On Feb. 12, Houston County commissioners voted to restore certain per diem payments for themselves.

The words, "Per diems will also be paid for meetings and events, which pertain to and are directly related to county business," were struck from county policy on Jan. 8.

Commissioner Judy Storlie asked the board to consider restoring the verbiage on Feb. 5. Noting how ineligible meetings can take up a lot of time and involve costly drives, Storlie asked the board to put the sentence back.

If commissioners want to eliminate all board per diems in the future, they could do so, she added.

Several neighboring counties dispense with the practice by paying members more for their regular salaries.

According to Storlie, Freeborn County has no per diem payments, but pays commissioners $22,450. Winona County pays $21,000 and has no per diems either. Houston County pays $18,600 (plus per diems).

The Feb. 12 vote to re-enact the policy was unanimous. The board chair does not vote unless a tiebreaker is required.

Assigned committee meetings are to be reimbursed at $40 per diem for in-county meetings and $65 for out-of-county meetings. One per diem per day is the limit.

County policy states that per diems will not be paid for attendance at "primarily social events." They are also not paid for meetings and events attended at the sole discretion of the commissioner.

Commissioners are not reimbursed a per diem for regularly scheduled Tuesday meetings of the board and are not paid for any Tuesday in-county committee meetings unless they are held on a date without a regular meeting (such as a fifth Tuesday). Out-of-county Tuesday meetings are eligible for a per diem of $65.

Per diem claims must be based on documented activities, which are read into the official minutes at weekly board meetings.

Frac sand moratorium extension

John Griggs of Yucatan Township asked the board to extend the county's one-year moratorium on new frac sand mining applications.

Originally passed on Feb. 28, 2012, the interim ordinance was re-affirmed on March 20 to meet potential legal challenges relating to pre-publishing the act 10 days before the vote. The county has the right to extend the ordinance for one more year, Griggs stated.

Calling the work of drafting a new mining ordinance "incomplete," Griggs said, "We're asking you to extend the moratorium to finish the job."

He presented commissioners with a petition with 250 signatures in favor of the action.

Chairman Justin Zmyewski asked for the issue to be placed on the board's Feb. 19 agenda.

For more on this subject, see the separate article in this week's Herald on the subsequent joint meeting between county commissioners, planning commission members and frac sand research committee members.

'Interim' dropped from job title

Commissioners voted to drop the "interim" from Human Services director Linda Bahr's job title. She has held the post for the past year, since her appointment on Feb. 14, 2012. Her previous position was collections/accounting unit supervisor. Bahr's new title is simply Human Services director.

It might sound like a small distinction, but David Unmacht of Springsted Incorporated reported last month that having the word "interim" on the title had a negative effect on the department.

Human Resources director Tess Kruger asked the board to take the action, as well as crediting Bahr with nearly one year's experience toward satisfying her probationary period. The second suggestion was rejected.

Stating that the job responsibilities will be different, Storlie asked that the probation not be waived. After some discussion, the rest of the board agreed.

Bahr will no longer juggle caseload and supervisory tasks, but will be expected to step into a larger leadership role.

The motion to change her job title was amended to include a six-month review at which time the board can vote to end the probation.

A second suggestion from Kruger was accepted as-is. Beginning March 1, the Child Support Division of Human Services will report to financial assistance supervisor Karen Kohlmeyer.

"This action will provide for increased support to staff as we go forward with redesign of our service delivery model," Kruger said.

Replacement radio approved

Commissioners approved the replacement of a "Trimble" radio for the county's Highway Department, but not without some controversy.

Two radio units were budgeted for replacement in 2013 at a total cost of $5,000. County engineer Brian Pogodzinski asked for approval to buy the first, and wrote in his request, "We will attempt to buy one and use it with our existing unit that is functioning, but we may end up needing to buy a second radio as well, if they are not fully compatible."

Commissioners approved the first replacement for $2,455, but that's where agreement ended.

Zmyewski stated that if the department doesn't require the second, it should be denied.

Storlie and Commissioner Teresa Walter said that departments should not have to continually justify spending that has already been approved during the budgeting process.

Budget amendments approved

The board voted to accept a series of budget amendments for several departments. The auditor, information technology, assessor, surveyor and geographic information systems areas all utilize some monies from the recorder's compliance fund.

Finance director Carol Lapham explained that for accounting purposes expenditure line items need to reflect that the fund balance was applied from that source and not the tax levy.