Dave Geske, La Crosse County vector control manager, appeared before Houston County commissioners on Aug. 6. He reported on efforts to curb insect-borne diseases in the region, including Houston County.

"We've worked here for 34 years," Geske said. "It's been a partnership among 13 counties."

The effort began as a response to La Crosse virus and viral encephalitis, which often strikes children. Geske said that a single case can cost a family as much in medical bills as it takes to run the entire multi-county program for a decade. Historically, the area had a high incidence of the malady with up to 10 cases appearing in a single year in Houston County alone.

"I'm really very happy to say that in the past 34 years, we've averaged less than three cases a year (in the entire 13 county region)," Geske stated. "That's what this was all about, decreasing the activity of the one mosquito that carried the disease."

The vector control program now works to combat a wide variety of mosquito and tick-borne diseases, Geske stated, including West Nile virus and Lyme disease. "It's really worth it, because we get to impact human disease," he noted. Monitoring habitat sites for insects, trapping and providing assistance to residents who want to make sure they aren't unintentionally providing breeding grounds for mosquitos are just some of the services provided.

Geske said that the mosquito that transmits the La Crosse virus is not a floodplain species, but lays its eggs in woodland tree cavities. The introduction of a single tire carcass to an area can incubate up to 20 to 30 generations per year of Ochlerotatus triseriatus with serious consequences. He added that several high-viral areas still exist within Houston County.

Five jailers hired

Personnel/Facilities Director Tess Kruger brought several hiring recommendations to the board. Commissioners approved employing Carl Eberle as a 0.5 FTE probationary jailer/dispatcher. In addition, Samantha Hancock, Karen Rislov, Michael Meredith and Jessica Siminski were approved as 67-day temporary (roster) jailer/dispatchers.

Another vote appointed registered nurse Marcia Bauer as home care coordinator, a supervisory position within the Department of Public Health/Nursing.

Human Services Director Linda Bahr was approved as a regular, rather than a probationary, employee in that position. Kruger stated that management in the department is now 0.4 FTE less than previous levels, and Bahr has saved the county approximately $61,000 by taking on multiple roles and maximizing reimbursements.

The board accepted the retirement of home health aide Cathy Hagen, effective Aug. 23. Public Health Director Deb Rock told commissioners that caseloads of remaining employees will be evaluated before she asks for a hiring search for a replacement.

4-H coordinator discussed

Lu Ann Hiniker and Nicole Pokorney of the University of Minnesota Extension asked Houston County commissioners to consider contracting for a full-time (rather than 0.75 FTE) 4-H program coordinator. Citing the fact that Houston County 4-H Coordinator Meghan Wall is resigning to take a full-time job in La Crescent, Hiniker said that "Having the position at 0.75 (FTE) reduces our pool of candidates that will apply for a position, plus as you know, we have now lost two coordinators in a year and a half."

The board was told that increasing the position would cost an additional $16,225 per year, but would allow for more youth activities. They were asked to approve the hiring immediately so UofM could post the position, but commissioners decided they weren't ready to commit just yet.

Commissioner Teresa Walter said, "I think we're leaning toward a full-time position but we need to find where we're going to get the money for it."

"To be honest with you, I wouldn't be comfortable with doing something right now without knowing where that money is coming from," chairman Justin Zmyewski added. "Let's run the numbers and schedule this on next week's agenda."

Two excused from EDA

County EDA coordinator Rick Howden reported that the group has voted to recognize the de-facto resignations of two members who have not attended the past four regular meetings. They are Julia Crawford and Kelly Meyer.

According to the bylaws of the organization, any EDA commissioner who is absent for three consecutive meetings without providing a satisfactory explanation to the president is deemed to have resigned. The county board agreed, passing a motion to allow two new members to join the group.

Two CUPs approved, two more renewed

New conditional use permits (CUP) were approved. The first was for Chris and Denise Schaffer of Hokah Township to make a "substantial land alteration in a bluff impact zone." That work will be to correct erosion and drainage problems. The second was for James Gray of Spring Grove Township who sought an exhibition permit. Once each year, Ye Olde Opera House of Spring Grove holds a four-day musical event at the Gray property, commissioners were told. Typically, that happens in the third week in July.

Two additional CUPs were renewed. The first was for Curt Roverud, extending permit #284 (a rock quarry west of Spring Grove) for an additional five years. The second was a yearly renewal for Thomas Welscher of Caledonia Township (CUP #233), allowing soil extraction near the site of the Houston County Airport.

Frac sand meeting well attended

Several commissioners reported attending an Aug. 2 meeting in Winona on recent state-sponsored mining regulations. Sponsored by the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Transportation, the meeting focused on state legislation that was passed earlier this year.

Walter said that Houston County will be allowed to extend its moratorium on new frac sand mining permits through March of 2015, according to state officials. The current moratorium was enacted by commissioners for the purpose of giving the county time to study the issue and draw up new mining ordinances. It was first passed Feb. 28, 2012, then re-passed on March 20, 2012, to meet notice of intent publishing requirements. The moratorium was extended on March 5, 2013.

Insurance rebate received

Commissioners noted that the Minnesota Intergovernmental Trust has issued a $127,159 dividend to Houston County for 2013. MCIT provides Houston County with worker's compensation and property/casualty insurance.