On Feb. 19, Houston County commissioners learned that EDA coordinator Jordan Wilms is resigning effective April 5.

In a letter to the board, Wilms stated that he is relocating to Germany for a job offer. Commissioners accepted the resignation with thanks for Wilms' years of service. He was hired on May 5, 2009.

Although no decision on hiring a replacement was forthcoming, Human Resources director Tess Kruger said she would meet with the county's personnel committee on the matter. The job is an AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) position, she said.

In other personnel news, Kruger asked the board to increase the county's .5 FTE network technician position to full time.

"The annual increased cost of this position would be $24,406," she said. The reason given is that more coverage and backup staffing is needed in IT (information technology).

Some issues included increased workload with the introduction of EDMS (electronic data management systems) and increased reliance on the county's website to deliver information such as forms and documents to clients.

"We can look to cover costs internally," Kruger said. That may include a one-time salary savings from the EDA position (by not hiring immediately) and looking at "internal reorganization" in other areas.

She did not speculate on whether the EDA job should remain full time.

Commissioners did vote unanimously to make the network technician job full time.

Finance director Carol Lapham said that the actual cost of the additional hours will be less than $24,000, since 21 percent of the IT department's work is billable to Human Services as information technology support.

A complex set of formulas are used to figure up how much the state reimburses the county towards those costs, but it should total between $5,000 and $6,000 annually, she explained later.

EDA loans approved

Commissioners approved three revolving loans as recommended by the Houston County EDA (economic development authority).

The first is for Spring Grove Soda Pop for $30,000. The loan is pending approval of a Small Business Administration loan and represents 14 percent of the cost of the project, which includes replacement of bottling equipment. The creation of two full-time positions is envisioned.

The second is $30,000 for Camp Winnebago to provide working capital to restart and expand camp programming.

At 38 percent of project cost, the loan is to be matched against a bank line of credit. Retention of two full-time and one part-time position is the goal.

Loan number three is $5,300 to Root River Market (Houston) for equipment and renovation. The project involves the addition of an in-house bakery.

Matched against cash equity and a bank loan, the money represents 50 percent of project costs. Retaining four full-time and 17 part-time jobs is the reason for the EDA action.

On a separate motion, commissioners voted to remove a tax abatement for K-Properties in Caledonia. Members stated that the firm is out of compliance with its required reporting and has expressed no intention of remedying the situation.

IT purchases reviewed

IT director Andrew Milde brought a number of bids for purchases to the board.

Included are 27 new computers, a storage area network (SAN) with docking stations and software support and licensing agreements.

"Everything here we have in the budget," Milde stated.

Commissioners did not vote to approve the purchases, which will be made as agreed to in the 2013 budget.

"The SAN is a requirement of EDMS and also is going to be kind of a future backbone of IT in Houston County going forward," Milde said. With installation the cost is $45,722.

Milde said, "There is some reimbursement for that from the state," but did say how much that might be.

The computers total approximately $15,500. Milde said the county once tried to replace computers every five years, but is now trying to make them last six to seven years.

A five-year rotation would require about 40 units replaced per year, he added.

A Lynx system for a computer-based panic button/emergency notification will require $1,750 for an annual support agreement. The actual program was provided several years ago via a grant.

A three-year Microsoft server license agreement will cost the county $22,052 per year.

Finally, a network adaptor ($371) and 24-port switch ($1,692) for the SAN round out the package.

New tax software needed?

Commissioners asked Lapham to bring costs for a new Windows-based software system to track real-estate values and compute Minnesota property taxes.

She told the board that the county may want to move to a new platform (a non-budgeted expense).

Lapham and assessor Thomas Tom Dybing said the old system (IBM AS400/OS400) could become very expensive to maintain as Minnesota Counties Computer Co-op (MCCC) members increasingly migrate towards the Xerox Windows platform.

Just the yearly support and maintenance agreement could jump to three to four times the current rate, she added.

The board is set to take up the issue next week. Lapham said that MCCC is spending approximately $6 million on the new platform, and Houston County could get the Xerox software for $126,262 split over three years.

By acting before March 1, the county would be able to take advantage of discounts and incentives, Lapham added. Houston County belongs to MCCC.

"We really don't have much of a choice, because the Legacy system that we're now on will no longer be supported by 'Triple C' (MCCC)," Dybing said.

DNR Forestry to purchase land

"I'm here this morning as a courtesy to let you know that DNR Forestry is buying 37 acres of property from Van Gundy's in Yucatan Township," Val Green of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) told the board.

"It's north of the Root River, completely surrounded by state land, and the bike trail runs through it."

Green brought commissioners some information on PILT (payment in lieu of taxes).

"On this particular piece of property, it's all wooded and currently in Green Acres/Rural Preserve, which is about $7 an acre," she said. "The PILT payment is about $19 per acre."

Green reported that Natural Resources Land in Houston County totals 15,648 acres and the 2012 PILT payment was $352,812.

Schulte speaks to commissioners

Caledonia resident Chuck Schulte told the board that they should add a public comment and question section to its weekly agenda.

"Without it, I'm not sure how the citizenry of the county gets a chance to visit with you," he said.

Commissioners should also have an open comments period for themselves during each meeting, Schulte added.

"What I'm trying to do here is inspire creativity and thinking outside the box," he said.

Schulte also asked that the nation's flag be flown over the County Services Building (formerly Meyer Furniture), especially since veterans' services is located at the facility.

Chairman Justin Zmyewski said that the suggestions would be addressed at a goals and policy discussion that the board had scheduled later in the afternoon.