At their Feb. 7 meeting, Houston County commissioners accepted the retirement of deputy Kurt Kuhlers effective March 10, who has served as both the county’s court security officer and emergency management director (EMD).

Armed with a PowerPoint presentation and handout, Sheriff Mark Inglett made the case that the position should be separated even though its been shared for the last 10 years.

“It is my recommendation that there is a demonstrable need to restructure these two assignments into dedicated separate positions,” Inglett explained. “Dual roles for these critical position are destined to fail in my opinion.”

He added, “The two years that I’ve been here, we have been consistently plugging holes in our dam – considering court security and emergency management duties – and at some point that dam is going to fail.”

Several issues of concern

He pointed out that state statutes mandate both court security and emergency management. But over the last few years, court security has taken over more than 90 percent of Kuhlers’ time according to Inglett.

“The deputy (Kuhlers) has continually spent 40 hours a week or more in court,” stated the sheriff’s handout. “Clearly emergency management demands priority when that need arises, and we are then left scrambling to fill the court security demands.

“At times, this can be for extended periods of time. Frequently, this comes at a cost of unnecessary overtime as well as personnel performing court security that have not been specifically trained for that position.”

Sheriff Inglett also pointed out that when there is a jury trial, the second courtroom is opened up so a second officer is needed. Overall, this is occurring more and more with the second courtroom being used for overflow.

The security provided by this position is for the judge, staff and members of the public. It doesn’t just include the courtroom but screening the public upon entry (when needed) and securing the courtroom and conference rooms after court has recessed.

“I think its clear that courthouse violence is on the rise nationwide, and the position is too critical to the safety of the public and the employees of the county to just simply hope nothing happens,” Inglett pointed out.

Other issues to address

He pointed out that emergency management is getting more complex also. He listed all of the responsibilities under that position, which ranges from operating the emergency operations center to updating the county’s emergency operations plan to rail preparedness and risk assessment.

Sheriff Inglett also discussed the department’s increased demand for process serving, paper service and document executions.

Civil process is up 79 percent since 2014; paper service has increased 34 percent in the same time period; and executions are up 300 percent since 2014.

Sheriff’s proposal to board

To address all three critical areas, the sheriff proposed restructuring the roles – hiring one full-time deputy to do court security, which is already in the budget for 2017 and basically a replacement of Kuhlers’ main duties right now.

He then recommended hiring a second full-time deputy to fill the emergency management and civil process roles.

The second deputy would be the emergency management director, oversee the civil service process and serve as back up for court security when needed.

By separating emergency management, Inglett said that the position would qualify for reimbursement funds from the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) to fund the position in the amount of $17,000 to $19,000 for 2017.

Moving forward, Inglett estimated the cost for a new FT deputy would be $57,294.88 plus $29,268.63 in employer benefits, insurance, etc. for a total of $86,563.51 for a full calendar year, less the $17,000 to $20,000 grant per year.

Sheriff Inglett pointed out that this recommendation came not only from the Sheriff’s Department, but also from the county attorney, court administrator and the district judge.

Later in the meeting, county attorney Samuel Jandt reminded the board that he forced the issue of courtroom security about 10 years ago with the board at that time.

The county started having an officer on site instead of on call. He had stated at that time that he wouldn’t set foot in a Houston County courtroom again until security had been beefed up as he had been attacked.

“Talk to myself or a Department of Corrections staff. We spend about the most time in court. Security is needed,” he explained.

Board discussion is muddled

Commissioner Justin Zmyewski made a motion to immediately hire one FT deputy to take over Kuhlers’ court duties. The motion was seconded by Teresa Walter.

After approximately an hour long discussion, going back and forth from contemplating a shared EMD position with Fillmore County to contracting court services through the end of 2017 to hiring a civilian EMD (with the possibility of saving money), Zmyewski withdrew his motion, and commissioners decided to table the matter until their next meeting on Feb. 21 to do more research and weigh their options.

EDA amending its bylaws

Houston County Economic Development Authority (EDA) director Courtney Bergey presented the board with proposed bylaw changes the entity would like to discuss at a public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 10 a.m., which the board unanimously approved scheduling.

Bergey explained that she had taken the project over from her predecessor, and the changes have been reviewed by staff, the county attorney and approved by the EDA.

Article II cleans up the number of members on the board and the length of their terms.

“Our EDA board has decided that seven members is a good number even though there is leeway for the county to go up to nine. We already have a vacancy,” Bergey explained.

“The main reason for doing the bylaw amendments was because we got special legislation to change the terms from six years to three years, and so we want our bylaws to reflect that three-year term.”

The last change is to streamline the EDA’s check handling and budget processes to reflect the process already in place and in accordance with the county’s current policies.

As a new member to the EDA, county board chair Jack Miller complimented Bergey, “I’m very pleased with what Courtney is planning on doing, and there is a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of organization; she knows where she wants to go.”

Commissioner Fred Arnold agreed, and said that he has been working with her regarding agricultural and rural business funding.

Bergey pointed out that she has been asked to speak at the upcoming township association meeting.

Various CUPs approved

Environmental Services director Rick Frank presented the county board with four separate conditional use permits (CUP) for three area farmers – Thomas Hoscheit of Mayville Township and Joshua and Jerry Dahl of Yucatan Township – for the county board’s consideration.

The board unanimously approved all four. The Planning Commission had held hearings on Jan. 26 regarding these permits and that board had unanimously recommended the county board approve them.

Hoscheit received a permit to expand a feedlot from 248 animal units (AU) to 434 and another to expand an existing manure storage pit’s footprint by 75 ft. (if the farmer decides to do so).

The second permit would take the pit from its current capacity of 1.344 million gallons with a synthetic liner (plastic) to 1.253 million gallons with a cement floor and access ramp (if the footprint is enlarged).

Hoscheit has 36 months from the permit date to increase the overall physical footprint. If he doesn’t, and just puts in the concrete floor and ramp to address the potential pollution hazard caused by the torn liner, the pit’s capacity would drop to 91,424 gallons according to an engineer’s estimate.

Regarding the Dahls, they were approved to increase their animal units from 243 to 342. They also received a CUP to increase their manure storage from 20,000 gallons (or four days worth of storage) to 1.8 million gallons, which would translate to 12 months of storage. They will be building a new pit.

All CUPs had the same conditions placed upon them as recommended by the zoning board.

Zmyewski, who also sits on the Planning Commission, explained that neither project was apposed by local officials or neighbors, and both manure pits would greatly enhance the farmers’ ability to better control and properly handle their manure storage needs.

Holte land lease agreeable

Commissioners unanimously approved a three-year lease with Dennis and Annette Holte of Spring Grove for the 22.16 acres of farmland located south of Hwy. 76 and north of the Caledonia High School.

The couple is paying $5,761.60 per year, which nets out to $260/acre. Zmyewski said, “As far as land rental rates that is pretty decent; crop prices are not that great right now. It’s been a good source of some added revenue for us.”

Salt delivery penalty tabled

County engineer Brian Pogodzinski asked the board how it wished to proceed regarding enforcement of a late salt delivery penalty to Cargill.

The county’s salt contract with the state is for $180,044.30 and that salt is supplied from Cargill. There is a penalty clause in the contract in the event that salt is delivered late.

Recently, Cargill didn’t meet a delivery deadline, which according to the contract resulted in a $31,370.12 penalty. Pogodzinski pointed out that is approximately 17 percent of the county’s total salt contract.

He added that the late delivery probably cost the county around $1,000 as it didn’t hold the snowplow drivers up very long. In addition, it was the first time ever that this supplier couldn’t meet its delivery date.

Pogodzinski said that some counties wave the penalty while others pro-rate it. “It doesn’t matter to me how you want to handle this. My only concern is about their bidding in the future.

“We currently only have two to three bidders each year now. How does it affect prices if they don’t bid, or they try to make up the penalty in higher prices next year?”

Some commissioners were worried about the precedent it could set to waive all penalties.

Attorney Jandt will review the penalty terms and meet with Pogodzinski to help come up with a fair compromise for the next meeting.

Pogodzinski also presented a nearly hour and a half PowerPoint overview of the Highway Department building project so all commissioners were on the same page. Look in next week’s Herald for a full overview of this presentation.

Workforce contract renewed

Human Services director John Pugleasa presented the board with a one-year contract with Workforce Development, Inc. for mandated services they provide the county.

Pugleasa said that state statutes require that Houston County must provide employment and training services to qualifying individuals receiving cash assistance.

The contract is paid for through a Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) grant – it is basically a pass through of state monies, he explained.

“That funding stream is down significantly,” Pugleasa pointed out. The 2017 amount will be $80,000 compared to $92,00 the previous two years.

“The number is driven by usage, and people using the service is trending down.”

Pugleasa said that he was encouraged by the innovation and ability to customize how both the participant and the employer can utilize those services. Workforce has been open to these ideas, and he is working together with them to formulate a plan.

The board of appeal scheduled

Auditor Char Meiners had requested special permission to move the date of the county’s Board of Appeal and Equalization meeting that has typically been held on the third Monday of June (10 days after the second Friday) as outlined in state law.

The board wanted to move it to Tuesday, June 20, as that would be a third Tuesday when the board would typically be meeting under its new schedule.

The State Auditor’s office agreed that this would fall within the state’s guidelines, and the board voted to set the meeting for 6:15 p.m. on the June 20.

Next meeting

The county board does not meet the second Tuesday of the month, so its next regular meeting will be on Feb. 21 at 5:30 p.m. in the Historic Courthouse building in Caledonia.