Mark Sylla of Minnesota Sands was on the agenda of the Houston County Board on Oct. 23, but did not get to engage commissioners in discussions.

"We're here for the approvals for the two mines that we put in front of you guys that we've been working on - Johnsons and Van Gundys," Sylla said. "We didn't know that we'd have a chance to speak this morning, but if you have any questions for us now, it would be a chance for us to answer them."

"We have a closed session coming up," Chairman Jack Miller replied. "As long as we are in litigation, we aren't at liberty to discuss much of anything."

Minnesota Sands is currently suing Houston County over restrictions that have been placed on the Tracie Erickson mine near Rushford.

Earlier this year, the company announced plans to convert the site from an aggregate sand operation to a frac sand mine, increasing activity from thousands to millions of cubic yards.

At issue is whether the planned operation violates Houston County's moratorium on new frac sand mines, which has since been amended to include conversions.

The board later held the closed-session via conference call with land-use attorney Jay Squires, who represents Houston County in the lawsuit.

Miller said that "significant and detailed discussions" on entering into a temporary operating agreement with Minnesota Sands occurred, although company representatives were not part of the meeting.

Commissioner Tom Bjerke motioned that the county not enter into temporary operating agreements with the company. Seconded by Commissioner Teresa Walter, it passed by unanimous vote.

In a new development, nine Houston County residents have filed as "interveners" in the lawsuit.

If the litigants do not appeal their action, the residents will be allowed to sit in on negotiations between the parties.

Resident Donna Buckbee, who is one of the nine, said that interveners would also have the right to appeal the county's decision on the lawsuit in the event of a settlement.

Mayo contract approved

Human Resources director Tess Kruger and county medical investigator Mike Poellinger addressed the board about coroner and forensic services.

An offer from Hennepin County to provide autopsies was withdrawn on Oct. 22, Kruger reported, leaving only one option when an eight-county forensic services collaborative dissolves at year's end.

Houston County was one of the eight, which banded together to utilize the services of Regina Medical Center in Hastings. Since that facility will no longer be available due to a lack of space, options are very limited.

When asked about using a Wisconsin source, Poellinger said that the states differ substantially in how forensic work is administered.

"This will be an increase over what you have been paying," he told the board. "Mayo Clinic is just coming up to speed as a forensic facility. The other seven counties will need to decide this week what they want to do."

The one-year agreement from Mayo Clinic would cost Houston County $2.75 per capita per year for the services, with additional charges for any "unusual testing" required.

Other processing fees will be charged to funeral homes for items such as cremation approval permits. Body storage for cases held longer than three days is $50 per day.

Commissioners voted three times in accepting the offer. The first ballot approved Dr. Ross Reichard as medical examiner. The second approved the one-year contract, while the third ended the previous agreement as of Dec. 31.

Personnel items bring votes

The board approved re-hiring retiring jailer/dispatcher Sandee Feuerhelm as a 67-day jailer/dispatcher once she has taken one month off.

Roster/67-day temporary employees typically fill in when regular employees are not available to work, saving on overtime costs.

Commissioners also voted to reduce Jessica Melde's part-time hours from .375 to .3 FTE effective immediately, due to a reduction in grant funding for the Peer Breastfeeding Program that she oversees.

The board voted to go into closed session to discuss financial implications of contract negotiations with the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees. No actions came from that meeting.

Other news from the board

Commissioners approved another no-match grant for the county's Veterans Services Office. Sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Veteran's Affairs, the $2,298 grant is intended for outreach programs, VSO Officer Rob Gross reported.

"Every little bit helps," he stated. "It draws people into the office where they can get the benefits that they are entitled to."

Walter reported that the city of La Crescent has approved a $5,000 contribution to keep the county's Victim Services Office open in 2013.

Poellinger (who serves as mayor of La Crescent) later confirmed that his city council was originally approached for a $3,500 contribution, but voted to offer more due to the importance of maintaining the position for citizens.

If the city tried to fund even a part-time officer to help La Crescent residents, the cost would be even greater, he noted.