By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Houston County commissioners approved a potential $75,000 revolving loan on August 13, one that could help extend broadband coverage to nearly 900 local customers. If a “Border to Border” grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is awarded to telecommunications provider Acentek, the company would receive the “community partnership” funds through the county’s EDA for three years at 0% interest.

According to EDA reports, AcenTek would provide $6,365,000 towards the expansion, with DEED adding $2,760,000. The closing date for the grant application is September 13, with the award expected to take place during the last quarter of 2019.

If the project gets DEED approval, around 800 residences, businesses, and farms in the rural Houston telephone exchange, plus 60-70 Hokah residents would get fiber hookups for broadband.  

In other news, the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office gave the board it’s annual report. Houston County saw 137 deaths in 2018, and the regional office handled reports on 103  (75%) of those cases, chief medical examiner Dr. R. Ross Reichard stated. That included 90 natural deaths - eight through accidents, four suicides, and one “undetermined.” Seventeen cases were certified following postmortem examinations, including 15 complete autopsies. Falls and motor vehicle accidents led the list of “unnatural causes,” with one case filed under “poison/drugs.”

Positive news included the continued number of Houston County citizens who survive into the report’s upper age group categories, Reichard added. In 2018, 27 persons died aged 75-84, with 26 residents reaching 85-94, and six persons reaching or exceeding 95 years of age.

During the meeting’s “public comment” session, La Crescent resident Dean Otterson reported that he was informed of a gas line project in his neighborhood too late to file written comments. By consensus, commissioners directed staff to continue to take comments on the proposal until it comes before the Houston County Planning Commission (PC). County administrator Jeff Babinski was also asked to investigate whether the PC could postpone taking up the permit until a later date to allow more information to reach residents prior to the hearing. The PC is an advisory board, and has no authority to grant permit applications. Their recommendations are sent to county commissioners, who make those decisions.

Commissioners accepted the upcoming retirement of Nancy Peter, who has served Houston County for over 32 years. A search for a replacement .6 FTE technical clerk in the finance department was initiated. In other personnel news, Judy Haugstad was rehired as a temporary case aide “to assist during the search for a child protection social worker.” That assignment is limited to a maximum of 67 days per year. Nurse Michelle Schulte was re-classified from “staff RN” to “PHN” (public health nurse). The August 23 resignation of jailer/dispatcher Darin Daveau was also accepted, and a competitive search for a replacement initiated. 

Briefly:

The board accepted a State of Minnesota grant for aquatic invasive species prevention totaling $22,755, and designated the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District with oversight responsibilities for that effort.

County budgeting for 2020 will soon be underway. Members noted one bright spot: County Program Aid will increase by 10.7% next year, jumping from $986,897 to $1,092,734. 

Commissioners also discussed a shared salt/sand shed that they lease from La Crescent Township. The structure is in danger of collapse, and needs attention, staff reported. The county would likely use about one-third of a replacement shed, and may be asked to contribute around $200,000 towards the building, county engineer Brian Pogodzinski noted. A long-term lease agreement will be sought, since the land where the building is located is owned entirely by the township, and includes another unheated storage shed used to house equipment, he said.

The board approved the purchase of three “cover-top” roll off containers for recycling at a cost of $18,085.

A conditional use permit for Robert and Heather Strand of Yucatan Township to build a dwelling on less than 40 acres in an agricultural district was approved. The only condition was the standard stipulation that all federal, state, and local laws and regulations will be followed for the project.

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