Houston County commissioners voted to sign a three-year contract with Point & Pay LLC on Feb. 4. The company will provide credit card payment services for customers visiting several county departments - for a price.

Treasurer Donna Trehus said that customers at the Human Services Department, Auditor's Office (including licensing), Recorder's Office and Treasurer's Office will soon be able to utilize both credit and debit cards.

"We would probably be the fifth Minnesota county to use this company for credit card transactions," Trehus said. "We have been visiting with Sibley County, and they love it."

There are some limits, however. Recorder Beverly Bauer said that certain transactions, such as those that record documents like deeds and mortgages will not qualify. That's because payments are not credited immediately. In addition, customers will have to approve "convenience fees" when they pull out plastic. Those charges will vary by transaction type, and are based on either flat fees or a percentage of the amount charged.

County 9 reconstruction gets nod

After an extended discussion with County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski, commissioners voted to ask the Minnesota Department of Transportation for an advance on county state aid highway (CSAH) funds.

The reason? "County 9 up by the city of Houston is in rough shape, as far as pavement conditions..." Pogodzinski said.

By borrowing now the roadway won't have to wait until 2016 for its next scheduled pavement reconstruction, Pogodzinski stated. With an additional $897,000 from 2015 CSAH dollars, the highway can be put on this year's work list.

Several smaller roadwork contracts would also have to be "pushed back" to make room in the budget for CSAH 9 in 2014.

"Every year we get about $2.5 million (for CSAH roadways) plus whatever increase we get for fuel taxes," Pogodzinski said. Under the current five-year roadway plan, in 2017 the county will run a $282,000 roadwork deficit. In 2018, the number tops $700,000 he added.

"We're kind of going down slowly (in fund balance), but it's manageable," Pogodzinski noted. "I can push back some paving or something in the later years to make that work without going into a funding deficit.

On a related note, the board voted to approve the final $11,093 owed to Mathy Construction for last year's paving of the hanger areas at the Houston County Airport.

Human services staffing increase approved

The board voted to hire two full-time social workers. Personnel Director Tess Kruger and Director of Human Services Linda Bahr told commissioners that state reimbursements will more than pay for any added payroll costs. One position will simply replace a person who is retiring in the disability services section, while the second represents an increase in staffing. That person will split their time between disability services and child mental health.

The department is expected to take in $103,404 more than it pays out for the full-time disability worker, while the split position should generate $40,931 more than it costs in payroll. The county will also have some added administrative costs, Kruger said. Those were not provided.

"We are averaging more than 60 cases per social worker right now," she stated.

"If these positions are fully reimbursable by the state for all expenses, why wouldn't we do it?" Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said. The vote to hire was unanimous.

Other news

Zmyewski reported "quite a bit of publicity" surrounding last week's request for language from state agencies that would allow commissioners to ban frac sand mining in Houston County. He also noted dozens of emails that favored the notion.

Commissioner Steve Schuldt reported meeting with Zmyewski and county staff to study options for a new highway department headquarters. The two commissioners promised to report their findings to the full board in a week or two.