SEPTEMBER 11, 2012
The Wright County Board met in regular session at 9:00 A.M. with Sawatzke, Mattson, Russek, Thelen, and Eichelberg present.
On a motion by Russek, second by Eichelberg, all voted to approve the 9-04-12 County Board minutes.
Petitions were accepted to the Agenda as follows: Consent Agenda Item A4, “Change Time Of Personnel Committee Meeting On 9-12-12 From 9:00 A.M. To 9:45 A.M.” (Norman); Aud./Treas. Item #8, “Approve Beer License Renewal For Albion Ridges Golf Course” (Hiivala); Aud./Treas. Item #9, “County Ditch 38 Request” (Hiivala); Highway Engineer Item #2, “Establish & Appoint Members To The Grand Castle Estates Negotiating Committee” (Kryzer). Eichelberg moved to approve the Agenda as amended. The motion was seconded by Russek and carried 5-0.
On a motion by Russek, second by Eichelberg, all voted to approve the Consent Agenda as amended:
REVIEW & APPROVAL OF CONSENT AGENDA:
1. Performance Appraisals: L. Diederich, S. Kile, Ct. Services; A. Sturm, Sheriff.
2. Jail Facility Inspection Report.
3. Schedule Labor Management Health Insurance Meeting On 9-26-12.
4. Change Time Of Personnel Committee Meeting On 9-12-12 From 9:00 A.M. To 9:45 A.M.
B. PLANNING & ZONING
1. Accept The Findings & Recommendations Of The Planning Commission For The Following Rezonings:
A. George Fake (Franklin Twp.). Planning Commission Unanimously Recommend Approval Of The Request To Rezone Appx. 60 Acres From AG To A/R.
B. Charles V. Krcma (Buffalo Twp.). Planning Commission Unanimously Recommend Approval Of Rezoning 33.5 Acres From AG To A/R.
Bob Hiivala, Auditor/Treasurer, presented the 9-04-12 Tax Forfeit Committee Minutes. Russek moved to approve the minutes, seconded by Sawatzke. Mattson asked whether the DNR has the first right of refusal on the Maple Lake property. Brian Asleson, Chief Deputy Attorney, said the DNR indicated several years ago they are not interested in these parcels which have been tax forfeit for a number of years. The recommendation is to offer them to Maple Lake Township for public use. The motion to approve the Committee Minutes carried 5-0:
The purpose of the meeting was to review various City and special condition requests, and set possible dates for both private and public sales.
1. PID 113-043-001280: The City of Rockford has passed and submitted Resolution #12-42 requesting conveyance of this blighted parcel to the City for public use to construct affordable senior housing. After review of a map of the parcel and some further discussion, it was the recommendation of the Committee that this blighted parcel be offered to the City for public use at a price of $1.
2. PID 101-500 -013104: A notice will be sent to neighbors regarding the availability. Interest has been indicated by an owner of next door lot (#013103). Kramber indicated that the two parcels could possibly be joined after sale. The City wants the County to place conditions on the sale. Alicia will contact the City with respect to the possibility that special assessments were applied to the wrong lot. Minimum bid price has been set at $23,362. The request will be brought to the County Board on 9-11-12.
3. PID 155-500-101411: A building permit was mistakenly granted to erect a house which now straddles this triangular piece which the owner did not have title to and the adjacent lot. This matter will be brought before the County Board on 9-11-12. The minimum bid price has been set at $3,600.
4. Set Private Sale Date and Public Sale Date for Publication: It was the committee consensus to have Bob Hiivala come before the Board on 9-11-12 with some proposed dates for mid-October.
5. PID 210-129-000020: Asleson reported that this is one of three 40 foot strips of land in the Sherwood Forest addition that was intended to provide deeded public access to the lake. The Township may be interested in acquiring these parcels at no charge for public use or possibly the Lake Association may be interested in them. There was an interested party who inquired about purchasing this particular strip but was informed that this type of lake easement is permanent and would survive the tax forfeit process, so that the public may be allowed to encroach on private property to gain lake access. After some further discussion, Asleson volunteered to draft a letter to Maple Lake Township to determine if they would have any interest in acquiring the three parcels.
(End of 9-04-12 Tax Forfeit Committee Minutes)
Hiivala presented draft resolutions relating to the tax forfeit properties discussed at the Tax Forfeit Committee Meeting.
1. Eichelberg moved to adopt Resolution #12-49 conveying tax forfeit PID #113-043-001280 to the City of Rockford for affordable senior housing. The motion was seconded by Russek and carried 5-0 on a roll call vote. The City has plans to correct the blighted land conditions or develop affordable housing. It is the City’s intent to acquire the property to sell it to a developer in order to create affordable senior housing.
2. Eichelberg moved to adopt Resolution #12-50 conveying tax forfeit parcel PID #108-034-000040 to the City of Hanover for a drainage and utility easement. The motion was seconded by Russek and carried 5-0 on a roll call vote. Brian Asleson, Chief Deputy Attorney, said this involves a stormwater pond in a development. The City Administrator provided a development agreement indicating this parcel should have been conveyed to the City. The parcel will be conveyed to the City at no cost.
3. Russek moved to adopt Resolution #12-51 conveying tax forfeit parcel PID #206-094-000110 to Corinna Township for Town Road right-of-way. The motion was seconded by Sawatzke and carried 5-0 on a roll call vote. Asleson said this involves about half of the Township Road and a small circular piece at the south end of the parcel (used for a cul-de-sac). The original purpose was to be part of the road system. In this case, a Department of Revenue fee will be paid by the Township (appx. $200-$250) because it is for public use.
Hiivala requested the Board schedule a sale date for Public Tax Forfeit Sales. This will involve 22 parcels. Hiivala said prior to the sale date, the County website will provide an aerial photo of each parcel. Russek moved to schedule a Public Tax Forfeit Sale for 10-26-12 at 1:00 P.M. This will be held in the Community Room at the Government Center. The motion was seconded by Mattson and carried 5-0.
Hiivala requested the Board schedule a sale date for Private Tax Forfeit Sales. This will involve several parcels that are only eligible to be sold to contiguous land owners. It is not a live auction. Russek moved to designate that bids for the Private Tax Forfeit Sale must be submitted to the Auditor/Treasurer by 4:30 P.M. on 10-29-12. The motion was seconded by Eichelberg and carried 5-0.
Hiivala said bids were received for removal of bogs for County Ditch 24. The bogs will be removed from Locke Lake. Three quotes were received by Kerry Saxton, SWCD. Hiivala presented the low quote from J.L. Schmitz & Sons Excavating, $4,295.00 for removal of up to 500 cu. yds. of floating bogs on Locke Lake. The bog will be removed to the yard site of J.L. Schmitz & Sons Excavating. The DNR lake access on the east side of the Lake will be used to load the trucks. The quote includes an additional fee of $8.00/yd. to remove anything over 500 cu. yds. Wright County will obtain all permits and the quote does not include the DNR permit. Hiivala understands Lake residents will move the bogs. With the Lake level dropping, the bogs may not be moveable. Insurance is included in the quote. Permits have been applied for and secured. Work can commence next week depending on how much can be moved and removed. Richard Norman, County Coordinator, asked that the two other quotes be submitted to the Administration Office for the permanent record. Sawatzke asked the cost of the highest quote. Hiivala said it was about $8,000. Mattson moved to approve the quote from J.L. Schmitz and Sons Excavating at $4,295.00 for County Ditch 24. The motion was seconded by Sawatzke. Bill Langenbacher, Silver Creek Township Supervisor, asked what will happen to the removed bogs and what part of the Lake will they be removed from. Russek stated the bogs will be removed and brought to the J.L. Schmitz and Sons site. Hiivala stated that the bogs will be loaded via the public access. Langenbacher asked if the bogs are in various locations. Hiivala stated they are. It was relayed that some are floating and some are staked. Langenbacher said a lot of bogs flow into the creek and then the Lake level rises. He is wondering if the bog removal will cure the problem. Russek said that hopefully it will and that is why this action is being taken. Hiivala stated that Lake property owners removed a bog in the creek plugging County Ditch 24. The clean out request was expanded from there. He stated that J.L. Schmitz and Sons will remove as many of the bogs that can be pulled over to the access. The motion carried 5-0.
Hiivala asked that the Board schedule a Committee Of The Whole Meeting for the Audit Exit meeting. Larson Allen has completed the 2011 audit. Eichelberg moved to set the meeting for 9-18-12 at 10:30 A.M. The motion was seconded by Russek and carried 5-0.
Hiivala requested the Board approve a Beer License Renewal for Albion Ridges Golf Course (renewal of their 3.2 license). Hiivala is unsure of the delay in the license approval. The application was just received but it was sent in June. Hiivala said the license has been signed by both Asleson and Sheriff Hagerty. Sawatzke moved to approve the Beer License Renewal for Albion Ridges Golf Course. The motion was seconded by Russek. Mattson asked if there is a penalty involved. Hiivala stated there is not. July 1st was the date of when the new license went into effect. The paperwork was submitted on May 4th but there is no date as to when the Township signed the application. Sawatzke asked whether Albion Ridges felt they had their license all along. Hiivala said he believed they did. The motion carried 5-0.
Hiivala said he received a list of five ditch items from Kerry Saxton, SWCD. One of those involves County Ditch 38 and the sink hole issue near the trailer park. Saxton would like to sand bag. The corrective course will be to hire a company to use a jetter to blow out the blockage and scope the area. Hiivala asked the County Board, as Ditch Authority, to approve expenditures of $6,000.00 for exploratory work. The end result may be a mapping of the Ditch system. Mattson said he has been in contact with the railroad system. The railroad will not be able to look at this area for some time because of work they are completing in North Dakota. Hiivala said that at a future date, it will be helpful if the railroad can improve the culvert tilt for better flow. The repair being discussed today is south of that. Mattson moved to approve the County Ditch repair as requested. The motion was seconded by Russek. Mattson asked if there is a list of benefited property owners and Hiivala confirmed they have one. The motion carried 5-0.
The claims listing was discussed. Eichelberg moved to approve the claims as listed in the abstract, subject to audit. The motion was seconded by Sawatzke. Hiivala stated that going forward, the motion will include the number of checks approved and the total amount. For this week’s claim listing, that is 111 checks for a total of $126,384.51. Going forward, the Auditor’s Office will have the Commissioners sign the minutes and the abstract of claims. The motion carried 5-0.
Virgil Hawkins, Highway Engineer, said bids were opened on 8-14-12 for the City of Montrose Safe Routes to School Project. As the low bid came in more than 10% over the Engineer’s estimate, a justification letter was required to be sent to and approved by MnDOT. MnDOT State Aid has given approval for the award of the bid to Omann Brothers Paving. The City will cover all overage costs. The appropriate funding/participation agreement between Wright County and the City of Montrose was approved at the 6-26-12 Board Meeting. Hawkins recommended awarding the bid to Omann Brothers Paving at a cost of $190,255.44. Mattson moved to approve the recommendation. The motion was seconded by Russek and carried unanimously.
Greg Kryzer, Chief Deputy Attorney, said a Transportation Committee Of The Whole Meeting was held on 9-10-12 to discuss Grand Castle Estates. The recommendation is to appoint two members of the County Board to a Grand Castle Estates Negotiating Committee. Kryzer anticipates that group will meet with Buffalo Township and the property owners over the next week to keep the process moving. Sawatzke made a motion to appoint Russek and Eichelberg to serve on the Grand Castle Estates Negotiating Committee. The motion was seconded by Russek. Norman asked whether this will be a public open meeting. Kryzer believes this will be an open meeting and will check to make sure there is not any type of exemption. Norman said the meeting notice must meet the three-day posting requirement to include date, time, and location of the meeting. Kryzer stated that they are looking at next Monday. The motion carried 5-0.
At 9:30 A.M., Commissioner Thelen closed the regular meeting and opened the Public Hearing for the Park Legacy and Non-Metro Regional Park Grant Requests for Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park Acquisition, Phases 6 and 7. Mattice provided a map of the land and the following information:
Today’s public hearing is in regards to the Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park and related grant applications being submitted to the Non- Metro Regional Parks and Park Legacy Grant programs administered thru the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource Local Grant Program Unit.
As for brief history of the Bertram Chain of Lakes Project: Wright County and the City of Monticello have been working together since 2005 to explore the feasibility and process to purchase the Bertram Chain of Lakes area from the Young Men’s Christian Association. The first purchase was completed in 2008, with additional purchases occurring in 2010 and 20011. We have been successful in being awarded over $3.6 million in grant funds from the LCCMR, Metro Green Ways Program, Non Metro Regional Park program and the Park Legacy Program. Wright County since 2008 has contributed just under $2.3 million, in local matches.
The property is located in Monticello Township and encompasses four undeveloped lakes (Bertram, Long, Mud and First), The remaining purchases are contingent upon state funding and other grants, as well as local funding match requirements from the County and the City of Monticello. Currently we are in the process of negotiating a Phase 4 purchase that would include approximately 60 plus acres along the south and west shore of Bertram Lake, grant funding for this phase has been secured.
At this time Wright County and the City of Monticello have an agreement with the landowner to purchase the remaining parcels over the next few years as funding from grants become available.
Phase 6 grant requests breakdown as follows:
Phase 6 - Legacy Request - $1,995,750, Local Match County $110,875, Local Match City $110, 875, Total Legacy Project Phase 6 = $2,217,500
Phase 6 - Non Metro Regional Request - $372,900, Local Match County $124,300, Local Match City $124,300, Total Non Metro Regional Phase 6 = $621,500
Phase 7 grant request is as follows and included all of the remaining land base: Phase 7 - Legacy Request - $ $6,120,000, Local Match County $340,000, Local Match City $340,000, Total For Phase 7 = $6,800,000
These grant requests are for acquisition only. The acquisition schedule according to the agreement should be completed by December 31, 2013 allowing time to solicit non-local funding for the project. The order of purchases depends heavily on the amount of funds awarded.
The City of Monticello will be making a separate application to the Outdoor Recreation Grant program, in March of 2013 to attempt to secure funds for parcels 2.
Future costs associated with this project will include facility development, operations and maintenance, natural resource management and restorations.
The County and the City with input from the public thru, public meetings and events have gained valuable input and participation in the park planning process. There is an active advisory council appointed to steer the planning process as well. Part of the planning process included types of recreational activities and facilities that are incorporated into the park it is anticipated that that annual operating and maintenance cost including staffing may be around $135,00 per year, in addition there may be revenue to assist in offsetting these expenses.
The grant application is anticipated to be submitted on or before September 28, 2012.
The Hearing was opened for comment. Russek asked whether there is an estimate of the annual cost of operation and maintenance once all the property is purchased for Bertram. The County is not only buying the land, but there are things that will be done with it. Mattice estimated this cost at about $135,000 for annual maintenance at full build out. He projected annual camping revenues will be close to offsetting that cost. At the request of Mattson, Mattice pointed out the location of the new YMCA buildings on the map. Mattson asked whether any entry fees imposed will be paid by the YMCA as well. Mattice said that if there is a user or entry fee implemented for the Park, that will not restrict the YMCA from paying it. Mattson said with the busing business he used to own, they always were charged a fee to enter parks. Mattice said there is not a recommendation from the Bertram Chain of Lakes Advisory Council for an entry fee. Other County Parks do not have an entrance fee. Once the beach area is up and running at Bertram, there will be a lot more use of the Park. Sawatzke said they may need an entry fee at that point because of the numbers of people involved.
Leonard Wozniak, Stockholm Township, said he recently spoke with Mattice about the Bertram Chain of Lakes Advisory Board. He said it would be nice to know what the Advisory Board is advising. Everyone in the County is paying for this Park and they haven’t heard what the plans are (Boundary Waters type park or a public type park). He supported more public education on the Park.
Martyn Dibben said he is a resident, a member of the Parks Commission for the City and for the County, and he is currently the Chair of the Bertram Chain of Lakes Advisory Board. He appreciates Wozniak’s comment for future things to consider. He publicly thanked the Board. He said the Board has been conservative but positive. What is before the Board is the final stage to seeing the concluding portions of the Bertram Park proceed. He said it is critical for the Board to consider what they have committed to this Park. He said it is unique and is different than most regional parks in its final form. It is a great opportunity to give Wright County something different than what neighboring counties have. He encouraged the Board to be positive and to look to the future. Land, unlike buildings, doesn’t just involve 25 years. It is a decision they are making for 250 years or more. Dibben said there is Bertram Park information on the web page and also through the publicity that has occurred over the past five years.
Joan McGregor, Albion Township, expressed concern with the project, although she was unsure if there was any way out of it. It involves a lot of money. She understands they are looking to obtain grants so the County is not covering all of the costs. She feels strongly that they need to think about grants as taxpayer dollars. Grants may not be funded by County taxes but they could be through State taxes. McGregor said the mindset seems to be that although the County can’t afford this, we should move forward in applying for a grant so a large project can be completed. She is not against parks but it is maybe not the time to be doing this. She questioned what will happen if there are differences with the City of Monticello on goals and maintenance of buildings. She had concern with the County paying a lot in the future for this Park.
The Public Hearing was closed at 9:46 A.M. and the regular Board Meeting reconvened. Mattice thanked the Board and the public for their comments. He said providing more information on the website will be something to work towards. Thelen echoed Dibben’s comments and said there is quite a bit of information on the website and the Friends of Bertram Lakes website. Wozniak estimated only 10% of people look at the site.
Mattice presented the request to adopt two local government sponsor resolutions for the Regional Park and Regional Park Legacy Grants, Phase 6 and Phase 7, Bertram Chain of Lakes. The resolution is part of two separate grant applications being made to the MN DNR. This is the last step in completing the applications. The resolutions indicate Wright County as the sponsor and authorize the Parks Administrator to submit and execute agreements as necessary. Mattice said that as in the past, if a grant is obtained the agreement will be brought forward for signatures. Norman asked whether there are two resolutions. Mattice explained there are; one for Phase 6, and one for Phase 7.
Sawatzke stated that Russek raises a good question on costs going out to the future. There are going to be future operational costs. Right now, there is almost no cost. There are some staff members working at Bertram that are just taking away from some of the work they would be doing in other parks. Sawatzke said if future County Boards add more activities, it will come at a cost. There will be revenues associated as well. Parks has a good track record on sources of revenues and expenses for campgrounds. Recognizing that, Sawatzke said that does not cover the cost of the land. Relative to grants, he did not disagree with the comment that this is not free money. This particular grant was constitutionally put into place with the 3/8 of a cent sales tax. If Wright County does not receive money from the Legacy Fund, someone else will. The Constitution requires that the money go toward this type of thing. There will be some other city or county that will apply for the funding as well. He felt the question relates to whether the dollars the Wright County taxpayers are paying will come back to Wright County and whether it is a good deal. Sawatzke said the grant cycle has changed to become more and more affordable for the County’s match. The cost is down to $100,000 for a $2 million piece of property on three lakes. He said it is hard to say that is not a good value. Arguably, they can talk about whether there are enough parks and whether the County should be buying more park land. Relative to the cost, he said it is coming at less cost to the County as they go along and more to the outside due to the passing of the 3/8 of a cent Legacy Amendment passed a few years ago.
Mattson said he has voted against this every time because of cost. He said his family has traveled a lot and has never gone into a free park. Yet, this is a very expensive park for the taxpayers and they are still discussing whether to charge for entrance. He feels this should have been on the Advisory Board’s first agenda. He wishes that just once it would be on their agenda to discuss admission into the Park. Thelen said it is premature to do that. Mattice said it has been discussed but the turning point relates to the facilities and use. It would be difficult to charge now when 5-6 people come in sporadically for very minimal facilities that are developed and also because of the return on investment to enforce fees. The question is does that pay. He said that is where discussion is at now. When the swimming beach develops and there are 200 visitors a day, that may be the time to determine if there is a return on investment associated with a user fee and staff enforcement. He said that is the turning point with the Advisory Board right now. Mattson said his family has been to parks that are hardly developed at all and they have a fee to get into the park if you want to camp. He did not feel it would be that hard to develop a fee no matter how many people enter the Park. He felt the fee should cover the costs for Wright County taxpayers.
Russek said it has always been his position that if this is a Regional Park, then why is Wright County buying it. He said it should be a State Park if it is a Regional Park. Otherwise, if we are buying it, he feels it should be a Wright County Park. He asked if this is a Regional Park, why are the constituents in his District expected to buy this Park.
Sawatzke said this involves a $2 million parcel at a cost of $200,000. Roughly 90% is being funded by the State, 5% is funded by the City, and 5% is funded by the County. Those residents in the City of Monticello also pay some through the City through Park Dedication funds. Sawatzke said 90% of the funding is coming through sales tax. That sales tax is being charged and going to be distributed for some park acquisition somewhere in the State. Sawatzke said he agrees with Russek; if it is a Regional Park the State should be paying. In this case, he estimated the split at about 95/5 (State, County/City split). Mattice agreed.
Mattson said he will vote in support of the request if it is guaranteed that all future Advisory Board Agendas will include discussion on an entry fee for the Park. Sawatzke said they are looking at fees. Wright County has other parks where an access fee is not charged, and a couple of those are larger than this one. Fees are charged for suchthings as campgrounds, boat launching, group camps, shelter reservations, firewood, and educational programming at the Ney Nature Center. Thelen said another point of view is that the Park is for the public. The public is paying for it and should weigh in. Eichelberg said part of the property is owned by the City and the YMCA. Until all things are worked out in total, some decisions cannot be made as those particular entities need to be involved. Eichelberg agrees that down the road this should be part of the discussion. Eichelberg concurs with Sawatzke’s comments.
Eichelberg moved to adopt Resolution#12-52 adopting the Local Government Sponsor Resolution for Regional Park and Park Legacy Grants, Phase 6, Bertram Chain of Lakes. The motion was seconded by Sawatzke. Russek said there is $100,000 in County dollars going into this so that is still local dollars. The motion carried 4-1 on a roll call vote with Russek casting the nay vote.
Sawatzke moved to adopt Resolution #12-53 adopting the Local Government Sponsor Resolution for Park Legacy Grant, Phase 7, Bertram Chain of Lakes. The motion was seconded by Eichelberg and carried 4-1 on a roll call vote with Russek casting the nay vote.
The meeting recessed at 10:01 A.M. and reconvened at 10:03 A.M.
Norman presented a revision to Personnel Policy 201.03, Employment Status, Temporary. Norman said the change is being presented after consulting with Frank Madden’s Office. It will bring the County’s Policy more in line with what the Collective Bargaining Agreements call for. The Policy change will change the definition of a temporary hire. The proposed language in the Policy will read:
TEMPORARY. Non-Union employees who are hired as interim replacements to temporarily supplement the workforce or to assist in the completion of a specific project may be allowed to work up to 120 working days in a calendar year.
Temporary employees hired into positions covered by Collective Bargaining Agreements will be governed by the language found in the Agreement pertaining to temporary and seasonal employees.
Individuals employed as temporary employees receive all legally mandated benefits (i.e.; Worker’s Compensation, Social Security, etc.) but are not eligible for other County provided benefits (i.e.; health insurance, vacations, sick time, etc.).
Sawatzke asked if the revision will provide more flexibility for the County. Norman stated that it will. Sawatzke moved to approve the revision to Personnel Policy 201.03. The motion was seconded by Russek and carried 5-0.
Norman presented a draft resolution which would set the draft 2013 Budget and Certified Taxable Levy. This action is another step in the 2013 Budget process. Once the draft is set, the Levy cannot increase but it can decrease. The culmination of the process will occur on the second Tuesday in December when a resolution will be presented to set the final 2013 Budget and Certified Taxable Levy. At the next County Board Meeting, Norman will propose setting a Special Board Meeting on 11-27-12 at 6:00 P.M. for the purpose of taking public comment on the draft 2013 Budget and Certified Taxable Levy. The resolution reflects a draft 2013 Budget of $102,876,775 (2.7% increase over the 2012 Budget) and a draft Certified Taxable Levy of $50,574,019 (0% increase over the 2012 Budget). Russek moved to adopt Resolution #12-54, seconded by Eichelberg. Thelen asked if there were any comments from the Board on the budget, and there were none.
Commissioner Thelen said she has spent a lot time thinking about the Budget over the last series of Budget Committee Of The Whole Meetings. Thelen views the Budget process as flawed and that it has been flawed since she became a Commissioner. It is a 25-year old process. There are personnel items in the Budget that she would like to address. Thelen said not only is the process flawed but it has been politicized. It is her duty as a County Commissioner, elected to spend the public tax dollars wisely, to highlight concerns.
Thelen said the Human Services Agency came in with a request for new positions. She views the request for the positions as completely justified. Wright County is completely overrun with the increased demand, and workers are working way over what they should be in terms of case loads. For example, requests in various departments are double what they were. This is found in the areas of Food Support, Income Maintenance, and the elderly needing services to be able to stay in their homes. Thelen said there is an incredible demand for these services, yet the Board approved two positions for Human Services. Because of the increased demand, the Vulnerable Children’s and Adults Act in Minnesota will be increasing the annual allocation by $500,000 to meet this demand. She is unsure why the County would not fund these necessary services. She views it as inhumane and not a good use of tax dollars. She said it would be a wise use of tax dollars to be able to intervene on these needs and prevent further harm. Thelen has concerns that the County failed to fund the Human Services positions that are completely justified.
Thelen said the 2013 draft Budget includes a new position for a Human Resources Director (HR Director) in the Coordinator’s Office. Thelen said the HR Director position is not justified and there is no money for it. She said that position is in the 2013 Budget for $93,000. She viewed this as a nice idea but did not know if it is necessary at this time. That as opposed to the six positions in Human Services, with reimbursements, will cost about $182,000. She said that does not make sense to her. She feels it is important to make this transparent.
Thelen said another thing that has been in the Budget since 2009 are vacant positions. She said this will be the fifth year they have been included. The taxpayers are paying for positions that are not filled and provide no services to the County. She said the County Board won’t fund three more positions in Human Services that meet a dire and desperate need. Thelen viewed this as a shell game. Thelen said what she is hearing from the public is that her support of these positions is going to bankrupt the County, that she is a “tax and spend” liberal, that this is some sort of evidence. At the same time, she said it is not provided in context; i.e., we don’t want to fund these positions but we will fund open positions and the new HR Director in the Coordinator’s Office that the justification is not there for.
Thelen said from the beginning, it has not been easy to find these things out serving on the Budget Committee. She said to those who will serve on the new Board that it will take a lot of digging. She stated the Board receives their Budget books fifteen minutes before they start looking at the Budget. Thelen said a better process is needed looking across the enterprise for savings.
Thelen feels the County could realize savings by taking the vacant positions out of the budget. This year, some of the funding for these positions has been subtracted in an effort to reduce the Levy. Last year, the same thing happened. She said that this costs about $625,000 a year or about $3 million that the taxpayers have paid over time for nothing. Thelen restated this is a shell game. She said she was elected to represent the people in her District and in the County. She serves on at least five boards, committees, and task forces where she hears of the needs. Thelen stated the process is bogus and she will vote no. She will work until December 2nd to bring down the Levy by eliminating some of the vacant positions and the HR Director position. The Human Services positions could be filled, and the County could provide these necessary services. Thelen restated she will vote no on the resolution. She said it is probably unprecedented but she cannot in good faith be part of this process and pretend this is a conservative Board because they are not voting for Human Services positions.
Russek stated that when all other counties laid people off, Wright County did not. Wright County is conservative. Some positions were not backfilled, but no one was laid off in Human Services; they are fully staffed and received two new positions this year. Russek said the County Board is not these “really bad people” that Thelen is trying to make them out to be. Thelen responded that she is not trying to make them appear as bad people, but is trying to make some of these workings apparent. The history on position requests is that the department heads came forward with information on how to avert crisis that they could see coming. The County chose whether to fill particular positions that were vacated. The idea was that the positions would remain open. Then when the crisis was averted, the positions would be looked at to see about filling them. Thelen said it is apparent to her that there is no intention to fill the positions that have been left open. She supports taking them out of the Budget. When they are needed, they can be put back into the Budget.
Sawatzke said this comes as a surprise. The Budget Committee Of The Whole met yesterday to discuss any concerns. Thelen did not say a word about this. He viewed it as Thelen grandstanding on camera. He said Thelen is trying to suggest she is conservative when she is an advocate for spending more than anyone he has ever served with. Thelen asked what Sawatzke was talking about. He said what he is talking about is in a time of challenging times, Thelen thought the County should add seven more people to Human Services. Sawatzke said when he suggested to Thelen that adding seven positions was not acceptable, her statement to him was “Mr. Sawatzke, your position is unacceptable.” Sawatzke said he responded he did not think that was the case. He said he then suggested that she would not be happy if they were given fourteen positions. He said Thelen’s response was that they need fourteen. Sawatzke asked Thelen whether she recalled that discussion and thought others on the Board should recall it because it only happened 2-3 weeks ago. He said he did not hear any of the other Commissioners debating this.
Sawatzke said Thelen referenced the HR Director at $93,000. Sawatzke said he was against that position as well. The difference between them is that Thelen would have been for the HR Director if all of the positions would have been approved in Human Services. He said that Thelen previously stated she wanted to wait with approval of the HR Director as she wanted to see where things went with the Human Services positions. He asked whether the Board members recalled that. Sawatzke said that Russek nodded his head in affirmation. Sawatzke felt Thelen’s position was that if all the positions in Human Services were approved, then the County could spend $93,000 more on the Personnel Director. Sawatzke said he was against both of the requests. Sawatzke stated that later, Thelen said she would vote for the HR Director if they could have their own department. Sawatzke said creating a new HR department would come at a cost and staff would be needed. He told Thelen she should not suggest she is conservative.
Thelen said she is not suggesting she is the conservative. Sawatzke said that is what she was saying. Thelen said she wanted to talk about conservative. There is the conservative that says, “No, no, no” those that do not fix the hole in the room even though the house is falling down eventually. Then there is the conservative that is smart that says they need to take care of that hole because eventually the house will fall down. Then there is the political conservative who manipulates the term in order to get votes. She said they can look at who has wasted County public taxpayer dollars in the intervening times, but that is not for discussion today. Thelen said when she suggested that they create a new department for Human Resources, what she suggested was that they take existing personnel, take them out from under Dick (Norman), and promote one person as an alternative. What she has been calling for four years for is that the County complete a budget process that looks at the various needs in various departments. She said when Dick Norman came forward with the Human Resources Director request, what she asked for is a management audit. Is it necessary or just nice? Where should it be and what would we gain, what would be the benefits, and what would be the cost? She said when Sawatzke says she supports seven positions in Human Services and that she supports fourteen, if they are needed, yes. She said she can’t tell them the difficulties that people are having. Thelen said one of the positions would be paid for dollar to dollar. It would be a Public Health Nurse position and it would have no impact on the Levy. Two of the positions the Board approved. Another position was in technology. She said that leaves three positions that she thinks still should be funded that came forward in the request. These three positions would cost the County an additional $118,771. The HR Director position is approximately $93,000. With reimbursements coming to the County, the position would be $110,000. Thelen said there is about $200,000 left in the Budget from the vacant positions they are not being used to offset the Levy. She said that is money included in the Budget as if there are positions. Thelen said she would rather pay for positions that have real bodies in them and that meet real needs rather than phantom positions that are in there to create some sort of slush fund. The County uses Levy tax dollars to fund these positions and they are not filled. She said the County has been doing this since 2009.
Thelen said the reason she did not do anything yesterday (at the Budget Committee Of The Whole Meeting) is that it takes this long to figure this out. She has been talking with everybody in the three county area about how their budget process works. She said Wright County takes big credit for keeping the budget down and not firing anyone. She cannot find many places that did lay off Human Services people. Thelen said that is the kind of mythology out there. She said there may have been a few in Carver County.
Thelen said the caseload carried by a Wright County Social Worker is 400 cases. In Stearns County, it is 232 cases. These are people in dire need and who need services (i.e., keep mom out of the nursing home, get services for the mentally ill family member, get help for child maltreatment reports). In terms of the case load for families with children, the worker in Wright County carries 225 cases. In Stearns County, the case load is 103. That is double. Thelen said it doesn’t make good economic sense to stress workers in that way. She said there are conditions where people, primarily women working in Human Services, can’t keep up. We have people who have needs but can’t get them met. When we don’t serve the senior citizen, they end up in a nursing home. When we don’t serve the mentally ill, they end up in jails. That costs money. Thelen hopes for a process where they can vet these things, where you can’t just go down the road and say, “well she is going to bankrupt the County because she is this, she is that, or she is the other thing.” Thelen feels it is irresponsible for the County Commissioners not to meet these needs. She said that it is up to the public to decide where to put the money. Whether into fake positions or into real positions meeting real human needs or do they put them into positions where there has been no established need, which is the Human Resources Director position at this point.
Thelen said it is a process problem and has been a process problem since day one. Thelen said she cannot believe she can come into a Board Meeting and get the Budget book fifteen minutes before it starts. One at a time departments come in with their budgets and the Board must decide on possible cuts. She said there is no overview. The twelve positions that were put on the table four years ago were done so under the assumption that they would be looked at as time went on, and they haven’t been. Thelen said it is apparent to her, at this point, that they are never going to be filled when fully justified, well reasoned requests to fill positions are not being filled. She suggested taking the positions out of the Budget.
Thelen said to Sawatzke that she has voted mostly with him along the lines of money spent. She said she has offered other ideas for saving money, most recently to discuss whether the County could bridge people who are at the Rule of 90 and approaching retirement. Thelen said she does not want to get into the political arguments here. She resents the fact that Sawatzke said this is grandstanding. Thelen said this is her representing her district and trying to make these things visible. Thelen invited the public to take a look at this but that it is not easy to find. She encouraged those in the audience that are elected to the Board to look into the many models that are available for doing the budget process better. Thelen said it has been hard to follow the money. She said a lot of places have workshops for the Commissioners to look at all of these things when they do the budget. Thelen said it is flawed and wrong for it to be politicized. She said that is all she has to say.
Sawatzke said Thelen talks about people suffering out there. He said taxpayers are having difficult times and don’t need their taxes raised any more. Sawatzke said they should worry about those people who are paying taxes and working hard every day and are trying to keep what they have. He said they should worry about those people as well. Thelen said that is what she is worried about here. Sawatzke said Thelen referenced that they are apparently neglecting Human Services because they won’t hire seven more people. He does not know a county around that is increasing their staffing levels by that much. Thelen said it is three more people. Sawatzke said it is three more people than what they already actually added on. He was unsure if the public would think adding $559,000 to a Department is exactly cutting them off at the knees. He feels that if there is a department that got over a half million dollar increase in their budget from one year to the next, people would feel that is recognizing needs. He said that is what he would think because Human Services did get over a half million dollar increase to their Budget. Sawatzke said Thelen wants it to be more than that and that she does not feel $559,000 is enough. He said she would prefer it to be more than that but that is the number that got approved.
Sawatzke said they should not talk about neglecting. He said Thelen referenced the figure of $118,000 for County staff. He believes that is the amount for the positions alone (actual salaries). He told Thelen there is more involved than that including driving automobiles, desks, offices, and other expenditures beyond that. He said if Thelen is just looking at their salaries at $118,000 as the cost, he feels she is under valuing what the real cost is. Sawatzke said earlier in this meeting, they discussed grants and constitutional grants and how it didn’t matter, that the money was going to go to someone. When Wright County and other commissioners around the State and around the Country act in a fiscally prudent manner, they not only save their local taxpayers dollars but they are asking for less from the State and Federal government as well. He said this is not just impacting the County’s Budget but impacting beyond the borders of Wright County as well. Sawatzke hopes there are commissioners in other counties that are doing the same.
Sawatzke said Thelen referenced the HR Director. He said to Thelen that she wanted to hire for that position. She was willing to fill the position but just didn’t like where they were located. He said Thelen talked some about the salaries that are open. He said if Thelen wants to take the other $200,000 and lower the Levy by that amount, he is with her on that. He said one of the reasons it may not be done is there is a thought that maybe something could get replaced. Some of the positions have been. Sawatzke said in this Budget process, Thelen approved a position that was not filled in Administration. Sawatzke said he was against filling the position and got out-voted on it. He was not going to bring it up today that he was against that position as he was trying to save additionally. Sawatzke said Thelen is suggesting that we have never added one of those (positions) back. One was added back. Sawatzke said he and Thelen are different; she wanted to add one back that costs more money and he did not want to do it. He said Thelen should not tell him that she votes with him on all of the money issues as there are differences. Sawatzke said Thelen is laying out one side of this and she is not happy. He said if Human Services would have gotten the three positions, the Levy could have gone up by 10% and he felt she would be racing to vote for it.
Thelen did not think Sawatzke knew that. She said she is not asking to increase the Levy, but she is suggesting that they look at whether they want to pay for phantom positions or real positions. Thelen said the County is getting this money to meet the increased demand. She said Sawatzke can put a spin on it as he wants. She is a taxpayer and doesn’t want her taxes to go up. At the same time she is paying her taxes, and she wants to do whatever is possible to assure that the services that people are getting are adequate and effective. When they are not able to keep up with the demand, it results in mistakes being made, appeals, a workforce that is over stressed, and increased insurance claims. She said there are all sorts of things that accrue to their not meeting the needs effectively.
Thelen said she would take out the extra position in the Administration Office as well. She is not looking to increase the Levy. She is looking to do what she feels is the right thing relative to what needs are being met and not being met in this particular Budget. Thelen said she is on a lot of committees, such as those dealing with old people, those that are mentally ill, the Public Health Task Force, and the AMC HR Board. These are mandated services and the County should be providing them well. Thelen said Wright County is getting a reputation because of not meeting these services as well as they could be. She said this can be seen by case loads doubling. Thelen said when someone is hired, they work here as long as they can until it is on their resume’. Then the person goes to Stearns County where they will be treated more humanely, and where their case loads will be half. Thelen said Wright County is a constant training ground and we are not developing a workforce that can be invested in the County, can problem solve, and can get to know the County. She said there is more than just numbers involved. She said when she is talking about being conservative, she is talking little “c”. Thelen said her dad was a conservative, a small business man, and they were as frugal as they came. Thelen said she is frugal. She said that people will have to investigate her record to make sure the claims Sawatzke is making are accurate.
Sawatzke asked Thelen what he stated today that was not accurate. He pointed out some things that happened in the Budget process with three other people (Mattson was not present for some of the hearings). He asked Eichelberg and Russek whether he has mischaracterized anything that has taken place during this Budget cycle. He then asked Thelen whether he mischaracterized anything. Thelen stated the seven positions are slightly erroneous.
Thelen referenced the Committee Of The Whole process and the day the Human Services positions were presented. She said that she is talking with people in need, people with real needs who are on their knees telling her about the problems they are having getting through up there and the problems they are having with their families. Thelen said she comes to a Board Meeting where Jay Kieft presents a fully justified, well reasoned request. The money is there and the need is there. Thelen said she raised the issue. The response was “no, we were at the Truth In Taxation Meeting and we cannot spend the taxpayer money on these new positions.” Thelen said her response at that time was that they spent $700,000 on belly dumps, graders, and other equipment for Highway when they met the day before. She said this was done without batting an eye. She asked Sawatzke if he recalls saying that if everyone were on welfare, we wouldn’t need any roads. Sawatzke said he doesn’t recall saying that. Thelen said that is irresponsible and that the majority of these dollars go to senior citizens trying to stay out of nursing homes. She said it is disrespectful for the people that need these services. Sawatzke asked whether Russek and Eichelberg recalled that statement. Russek said no, but they did take $200,000 out of the Budget for equipment. Sawatzke said they cut almost 30%, something like $278,000. Thelen said Sawatzke made that statement and many others to that effect.
Commissioner Eichelberg said he was not going to enter this discussion. He hopes those running for office decide not to run away from all of this. As they go on their campaign, they can find out from their perspective what each of their Districts really want. He did not feel this was a necessary conversation today. Eichelberg said everyone knows where they stand and each have their opinions. It is the one form of government that touches more people’s lives than any other. He said it is a taxing job and they must consider what is best for the community. He said that although they haven’t been perfect on the Board, he felt all five Board members have tried to do their best. They had disagreements, which in most cases is good so they can look at another perspective. Eichelberg said as he leaves his post in another four months, he wanted to extend thanks for the opportunity and hopes he served the community and his District to the best of his ability. Eichelberg said if there are no other comments, he would like the question called.
Sawatzke said as Commissioner Thelen keeps making an issue of it, he is surprised because at the Budget Committee Of The Whole yesterday, they were asked if anyone had any issues with the Budget and not a word was said. Today, Thelen comes in with a stack of papers to have an ambush. Thelen said the reason she did not say anything was because of the Committee Of The Whole Meeting where she discussed supporting the six positions. After, she received eight calls from people in her District asking, “What is this about you being a tax and spend liberal? You are going to bankrupt the County”. Thelen said first of all, she is in a Committee Of The Whole Meeting and is unsure of the ethics of that. She said it was directly from Sawatzke to someone else. There was no context. She did not think it was a fair representation of her opinion. She does feel there should be varying opinions on these sorts of things. Thelen said she got silenced through the process and she did not know what to do.
Sawatzke said to Thelen that he did not remember during the process her suggesting once that the County should subtract from the Levy the entire amount of unfilled positions. Sawatzke said if she wants to do that, he is all for it. He said they could do it today; they could lower the Levy by another $180,000 to $200,000. He said they could decide not to fill the positions in Human Services and spend that money there. He said they could just lower the Levy by a couple hundred thousand dollars. Thelen said that is one thing. She encouraged the Board to look at the HR Director position as well. She said it seems that the three people here decided to do it without much justification. Eichelberg said that is her perspective. Thelen asked Eichelberg for his justification.
Mattson interjected that he has kept log in his office of every call he has made and every call taken. He is unsure where Thelen is listening to all of these people that are complaining. Mattson said he has received very few complaints on what has been done in Wright County. He has helped a little with a daycare or something. Since he has been in office, he has put on his computer every Budget line item. His computer reflects from the time he took office to present every dollar spent. He said there has never been a spike that created a problem in Wright County. Mattson said he has been told the last three years that “if we bring in this person, she will bring in double her wages if we hire that person.” They just received a report the other day that not one of them brought in a third of what they were supposed to. He said the County lost money on those people. He said anyone can visit his office and he can show them what he has. There will be little things that people can find wrong in Wright County. He said he goes to State meetings, and there are some major problems in other counties in the State. Mattson believes Wright County is the right County to live in.
Thelen said each of them serves on various committees. Those that she serves on serve needs. She said she feels an obligation and commitment to bring forward the needs and to advocate for them. Thelen said to Sawatzke thatshe would put up the money she has saved the County against his over the last number of years. She said the public will probably see that she is going to be less expensive for the County than Sawatzke has been. Sawatzke asked Thelen to provide an example. He said he has laid out a few that she wanted to spend on that he was against. Thelen said unnecessary lawsuits. She said that is why she got involved here. It is because of Sawatzke’s adversarial positions. She said the County is engaged in lawsuits. Sawatzke asked which lawsuit she is referring to. Thelen said Corinna Township. Russek asked Eichelberg whether he asked Thelen to call the question a while ago. Eichelberg said he did. Sawatzke said the Commissioner who represented Corinna Township prior to Thelen was strongly opposed in that particular situation right from the start. He said to pin that on someone on the Board is an interesting claim.
Sawatzke said he was interested in knowing what Thelen wanted to do beyond spending more money in Human Services. He asked what other plans she had. He asked whether she wanted to cut a couple hundred thousand out of the Levy for those positions that aren’t filled that she discussed over and over again, or was that only if she could spend it on something else. Thelen said she was having trouble with Sawatzke’s approach. Russek said Sawatzke asked her a question. She asked Sawatzke to dial it back a bit. Sawatzke said Thelen is the one that ambushed the Board today. Thelen said she did not, she came forward because she had some serious concerns. Eichelberg questioned whether these discussions are relevant. Sawatzke said he wants to know whether Commissioner Thelen desires to lower the Levy by a couple of hundred thousand dollars by taking out that portion of the salaries for those positions that are not necessarily in play right now or whether she wanted to leave those in. Russek said Barb Gabrelcik (Recorder’s Office) was promised that if the need arises, her position will be filled. Russek said they can’t take that out as the position might be necessary. Thelen said she can make her case as needed. She said those positions can be put on the side and that every department has some of these positions. She asked how Barb Gabrelcik’s priority gets put aside when the HR Director comes in front of it.
Thelen said her ideal scenario would be to look at incorporating those two additional positions in Human Services which will cost $118,000 extra, they could take out the HR Director position at $93,000, and they can take out the Secretary position in Administration as well, and take out the $200,000 to bring down the Levy and to meet the need of the County.
Russek said he made the motion to approve the resolution as presented and Eichelberg seconded it. He asked Thelen to call the question on that motion. If the intent is to change the Levy now, that motion would need to be denied and a new one created. The motion was called and it carried 3-2 on a roll call vote with Sawatzke and Thelen casting the nay votes. Sawatzke stated that he wanted the record to reflect that he is opposed to the HR Director position at $93,000. He said he opposed it in the Budget process. He would be willing to take more money from the open position account.
Affiliated Computer Serv. $19,870.39
Allina Medical Laboratories 218.60
APEC Ind. Sales & Services 540.79
Aramark Services Inc 6,616.73
Batteries Plus 141.05
Boyer Truck Parts 2,530.70
Buff N Glo Inc 195.00
Buffalo/City of 404.38
Centra Sota Coop. - Buffalo 27,869.97
Central Fire Protection 239.75
Cottens Inc 2,160.98
Delano Rental Inc 480.94
Dell Marketing LP 1,631.21
Force America Inc 630.09
Fred Bonk Gravel 220.00
Granite Electronics 1,532.79
Green Interiors 482.07
Hancock Concrete Prod. LLC 5,100.72
Jerrys Towing & Repair 189.20
Lano Equip. of Norwood Inc 194.37
Laplant Demo Inc 508.40
Malcolite Coporation 642.70
Marco Inc 949.59
McDowall Company 3,300.00
Menards - Buffalo 238.78
Metro Group Inc/the 8,431.54
Midwest Protection Agency 2,424.26
MN Elevator Inc 692.99
MNCVSO Assist. & Secre. 107.00
Monticello Towing LLC 165.66
Morries Parts & Service Group 181.07
New River Medical Center 800.00
Office Depot 1,884.34
Omann Brothers Inc 624.17
Royal Tire Inc 1,646.36
Schneider Corporation 4,197.00
Specialty Turf & Ag 840.68
The Sign Man Of MN Inc 102.60
Transcend United Tech. 1,655.98
Veolia ES Solid Waste Midw 303.84
Voss Lighting 406.55
Waste Management-TC West 283.49
Wright Hennepin Electric 293.90
23 Payments less than $100 1,064.43
Final total $126,384.51
The meeting adjourned at 10:47 A.M
Published in the Herald Journal Oct. 8, 2012.