Local option sales tax was the topic of great interest during the July 22 Fillmore County Board of Commissioners’ meeting, as highway engineer Ronald Gregg presented a prioritized list of roads and bridges that could be repaired if a half-cent tax were to be incurred for the next eight years.
Gregg pointed out that in the first year – 2015 – the sales tax would generate approximately $900,000, or roughly enough to seal five roads and repair three bridges that lie on three-digit, county-maintained roads, roads for which the county used to receive some federal and state funding for maintenance. He projected that the tax could raise more than the $900,000 if continued, and given that Fillmore County has tourists, the tax could offer some assistance to the county, even though the property tax levy, which partially supports the highway department, would likely not be decreased.
“My main thought is that we’d concentrate on pavement preservation…surface preservation of all projects done in the last ten years,” the engineer related, pointing out that county-state aid highways (CSAH) receive state funding, “but three-digit roads are funded through levy dollars, and even though some are paved, there’s no future funding for those.
“In 2015, if we enacted this soon, it would take a year to generate funds, but in 2016, some of the first three-digit county roads would be included in projects. CSAHs that were surfaced within the last 10 years…we want to capture that right away, so I’m proposing a chip seal…but there’s almost $1 million worth of work to do each year, and this illustrates what’s lacking in our road system,” he explained.
Commissioner Randy Dahl questioned whether municipal funds could be used for county roads within cities, and Gregg replied that “you can use municipal maintenance dollars for roads within a municipality,” thereby possibly freeing up other funds.
Board chair Duane Bakke then asked Gregg how soon the county would have to act in order to implement the sales tax, and he answered that the tax would be in effect Jan. 1, 2015, if the commissioners were to take action in the coming months.
Bakke determined that he would like to see the issue on the Aug. 12 board agenda, as county coordinator Bobbie Vickerman will not be at the Aug. 5 meeting to help handle business.
The rest of the board agreed that being able to address the local sales tax at the soonest possible time would make sense, and a public hearing will likely be held thereafter.
In other action, Jennifer Nelson, of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), spoke to the commissioners about what SMIF has accomplished within the past months, including bolstering five community foundations within Fillmore County – foundations in Spring Valley, Harmony, Preston, Mabel and Rushford – and the receipt of $100,000 from Blue Cross Blue Shield to set up programming for quality child care.
“We provide 501c3 nonprofit status to community foundations, and we’ve had questions about it from Lanesboro as well,” she told the board. “For quality child care, we’ve been part of a state initiative to get early childcare providers quality-rated.”
Billy Edwards, of Nehemiah Family Services, appeared before the board with Social Services manager Neva Beier and Dodge-Fillmore-Olmsted Community Corrections probation officer Kristine Frisby to ask for a letter of support for Nehemiah Family Services to locate in Preston, serving those with chemical dependency. The commissioners thanked Edwards for recognizing the need in Fillmore County, as the existing chemical dependency service located in Preston will be closing in August.
Sheila Craig, community wastewater facilitator for the Greenleafton wastewater treatment project, brought forward a resolution for the Small Community Wastewater Treatment Program application and asked the commissioners to also set the interest rate at which the residents of Greenleafton would repay the assessments associated with the wastewater treatment improvements through the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority (PFA). She related that 3 percent is the recommended rate, that residents have a choice as to whether they’d like to pay their assessments at once or over time, and that 1 percent will be used to reimburse administrative fees to different county offices that have to handle the project’s proceedings.
Sheriff Daryl Jensen asked that he be allowed to sell two Chevy Impalas at Auction Associates in Wisconsin, as the squad cars had served as part of the county’s fleet until important parts started needing replacement, and the commissioners granted his request.
Next, Human Resources officer Kristina Kohn presented a retirement request from Public Health nurse Joanie Betsinger, who wishes to close her employment with the county on Sept. 11, 2014, following 26 years of service. The commissioners expressed their appreciation for Betsinger’s service to the county.
Next, the commissioners accepted the resignation of PC/network technician Sandra Underbakke, effective Aug. 4, and allowed Kohn to advertise internally and externally for Underbakke’s replacement, though they did discuss the various options and ramifications of not immediately filling her position, such as what Vickerman and existing GIS office staff could do to take over the technician’s duties.
Finally, Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Administrator Donna Rasmussen and Jennifer Ronnenberg, SWCD water management coordinator, updated the board on the uses of the Local Water Management Grant and the Wetland Conservation Act Grant, asking that the commissioners sign the financial reports for finalization. Rasmussen noted that the Local Water Management Grant paid for 17 percent of a staff member’s compensation, as well as per diem costs for the SWCD’s citizen group that meets quarterly, lab supplies and other capital goods.
The consent agenda included approving the July 8 board meeting minutes, payment of the county’s third quarter SELCO invoice of $52,649.25 in accordance with the agreement to contribute toward library operations of all seven of the county’s libraries, payment of a third quarter Mayo Clinic invoice of $14,352.25 for the 2014 medical examiner and autopsy service agreement, granting a fireworks permit for Chatfield’s Western Days celebration on Sunday, Aug. 10, approving a temporary liquor license for the Preston Servicemen’s Club for an event at Lanesboro’s community center on Aug. 9, and payment of an invoice of $2,985.75 to Winona Health for an evidentiary exam, as payment was recommended by Sheriff Jensen.