By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Houston County commissioners discussed some grant funding to repair historic buildings, an aging E911 system, and plenty of personnel changes during their June 25 session. 

The board voted 3-1 to contract with the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. Under the terms of the pact, the  501 (c) (3) non-profit will be tasked with writing up to three grant proposals in 2019-20, personnel/facilities director Tess Arrick-Kruger explained. All of the funding opportunities are offered through the Minnesota Historical Society’s Legacy Grant program. 

The first is a $300,000 Large Legacy Grant request to work on the exterior of the county’s historic courthouse, with the bulk of that effort focused on new roofing. The second (a $10,000 grant) would help to pay for construction documents needed to make repairs to the roof of the now-vacant Houston County Jail, another historic building. Finally, a third grant could provide $300,000 towards repairs to the exterior of the historic court house and a new roof at the jail building, as well as repairs to it’s exterior.

On a related note, the board (also by a 3-1 vote) approved the $300,000 county match for the initial grant, should it be offered and accepted. Commissioner Eric Johnson cast the dissenting votes, citing concerns over spending significant funds on the historic jail building while the county is attempting to build a new highway shop/headquarters facility in Caledonia.

Members also approved a new five-year service agreement with Vesta Solutions, Inc., (a California-based corporation) for E911 system support. Sheriff Mark Inglett said that the contract was needed, since the county’s current E911 system (including it’s dispatch mapping component) will no longer be supported after December 31, 2019. The new Motorola system will also provide text-to-911 service, he noted.

The system now in use dates from the opening of the Houston County Justice Center in October, 2011.  

Inglett said that he had compared several options, and found that the Motorola-based plan (including a lease for certain hardware needs) was the most affordable option. Hardware purchases can prove expensive, since technological advances can quickly make that equipment obsolete, he noted. Non-recurring charges total $19,142, with monthly (recurring) costs of $1,175. The sheriff reminded council members that E911 services have been paid for with surcharge dollars collected on telephone bills, not property tax levies.  

Commissioners approved several personnel items with a single “consent agenda’ vote. In the Sheriff’s Office, Emily Johnson was hired as a probationary jailer/dispatcher, while Christopher Frick was hired as a probationary patrol sergeant. Commissioners also accepted the resignation of jailer/dispatcher Emily Vang, and approved a search for a replacement. At the Houston County Highway Department, the search for a highway specialist to fill a vacant position was approved as well. Finally, Geraldine Klug was hired as a 67-day temporary deputy with the Recorder’s Office, and Michelle Werner was hired as a probationary deputy recorder, conditioned upon a background check. 

The board also tabled one topic on their list of “action items.” With one member (Commissioner Fred Arnold) not present, members postponed taking up a motion to remove Bryan Van Gorp from the Houston County Board of Adjustment and initiate a search for a replacement.

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