Commissioners Dewey Severson, Eric Johnson, Robert Burns, Teresa Walter, and Greg Myhre were all present via Zoom on April 27 for the regular meeting of the Houston County Commission. Chairman Burns called the meeting to order at 9 a.m. and adjourned the meeting at 11:55 a.m.
Heather Myhre, Houston County Public Health, announced, “Houston County has seen an increase in cases including several middle and high-school students.”
The county is seeing a saturation in vaccine clinics. Saturation meaning that everybody that wanted the vaccine has gotten it, not that everyone has gotten it,” explained John Pugleasa, Houston County Public Health.
There was a pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It looks like it is moving forward but the department is not sure what that means for the county.
The county will be conducting a large vaccine clinic this Thursday, April 29.
Houston County Library Annual Report
All five Houston County Library directors appeared before the commissioners to present the libraries’ annual report: Kayce Gentry, La Crescent Public Lirbrary; Kirsten Plummer, Hokah Public Library; Dawn Johnson, Spring Grove Public Library; Stephanie Eggert, Caledonia Public Library; and Elizabeth Givson-Gasset, Houston Public Library.
Kayce Gentry shared 2020 key metrics emphasizing that “This year was unlike any other. We did more online activities than ever. It was a difficult year, but we learned a lot.”
The total physical circulation at all five libraries in 2020 was 70,088. The libraries tallied 58,346 library visits and 8,212 contactless visits. There were 139,359 website visits. The libraries offered 109 live virtual programs with an attendance of 3,204. In the year of COVID-19, there were 144 self-directed activities with with a total of 15,251 participation.
The directors identified three underfunded areas: Collections/physical items, Technology, and Personnel. They have decided to focus on personnel as they are having trouble attracting and retaining staff. Four out of five directors are not full-time, meaning they are putting in between 25-36 hours a week, earning between $18.54 to $25.00 per hour. There are para-professional employees making minimum wage.
The directors ask the commissioners for an increase of $40,000 to be evenly split among all five buildings for 14 staff salaries. “This amounts to $2.54 an hour for all of our staff,” explained Gentry.
From 10 a.m. to 10:19 a.m., a public hearing on the proposed changes to ordinance number 9 Wildcat Park Policies and Procedures was held. One change was number of seasonal campsites increasing from 20 to 35 spots. The other change relates to the lottery. Any applicant that “won” a site through the lottery is allowed to trade sites within two weeks of the lottery with a signed agreement from the two campers swapping sites and the park manager. Currently, there are 35 on the lottery list and 19 on the waiting list.
The Consent Agenda was approved after moving items 5, 9, and 10 to Action Items. The remaining items include: Wildcat Park 2021 management and operations agreement; Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment will utilize the same format for meetings as the County Board does; Assign David Feuerhelm from B23 Step 1 to B24 Step 1, Certified MN Appraiser – Income Qualified effective retro to April 7, 2021 (date of MN Board of Assessors decision); Accept the resignation of Aaron Lacher, Environmental Services Director, effective May 14, 2021; Appoint Amelia Meiners as the Houston County Zoning Administrator according to Minn. Statute 394.29, effective May 17, 2021; Appoint Amelia Meiners as the Interim Houston County Environmental Services Director; and Initiate a search for a Technical Clerk.
County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski asked the Commissioners to approve the transfer of $150,000 in airport entitlement funds to the City of Owatonna, Minn., for the Owatonna Degner Regional Airport. Repayment is due no later than May 15, 2022. This was approved.
The council approved Change Order No. 4 to the Highway building project. The changes are based on building code issues. The first change concerned the architectural and structural plans to accommodate PEMB (pre-engineered metal building)drawings. The second change involved relocating electrical service equipment. The third change was to add a sand interceptor to truck wash waste piping.
The annual 2020 EMPG grant was approved. The grant covers salaries, training, membership, dues, and equipment.
The council approved the 2021 Non-Represented Pay Grid.
Commissioners approved the $3,550 contract with Collaborative DesignGroup for CDs for the east steps that the contractors can bid from. It is essential to county staff that they can “compare apples to apples.”
After a Zoom tour of the commissioner’s room, the council approved spending $5,781.60 to re-do the floor from the rail to the back of the room, requiring 80 square yards of floor covering. Commissioners selected brown carpet squares. The quote includes the sub-floor and floor.
Request from Lucas Onstad, Houston County assessor, to approve the abatement policy. Commissioners approved setting a $3,000 cap on abatements. Commissioners will receive summaries since they are not action items.
The council approved Ordinance No. 9 – Parks Rules and Regulations Wildcat Park as presented in the public hearing.
The commissioners tabled the request to begin a search for the new Environmental Services director.
Rick Frank, hired as a 67-day temporary, casual employee to assist with the administration of the Houston County Solid Waste Ordinance, recycling, and solid waste service, and assist with other duties as needed at an hourly rate of $50 per hour. This position is as-needed. This temporary position will give the county backup to get through the summer.
The council approved the contract with Winona County to supplement feedlot obligations. Winona County will finish Houston County’s feedlot inspections, paperwork, and corresponding data input. The county is required to conduct a minimum is 25 inspections in a calendar year. There are 354 feedlots in Houston County. It was noted that this is a temporary agreement to get the county through this year. Meiners will provide Winona County with a list of feedlots to inspect based on specific characteristics. Meiners is responsible for running the program.
The county is expecting over $3M in American Rescue Plan money. This amount has not been finalized, nor what it can be spent on. All funds must be spent by December 2024.
The Houston County Commission’s next meeting is Tuesday, May 4, 2021, at 9 a.m. The public is invited to dial in. Contact Donna Trehus, (507) 725-5803 to be included in remote meetings.