Fillmore County highway engineer Ronald Gregg presents information regarding the proposal for a half-cent local option sales tax that would fund road repairs and preservation throughout the county. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Fillmore County highway engineer Ronald Gregg presents information regarding the proposal for a half-cent local option sales tax that would fund road repairs and preservation throughout the county. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP

Fillmore County commissioners voted Tuesday, Aug. 26, following a public hearing, to enact a half-cent local option sales tax to help improve an aging road infrastructure in the county.

“There are 472 bridges in Fillmore County – a bridge is defined as anything 10 feet long or larger – and four of those are closed and 61 on the county’s 10-year replacement priority list,” said Fillmore County highway engineer Ronald Gregg, addressing the Fillmore County commissioners during a public hearing to inform the public about the proposed half-cent local option sales tax.

Gregg related that the condition of roadways is measured based on a pavement quality index (PQI) and that the index uses a scale of zero to 4.5, with zero being the worst.  “The current average PQI rating for Fillmore County is 2.7,” he noted. 

Commissioner Randy Dahl inquired, “Which of our roads has the worst rating?” 

Gregg replied that the worst roads in the county have a 1.5 PQI rating. 

“Current funding is not keeping up with the cost of construction.  Part of that is that state aid has been stagnant, and at this point, the best thing to do is preserve what we have,” he said.  “The local tax levy is not aggressive enough to support the repairs and replacements we need to make.” 

The engineer went on to relate that Fillmore County’s agricultural and commercial traffic has increased stress on already-aging infrastructure, and reiterated that current transportation funding is not keeping up with the cost of construction.  The county-state aid highway system – through which the county receives state funding to maintain certain roads designated as county state aid highways (CSAH) – includes 350 miles within Fillmore County, and the county itself has 131 miles of county roads, or “three-digit roads,” strictly funded with local tax levy dollars. 

Legislation enacted during the 2013 Minnesota legislative session included an amendment to current laws that allows counties to enact a wheelage tax or up to a half-cent local option sales tax for transportation projects without requiring a voter referendum.  The county had given some consideration to a wheelage tax, but determined that a local option sales tax would better serve its intentions, as it hopes to raise enough money to make repairs on roads over the next eight years. 

So far, about a dozen counties across Minnesota have adopted the local option sales tax and many more are considering it.

Gregg and his staff developed a list of transportation projects identified as capital improvement priorities, the public hearing was called and held, and the resolution brought before the board. 

The engineer shared that it is estimated that the local option sales tax could garner up to $700,000 annually, and the overall eight-year program is estimated to cost $6,186,430.  He pointed out that his goal and emphasis in listing the roads is to: Preserve those that have been resurfaced within the past 10 years so that they do not deteriorate; tackle bridge replacement next; take on county road pavement segments that are beyond repair by reclaiming the materials and laying them back down — explaining that if the roads were to be simply resurfaced using mill and overlay processes, cracks underneath would soon be evident on the surface; and graveling existing gravel county roads.  There is no funding set aside for bridge replacement and surface reconditioning paved county roads. 

“I want to preserve our infrastructure and utilize tax dollars for roadway repairs and preservation,” he stated. 

When asked by the commissioners if there were any comments from the public, Bonita Underbakke volunteered, “I think it’s elegant that he can explain it to the average person and make it understandable.” 

Commissioner Duane Bakke wanted to know whether Gregg felt the plan would be flexible enough to make adjustments for projects not completed within the year designated for their completion. 

Gregg replied, “Roads deteriorate at different rates…we may have a road that pops and needs repair right away, so we have room to make changes.”  He added that once the improvement schedule has been satisfied, the tax can be renewed through a new public hearing and vote. 

Commissioner Dahl stated, “I much prefer this to a levy – there’s so much that relies on property tax.”  The board then voted to enact the half-cent local option sales tax.  Gregg thanked the commissioners for their support of the initiative.               

In other action, Gregg then presented resolutions for final payment to Bruening Rock Products, Inc., for five different invoices for road projects done in the county, including $992.52 for projects in Jordan and Sumner townships on CSAH 4, $1,392.31 for CSAH 20 in York Township, $760.31 for CSAH 22 in Preston and Carimona townships, County Road 102 in Jordan and Chatfield townships for $1,552.33 and Preble Township’s County Road 112 at $655.36, and bridge replacement of a bridge in Norway Township and another in Holt Township – the Norway Township bridge cost $7,172.97, and the Holt Township bridge, $4,134.39.  He then updated the commissioners on the highway administration, highway equipment shop, maintenance, airport, highway construction and airport fuel sales budgets for the coming year. 

Fillmore County Sheriff Daryl Jensen and emergency management director Kevin Beck spoke about emergency management planning and how the county’s hazard mitigation plan expired at the end of 2013, making the drafting of a new plan an imminent issue.  Jensen explained that the grant that funds the plan provides money for the plan’s updates and also that the county must act when a presidential declaration is made that the grant funds are available.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) pays 75 percent of funding, and the county, 25 percent for the plan. 

Beck related that there are “few options” when choosing a firm to assist in drafting a plan, but that Region Nine in Mankato submitted the lowest plan update bid at approximately $28,000. 

The commissioners agreed to sign resolutions of support for both the hazard mitigation plan grant and the hazard mitigation plan itself. 

Jensen shared information regarding the proposed 2015 budgets, including the sheriff’s office, the sheriff’s contingent funds, Enhanced 911, the DARE program, the county’s contracts with the cities of Spring Valley and Harmony, Mabel and Canton, the county jail and emergency management.  The commissioners also granted a request from the sheriff for the purchase of a laptop for use with a surveillance camera the department owns and another request from the city of Mabel to use two light tower generators for the city’s Steam Engine Days celebration.     

Zoning administrator Chris Graves asked the board to consider an access permit application submitted by Nathan and Esther Yutzy of Bristol Township for a change of access to their property on county roads 30 and 15, and also to grant an access permit for Dennis and Sevilla Swartzentruber on County Road 21 in Canton Township. 

Graves cited that the Yutzys intended to close off a driveway on County 30 and shift the entrance to their property to County 15 out of safety concerns since they feel that driving their buggy onto County 15 would mean fewer cars to encounter immediately upon departure, and the commissioners concurred. 

The Swartzentrubers’ request was also granted; they wished to have access to a plot of land where they plan to build a new home. 

Additionally, in zoning business, feedlot officer Mike Frauenkron brought his proposed 2015 budget forward, sharing it with the commissioners and highlighting changes. 

Community Services news encompassed increasing a Public Health nurse’s position from 0.8 full time equivalent (FTE) to 1.0 FTE.  Public Health representative Lantha Stevens also inquired of approval for replacement of a Public Health nurse in the family health department due to a retirement that will take effect on Sept. 11.  The commissioners chose to allow the increase in the first position to full time, but decided to table the other matter until budgeting determinations could be made, as Stevens brought forth the Public Health, Maternal and Child Health (MCH), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Veteran Services, Social Services and Home Health budgets.

County coordinator Bobbie Vickerman and systems administrator Jeff Cooper presented proposed 2015 budgets for several departments, including the information systems, corrections, commissioners, historical society, county coordinator, library, county farm, county fair board, medical examiner, infrastructure and other general government.   

The consent agenda included approving the minutes of the Aug. 12 board meeting and also a temporary liquor license for the Preston Servicemen’s Club to serve at an event at Chuck O’Connor’s barn south of Greenleafton on Sept. 13. 

The commissioners closed the meeting before adjourning to discuss the Local #49 labor contract strategy.