On Jan. 21, Richard Schild of rural Houston was appointed to the Houston County Planning Commission by the county board.

Schild, who served on the county's frac sand study committee, will fill the position vacated by Bruce Lee when term limits were initiated. His initial term will be for calendar years 2014-16.

The vote was unanimous with the exception of Commissioner Justin Zmyewski, who said, "I have to abstain because I know some of these candidates personally."

"They were all good candidates," Commissioner Steve Schuldt said of the three finalists.

Commissioners agreed by consensus to seek a new alternate for the Board of Adjustment from the remaining finalists for the planning commission appointment, asking Environmental Services director Rick Frank to contact those persons.

There are two other unfilled postings on county committees. The board is still seeking a representative to serve on the Ability Building Center Board of Directors and the Houston County EDA.

Human Services reports

Linda Bahr, director of the county's Human Services department, appeared with Social Services supervisor Timothy Hunter.

Bahr asked that 41 non-collectable delinquent accounts totaling $69,815 be written off her department's books, citing advice from the State Auditor's Office.

That recommendation states that disposing of the accounts "would be fiscally responsible, improve fee collections without harm to citizens, and follow sound acting practices regarding items deemed to be uncollectible," Bahr said. Commissioners agreed.

The board also approved three contracts for the Human Services department with a single vote. The first was a continuation of the CREST Initiative Cooperative Agreement for 2014 (for adult mental health programs), an ongoing services agreement with Semcac and a "Delegation of Licensing Function" contract extension. Bahr said that all the agreements represent a continuation of current programs.

Hunter updated the board on a wide variety of issues, including regional cooperative efforts to deliver services.

An area-wide "hotline" for mental health crisis situations will soon be in place, he reported.

"The goal would be to not have them in jail, if possible," Hunter said. The hotline will keep in touch with at least one "on-call" Human Services staff person from each southeastern Minnesota county, so that help is available after-hours. It should be in operation by mid-summer, taking calls from 4 to 11 p.m., and on weekends and holidays, he said.

On a related note, the board accepted the retirement of social worker Gail Stortz, effective July 31. Personnel director Tess Kruger said that Stortz "has completed 34 years of public service in the interest of Houston County."

Kruger also asked to be allowed to initiate a search for a full-time Public Health nurse, stating that another recent retirement has left the department short-handed. The request was approved.

Finally, two probationary employees were granted regular status. Mike Rasmussen serves as a jailer/dispatcher, while John Dollar works on the maintenance/custodial staff that serves the Justice Center and Courthouse.

Cell "per diems" approved

County Attorney Jamie Hammell asked the board to provide cell phone per diems for both assistant county attorneys. There is only one person now serving in that capacity, but the county is currently conducting a search to replace a second, Hammell reported. "We're hoping to hire somebody by the middle of February," she said.

"It's (for) smart phones, it's answering emails, and responding to phone calls whenever needed," Hammell said. Commissioners agreed, voting to grant the reimbursements.

Tax forfeiture canceled

Commissioners also voted to cancel a tax forfeiture, which was made in error back in 2002. A 2.33 acre parcel of land was incorrectly recorded on 1960 tax rolls, which eventually resulted in the mistake. Auditor Char Meiners reported that the land appeared at various times on two different parcels, but did not sell for taxes. With the death of Audrey Peterson, Attorney Tim Murphy researched the estate and discovered the error. "It is apparent that the confusion all resulted from the mistake back in 1960 and that the 2.33 acre parcel does in fact belong to Fred and Audrey Petersen," Meiners clarified in an email to the board.

A "strategic planning" session to consider goals for the year was held towards the close of the meeting. No votes were taken on any of the topics discussed, which included public comment periods, property taxes and more.