At the January 14 Fillmore County Board meeting 10, citizens came forward to speak on three different subjects.
Seven citizens encouraged the board to consent to refugee resettlement. President Trump signed executive order 13888 (Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement) in September 2019. The order stipulates that refugees are to be resettled only in jurisdictions “where both state and local governments have provided their consent.” No action is the same as not giving consent. The deadline for resettlement agencies to submit funding proposals to qualify for federal funding is January 21, 2020. Governor Tim Walz offered his consent in mid-December 2019.
Kevin Olson, Social Services, explained the consent is for the initial placement of refugees. If they later move to a non-consenting jurisdiction, federal funding will not follow them. Olson said in an earlier meeting that refugees would not likely be placed here without support.
All seven citizens spoke in favor of consent to refugee resettlement. Three were pastors of local churches and one was a retired pastor. Pastor Pam Seebach, Newburg Township, insisted “everyone brings something to improve the fabric of our lives.” Pastor David Stoeger, Wykoff, said refugees risk their lives to seek a new life in a new place; “open the door rather than slam it shut.” Pastor Kay Wold (retired), Lanesboro, urged commissioners to accept refugees. Pastor Dean Safe, Canton, stated we can be “a beacon for those looking for a new place to call home.” Nancy Bratrud described her immigrant ancestry, adding she believed immigrants contribute significantly to our society. George Spangler, Chatfield, urged the commissioners to follow Governor Walz’s example and welcome refugees. Bonita Underbakke, Holt Township, encouraged commissioners to consent to refugee resettlement, after describing her experience observing discrimination while in her youth in the south.
The board approved a motion to send a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which says, “We consent to initial refugee resettlement in Fillmore County.” The motion passed 4-1; commissioner Mitch Lentz voted no, maintaining he was opposed to the resolution, not to having the doors open.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)
Todd Froberg, DNR, updated the board on the efforts to control CWD in Fillmore County. Twenty dumpsters are located in southeast Minnesota for depositing deer parts in an effort to reduce the risk presented by CWD-infected carcasses remaining on the landscape. Twenty-eight taxidermists in CWD zones agreed to collect samples for testing (seven positives to date).
The disease is persisting in Fillmore County, especially in the Preston/Lanesboro area. Fifty-eight percent of the positives have been found in this core area. Disease has also been found in Winona and Houston Counties.
The DNR will work with land owners interested in hunting on their property on a case by case basis. USDA-Wildlife Services will conduct additional culling in high risk areas on private land with the written permission of the landowner or on state owned lands. Froberg said USDA-Wildlife is very effective taking deer in positive/cluster areas.
Landowners who want information or want to get permits in focus areas can call the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or call Todd Froberg at (507) 206-2836.
Froberg said it is not an understatement that “CWD is one of the most dire wildlife diseases in our time.”
Mike Simpson, Holt Township, used his time during Citizens Input to speak on this subject. He said it is bad news that we have CWD here, but there is good news as it is not too late to address it. He encouraged the board to support the DNR in their effort to contain the disease. We are in the hot spot, we just can’t wait and see what happens. He suggested there be more public meetings to encourage people to get involved.
The board passed a resolution to allow DNR access to two fields of county land from January 15 through March 31. Lentz voted no.
projects for 2020
County Engineer Ron Gregg detailed his recommendations on two proposed 2020 construction projects (CSAH 15 from CSAH 44 to CSAH 30 in Granger and CSAH 34 from TH 44 to west Mabel city limits). Both would be surface reconditioning projects.
On CSAH 15 he recommended a full depth reclamation with one vertical alignment change (lowering the crest of a hill) and one horizontal alignment change (inside curve work to improve sight distance). Also, he proposes to widen the shoulder (to at least six feet) in key locations to allow Amish buggies to pull over to allow vehicles to pass.
Kevin Johnson, Bristol Township supervisor, and John Zanmiller, Bristol Township, used their Citizens Input time to lobby for a regrading of CSAH 15. Zanmiller said he lives on CSAH 15 and sees the traffic and hears the jake/engine breaks as trucks come down the hill. A big chunk of corn that goes to Iowa goes through Granger. We need a safer, quality road. He suggested the state include it in their bonding legislation. Granger is a food and fuel desert; residents have to travel 10 to 12 miles for both.
The total regrade or reconstruction would cost about three times as much as a reconditioning project.
Gregg presented a comprehensive report on “The State of Fillmore County’s Infrastructure 2019.” In the report he listed rural county state aid highways (CSAH) priority list. The two projects listed above are nine and 10 on a list of 42 priority projects. The CSAH roads not surfaced in the last 17 years are included. They are scored based on the last year surfaced, pavement quality index and the average daily traffic. CSAH roads are funded by the County State Aid Highway construction accountant.
Commissioner Randy Dahl said to improve the road, total reconstruction, advocated by Johnson and Zanmiller, would cost an additional $2.2 million. Reconstruction costs about $1 million per mile. Spending this much on one road will gobble up the funding needed for work on other roads.
Gregg asked for the board’s direction on how to proceed with his recommendations. The board decided to wait until the next board meeting (January 28) to decide whether or not to go ahead with the two recommended surface reconditioning projects for 2020.
Gregg also reviewed factors considered when selecting a highway project. One factor is funding availability. Of the 469 bridges in the county (county and township bridges), 56 are currently deemed functionally obsolete or structurally deficient. Annual funding includes $3.5 million county state aid regular construction, $690,000 county state aid municipal construction, $850,000 township bridge funds, $620,000 one-half cent local option sales tax, and $700,000 Wheelage Tax. The county can compete for federal funding for road and bridge replacements each year.
The summary of The State of Fillmore County’s Infrastructure Report 2019 details the dollars needed to rebuild the infrastructure in Fillmore County, a whopping $72,233,000. With the current State Aid allocation of $3.5 million annually, it will take 14.5 years to recondition 149.3 miles of rural CSAH roads. The aforementioned estimate is for road reconditioning, not road reconstruction. With the current State Aid allocation of $560,000 annually for municipal construction, it will take 21 years to construct the estimated 7.3 miles of city CSAH routes. The estimated replacement cost for 23 county bridges listed on the county bridge priority list is $13,791,000.
Other business in brief
•County Auditor/Treasurer Heidi Jones asked for and received approval of a resolution to Establish Absentee Ballot board for 2020.
She also received approval to hire Carrie Huffman as a temporary employee as an election technician to assist with Presidential Nomination Primary (March 3) only. The cost is reimbursable and Huffman is fully certified and trained on elections.
Dahl said he was disappointed that there will only be one candidate on the Republican ballot, a big waste of taxpayer money.
•Aimee Rodger was hired as a replacement RN effective February 18.
•County Administrator Bobbie Vickerman presented a temporary contract with Winona County for the services of their assessor, Steven Hacker. Due to certifications required by the state it has been difficult to fill the assessor position. The contract provides for 4-12 hours per week at $100 per hour which will be paid to Winona County. The contract runs from February 1 through May 31. The contract was approved subject to review by both county attorneys.
•Copies of Fillmore County 2020 legislative priorities were distributed. Senator Jeremy Miller and Rep. Greg Davids will be before the board at 10 a.m. during the January 28 board meeting.
•Commissioner Duane Bakke commented on the tipping fee increase approved by the board (Bakke voted against) at the Resource Recovery Center. Local haulers serving cities have chosen to haul elsewhere because of the increased costs in Fillmore County. The county is receiving materials for recycling because they take recyclable materials at no cost. Bakke believes they should continue to take these materials so they don’t end up in a ditch. Winneshiek County has fined loads coming in with clean cardboard and the county is passing these costs on. Businesses and residents need to recycle cardboard; it doesn’t belong in the landfill.