodies. He expects that we will have more ice storms in the future and underbodies will work better clearing off ice. Grindeland said underbodies are effective on good pavement. Commissioner Duane Bakke stated that the drivers of the trucks should be asked to give their opinion on what is most effective. Nelson invited each of the commissioners to ride along when snow is being cleared from the road.

Hazard Mitigation Plan

Emergency/Veteran Affairs Director Deborah Teske said that she now has four proposals and one quote to work with the county to produce a plan. She stressed that the county only has one year from the date of the disaster, or with an extension a total of eighteen months, to apply for up to $10,000,000 from FEMA. In order to qualify the county has to have a Hazard Mitigation Plan approved. Teske added that the state expects the cost to produce a plan to run between $40,000 and $60,000. Of the seven counties declared disaster areas, Steel and Winona already have plans.

Teske explained that FEMA should cover 75% of the cost and some may be picked up by the state. Chairman Marc Prestby asked what guarantee would there be that the plan would be completed on time. Teske noted that Pettipiece and Associates out of Mankato and Global Threat Management out of Rochester (GTM) proposed to complete a plan within about five months. Ryan Chartier, representing GTM offered to have a clause put in the contract with the county that if the work wasn't completed in five months, the county would be reimbursed 50% of the cost. Teske added that the final payment made to the firm would not be made until FEMA approved the plan.

Commissioners wanted time to look over the proposals and agreed to make a decision on which proposal to accept at their January 8 meeting.

County Based Purchasing

Social Service Director Thomas Boyd discussed the StedFast Health Plan Joint Powers Agreement and recent changes with the board. Counties to be members of the Joint Powers Board are Winona, Houston, Fillmore, Mower, and Olmsted. Each county agrees to participate for five years or more following implementation in 2009. Commissioner Chuck Amunrud will be a member of the board in 2008 and Duane Bakke will serve as the alternate for 2008. The agreement was approved.

The board adopted a limited guarantee for County Based Purchasing as a member in the StedFast Health Plan.

Public Health

Public Health Director Sharon Serfling asked for and received board approval to amend contracts with Blue Cross and U-Care to include dual eligible Medicare and Medicaid clients. She remarked that the amended contracts are one reason the county needs to go to County Based Purchasing. Dahl made the point that we were managing the service of these clients before and the agreements allow dollars to go to private insurance companies for contracting back with the county to do the work. Serfling agreed that the state has injected a middle man (the private insurance companies) where there wasn't one before. The injection of the private companies siphons off profit while contracting the work back to the county. The state requires every county to go through this process that isn't now using County Based Purchasing.

Other Business

• County Assessor Robert Pickett and Cynthia Blagsvedt asked the board to consider hiring two temporary employees to allow the department to catch-up. The work load for the department has greatly increased and will continue to be heavy because of the August floods. Pickett said that the department is two to three months behind schedule. He wants to contract with a couple of fee appraisers for four to six weeks. Pay would be the base wages for an appraiser plus mileage. The board will wait until after the application period is over in January to fill the position currently held by Blagsvedt.

• A resolution was approved to allow the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to fund a caseworker/ombudsman to help homeowners in Houston and Fillmore Counties obtain funding through FEMA, SBA, DEED, and any other appropriate state or local agencies.

• County Recorder David Kiehne and Auditor/Treasurer Shirl Boelter each expressed their displeasure with the current process used by the board to set elected officials salaries. Tempers and emotions came to the surface as the discussion continued, an unusual occurrence for the staid and generally respectful board room. Kiehne insisted that a newly elected individual is required to do the same work as would the incumbent. The job requirements are the same. Kiehne suggested that the process start earlier and with more communication. Kiehne sees it as part of the budget process as he allows for the salary when he submits his budget. Prestby strongly disagreed that salaries were any part of setting budgets, as salaries are set later. Kiehne asked for $50,000, the 2006 recorder salary. Commissioner Stafford Hansen moved to accept that number. The motion died for lack of a second.

Kiehne asked the board if they were willing to look at the process. Prestby insisted once a salary is set by resolution, it should be a dead issue. The next step in the process would be district court. Prestby added that he was open to looking into the process next year. Amunrud stated that he felt the system which is now in place works. Bakke admitted that in the last two years there have been some misunderstandings in how the process works. Kiehne ended by saying the process isn't broken, but needs some repair.

Boelter said that the process is not productive and she suggested that a committee be put in place to build some consensus. She added that she would not challenge the salary set for her. She maintained that the board doesn't ask about an official's work load or time spent completing that work.

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