Chairperson Dewey Severson called the Houston County Commission’s regularly scheduled September 5 meeting to order at 9 a.m. Severson led his colleagues and the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. The board unani-mously approved the meeting agenda noting one change to the consent agenda, and the minutes from the August 22 commission meeting.
Commissioner Robert (Bob) Burns announced that the finance committee met with department heads the week before and had a productive discussion. All departments experienced cuts in their proposed 2024 budgets in round one, resulting in a decrease in the 2024 levy from 12.5% to 9.09% which does not take into consideration anything regarding the jail.
In order to get the levy down to 5% or below, Burns explained three options to his fellow commissioners. The first option depends on the design they make regarding the jail. The second option is that the county could refinance the last five years of the jail, which according to Burn’s estimate would cut the county’s payments by $600,000 a year, costing taxpayers an additional $400,000 in interest over 10 years. Burns explained, “It lowers the levy but drags it [loan] out. It is more expensive in the long run, but it saves us in the short run.” The third option is to implement a county sales tax. Currently there is not a county sales tax. The .25% county sales tax would be dedicated to the highway department. Burns concluded by noting that the village tax is not an option at this time.
Burns shared that he emphasized to the department heads in last week’s meeting, “This is the first run. We are not done.”
Finance Director Carol Lapham confirmed that the preliminary budget must be completed by the end of September.
CDG representatives, Craig Milkert, Johona Harris, and Tamara Wylie presented the final space utilization report to the board via Zoom. The final document outlines the process used by CDG to arrive at two solutions, option A and B, and the estimated costs of both options. Option A includes the community services building whereas option B does not include the community service building. Option A is approximately $8.3 million and option B is an estimated $7.3 million . In option B there is approximately $1 million allocated for moving staff into the Historic Courthouse. Both estimates include a 15% contingency fund for unforeseen costs.
Milkert said, “[We are] not doing a total renovation in the historic courthouse but really in any of the buildings. It’s doing what we think is needed. Making the modifications [needed].”
Consultant Bill Colopoulos, Holmes and Murphy, and Dale Walston and Steve Sallee, Southeast Service Cooperative appeared before the board to provide the commissioners with an overview of the health insurance industry. Colopoulos emphasized that the county has a guaranteed cap at 7.5% for 2024, otherwise it would be closer to 24%. Colopoulas said, “Seven-and-a-half percent is the best we can do.”
The board approved the consent agenda as amended in one unanimous motion. The consent agenda included the change in the employment status of Public Health Supervisor Jordan Knoke from probationary to regular; the hire of Megan Engevold as a full-time probationary social worker; and changed the hire date of probationary Lead Jailer/Dispatchers Matthew Kuehl and Derek St. Mary from August 27, 2023, to September 10, 2023.
In other business, the board:
• Approved a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for Paul and Joan Wiste to place a 16’ x 20’ dwelling on their property in the agricultural protection district of Black Hammer Township.
• Approved a CUP for Aaron and Amanda Middendorf to replace their home on their property in the agricultural protection district of Wilmington Township. The application noted that they will be installing a new septic.
• Amended CUP number 417 and 418 for mineral extraction on the J&C Farms in the agricultural protection district of Spring Grove Township.
• Tabled the proposed no wake zone ordinance for the west channel of the Mississippi River near La Crescent until the last meeting in September to schedule a public hearing.
• Adjourned the meeting at 11:15 a.m.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Houston County Commission is Tuesday, September 12 at 9 a.m. in the County Commission Board Room 222, located on the second floor in the historic county courthouse, Caledonia, or via the county conference call line (312) 626-6700 enter ID: 994-7297-7175 and password 368422. Public attendees are requested to mute their line until addressed.