Several county employees received service recognition awards last week, five of whom are shown above. From left are Holly Felton (15 yrs.), Cindy Cresswell (15 yrs.), Daniel Krzoska (15 yrs.), Mark Schiltz (25 yrs.) and Douglas Twite (35 yrs.). Not shown are Christopher Tuveson, Rick Vesterse and Julie Von Arx-Abnet (10 yrs.), Douglas Ely (15 yrs.), Karen Colsch and Julie Renk (20 yrs.) and David Bauer and Donald Moore (25 yrs.). PHOTO: CRAIG MOORHEAD/SPRING GROVE HERALD
Several county employees received service recognition awards last week, five of whom are shown above. From left are Holly Felton (15 yrs.), Cindy Cresswell (15 yrs.), Daniel Krzoska (15 yrs.), Mark Schiltz (25 yrs.) and Douglas Twite (35 yrs.). Not shown are Christopher Tuveson, Rick Vesterse and Julie Von Arx-Abnet (10 yrs.), Douglas Ely (15 yrs.), Karen Colsch and Julie Renk (20 yrs.) and David Bauer and Donald Moore (25 yrs.). PHOTO: CRAIG MOORHEAD/SPRING GROVE HERALD
Houston County commissioners met on Monday, Dec. 23, looking into some year's end business.

Jim Nissen, district manager for the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, appeared with a report on the U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service's refuge revenue sharing program.

Since refuge lands do not provide tax dollars to local governments, annual payments are made to compensate for the loss of funds. The nationwide Congressional appropriation for FY 2012-13 was set at 22.0 percent of the full entitlement amount, Nissen said.

For Houston County, the 2013 payment was $24,195.

A 2010-11 study on 92 refuges nationwide indicated that visits to the recreation areas generated $4.87 in economic activity for every $1 appropriated. That $2.4 billion went into local economies from coast to coast, supporting 35,000 jobs, according to the document.

"For the Upper Mississippi Refuge, we touch on 19 counties in four states..." Nissen said. "And we are the most visited national wildlife refuge in existence. In 2011, there were about 4.4 million visits. That's more than Yellowstone."

Nissen also reported that the island rebuilding project completed in the lower part of pool eight a couple of years ago is "really paying dividends."

One draw is the tundra swan fall migration. "This year from about mid-October till about the first of December we had just short of 9,000 (bird watching) visits," Nissen added.

Commissioners asked about the future of recreation areas along the Houston County "coast," including Wildcat Park and Crater Island.

"Crater Island is popular because you can get in there, off the main channel...," Nissen replied. "The problem we have had is that you put 125 boats and 300 to 400 people in there, from a law enforcement perspective and your boat patrols - that gets a little bit unruly and a little tough to manage..."

Boaters should enjoy the spot while they can. Crater Island will eventually be refilled with dredge spoils by the Corps of Engineers," Nissen said. That's because it's one of only three placement sites in pool eight which were engineered to hold that material.

Personnel director Tess Kruger asked the board to consider raises for elected officials. She reported that the 2014 budget currently calls for pay hikes of 1 percent on Jan. 1, and 1.5 percent on July 1. The board moved the item to their Dec. 30 agenda in order to have more time to study the issue.

Commissioners did vote to initiate a search for a 67-day (temporary) custodian for county building maintenance.

Environmental Services director Rick Frank brought a yearly contract from ABC/Woodland Industries to provide personnel for drop sites and the recycling center, which was approved.

Licensed hauler contracts for Waste Management, Richard's Sanitation, Bob & Shirley Giblin, Harter's Refuse, Midwest Roll-off and Two Guys and a Dumpster were approved as well. Hilltopper's Refuse and Recycling was also included, pending signed paperwork.

A separate drop-site hauling contract with Richard's Sanitation was also included in the motion.

The board voted to extend the county's canine lease agreement with Officer Tracie Erickson, who owns a specially-trained German shepherd named "Chance." Sheriff Doug Ely asked that the yearly contract, which includes a 30-day "out" for either party, be approved for a longer timeframe. Commissioners decided to make the document open-ended, without a stipulated end date.

In other news, members reported that the State of Minnesota has offered to put Houston County in a pilot program designed to provide shots for elderly persons. Currently, many nursing home residents are not getting access to specific medicines such as shots for tetanus and shingles, since they find that getting to sites where shots are offered is not easy, commissioners Steve Schuldt and Teresa Walter said. Houston County's Department of Public Health will be involved in bringing the program to residents.