Following a public hearing on the matter, Houston County Commissioners approved county ordinance No. 13, regulating "peddlers, solicitors, and transient merchants" on June 4.

The new law will pertain to townships only, not to incorporated areas. Cities decide whether or not to provide their own permitting process, Captain Luke Sass of the Sheriff's Office said during the hearing.

"The biggest reason (for a new ordinance) is there's no control over it right now," Sass explained. "We don't know who's in our county, who isn't. In different counties you hear about suspicious people trying to sell stuff. By the time they (a deputy) get there the vehicle may be gone, and they can't find them. It's to help protect the citizens of the county."

Residents will be able to call the Sheriff's Department to see if a peddler has purchased a permit. Violators would be fined.

Sass said that a good example of why the measure is needed would be the blacktopping scam that has shown up in Houston County in the past.

He reported, "The ordinance that I wrote up is a combination of a bunch of ordinances that I found, and I thought this is what best fits us."

Sass included several areas where exemptions will occur, including "any person who has an established place of business where the goods are offered for sale on a regular basis, and which the buyer has initiated contact with."

Some other activities that won't need a permit are fund-raisers for public and private schools, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, FFA, "and organizations associated therewith located within Houston County."

It will take approximately two weeks to process applications for permits, Sass said. That alone has been enough to discourage scammers in other areas, since the applications are taken at the Auditor's Office and later reviewed by the Sheriff's Office.

The ordinance will be published in the official county newspaper, as well as online.

A $25 processing fee will be charged for all permits. An additional $25 is required for a seven-day "transient merchant" license.

A 30-day peddler license is $75 per individual. A 30-day "canvasser/solicitor" license is also $75.

Highway headquarters brings public comment

Caledonia resident Chuck Schulte spoke to the board during the public comment portion of the meeting, presenting a plan to address the needs of the Highway Department.

Schulte said the biggest problem with the current highway shop is that it's not designed to handle the size of the equipment now used to maintain roads.

"We need a new facility to house our large equipment. But I would suggest that we build at our current location because it needs very little (additional) infrastructure to accomplish that," Schulte stated.

"If you go out to the site that is by the school, you're going to be spending somewhere around $800,000 (to develop the site)."

Schulte brought an aerial map of the grounds of the current facility, showing where he'd locate a new vehicle service facility.

That would be built as large as the $600,000 the county has saved towards a new highway shop would allow. The building should be heated so that snow and ice will melt off plows when they're not in use, he said.

"There's nothing harder on equipment than cold weather," he added. "You can't buy a $200,000 piece of equipment and leave it sit outside... with the high price of hydraulic pumps, hydrostatics and what not, that all needs to be preserved."

Schulte said that if the land near the school were to be sold, it could provide funds to refurbish the current highway building in Caledonia.

He recommended installing a new insulated roof that would extend over the top of the outer walls to seal the top of the blocks.

Foam insulation could be pumped into the block walls, new steel siding added, and new energy efficient windows installed, Schulte stated.

In addition, water leakage around the foundation could be remedied, he said.

"The county does not need another vacant building. What will it cost to tear down and haul the current Highway Department's building away?"

Schulte advised against hiring an architect if at all possible. "Determine what you want for a building size and what you want in the building. Draw up plans, present to builders for comments and suggestions, change plans and go to bids."

Permits approved

Commissioners voted to approve a one-lot subdivision (re-zoning) of a parcel owned by Nick Thesing of Money Creek Township.

Thesing is not allowed to replace a trailer home with a stick-built house on the site without re-zoning because the quarter/quarter section already contains a home, Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan said.

A conditional use permit (CUP) for Josh Swenson of Sheldon Township to build a house on a lot of less than 40 acres within an agricultural district was also approved, as were 12 already-issued building permits.

The board briefly discussed a CUP from Bonanza Grain that the planning Commission has tabled for study. The sand mining operation lies just west of Caledonia, and has exceeded the boundaries laid out in its old CUP, Scanlan reported.

Chairman Justin Zmyewski asked if there were any fines or other repercussions attached with the violation. Scanlan said that there can be, but the County Attorney's office has historically recommended bringing non-conforming permit holders into compliance without resorting to fines whenever possible.

"One way to gain compliance is to apply for a new permit," Scanlan said. "That's typically the way that goes. We've got one feedlot that I can think of right now where a person has no intent of coming into compliance, so I'm working with the county attorney on that one."

Commissioner Judy Storlie asked about possible damages to nearby homes from a recent blast.

"That's one thing they (the Planning Commission) want to look at," Scanlan said. "There were two seismographs set up during the (last) blast. As far as we can see, it didn't exceed federal parameters."

"There was a third party brought in to look at the damage to the two houses in question. They took documentation as far as cracks in the sheetrock, siding, things like that... just to give them a baseline for the next blasting event.

"At that time, if they blast again, and they can see that there's some damage done, they could fall back on the blasting company's bond and insurance."

The Planning Commission is set to view the sand mine on either June 18 or 19, Scanlan reported.