On March 13, Houston County commissioners talked about setting up a frac (silica) sand mining committee. The study group would be charged with looking into the issues that new mines raise and recommending specific zoning ordinances to the county board for consideration.

"I think we need two commissioners on the committee," Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said. He offered to serve, and he suggested that Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan, Environmental Services Director Rick Frank, County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski, several township officials and four at-large members make up the group.

While they did not appoint members, the board did come up with a plan. Two spots would be reserved for township officers. Two at-large persons from each side of the argument will also be asked to join.

The March 19 public hearing on frac sand mining will be both informational and a venue for comment, Chairman Jack Miller said. Presenters will offer information rather than answer questions, he said.

"We want to let people get a factual, scientific look at it," Miller said.

"And we want to leave enough time for public comment," Commissioner Tom Bjerke added. Miller agreed. "My goal is to not let anybody feel like they've been shut out," he said.

Redistricting needed for county

Auditor Char Meiners asked the board to set a time and date to discuss redistricting.

Commissioners put the topic on their Tuesday, April 24 agenda at 10 a.m. In order to even out demographics, Meiners said that Mayville Township could be moved from the third to the fifth district.

Currently, the city of Caledonia, along with Caledonia and Mayville townships comprise the Third District.

The city of Spring Grove, along with Black Hammer, Spring Grove, Wilmington, Winnebago, Jefferson and Crooked Creek townships, as well as the city of Eitzen comprise the Fifth District.

Human Services staff needed

By consensus, Personnel Director Tess Kruger was granted permission to draft a position description for an accounting technician for the county's Human Services Department and to go forward with banding (a comparable pay study).

Kruger said that by promoting Linda Bahr to the position of director/supervisor last month, the board had added "significant other duties" to her position so more help in accounting was necessary.

"We're talking about (overseeing) about $4.5 million," Kruger said. "We can't just throw all those duties on to one position along with the accounting."

Bjerke was disappointed with the plan. "You brought forward this recommendation based on cost savings," he told Kruger, noting that existing staff was to have picked up some of Bahr's accounting duties.

"It's not working if right off the bat we have to hire," he added.

"This would be an entry-level position," Kruger said. "We looked to see what talent we had in the county... but the persons who would be qualified to do this already have a lot on their plate. We can't shift responsibilities without creating another hole."

Miller noted that since Casey Bradley resigned as finance director, Carol Lapham has been running that office alone. He suggested utilizing an added accounting person not just in Human Services, but as an oversight in finance.

"We will still have significant savings (over the original human services management model)," Kruger said. "My estimate is it will cost from $90,000 to $93,000 less (per year)."

Security contract approved

The board approved a two-year contract with Premier Security, Inc. to provide private security officers on an as-needed basis to the Sheriff's Department.

The company will not be doing any policing, but can provide round-the-clock staff to keep a watch on inmates who are out of the jail for medical care such as hospital stays.

Jail Administrator Mark Schiltz said the company will save the county on overtime for officers.

He added that the same company with offices in Rochester and Winona also provides added security at the Winona County Courthouse.

"They won't carry a gun, but they will have a radio and can call on hospital security staff and police if the need arises," Schiltz said.

Board members confirmed that the county would not be liable if any of the private staff were injured by inmates.

"They have their own insurance," Schiltz said. The company's staff are not licensed law enforcement officers, he added.

Slower but cheaper

Commissioners voted to save some money by reducing the point-to-point Ethernet bandwidth connection speed from the Historic Courthouse to the County Services Building.

Information Services Director Andy Milde brought proposals from Ace Communications to the board for a new three-year agreement to provide the service. Currently, the fiber-optic connection provides 100MG, Milde said.

"I feel we can get by with 50MG easily during the day," Milde added, "Most of our bandwidth is needed at night, while we are running our backup procedure... I feel I can make some adjustments so that it will take a lot longer, but we can save on the contract."

Milde said the county currently pays $1,440 per month for the service. New quotes from Ace offer 50MG for $950 per month, and 100MG for $1,250 (plus tax). Commissioners approved 50MG.

"We can always adjust (the bandwidth contract) up, but it's costly to adjust it down," Milde said.

Scanner/plotter out of service

Milde also reported that that a large scanner/plotter used by several county departments is out of service and could cost up to $17,000 to replace.

The unit, he said, is seven years old. "I definitely want to fix it, but if it costs $8,000 to do that, we'll probably want to buy a new unit," Milde said.

Commissioner Bjerke noted that the county spent $1,500 on the old model last year. Milde was directed to report back with his findings.