By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Houston County commissioners met in closed session with attorney Jason Kuboushek and highway department staff members on Tuesday, June 22. 

The issue was a Mound Prairie Township lawsuit filed against the Houston County Highway Department (and county employee Justin Conway) over a construction project on South Ridge Road. Following the closed session, the board accepted a “Pierringer release and settlement” with the township.

“It’s a settlement between some but not all parties in the litigation...” Kuboushek told the Argus following the vote. “There was an agreement with Houston County and Mound Prairie Township - to assist Mound Prairie Township in seeking LRIP (Local Road Improvement Program) grant funds to repair the road. We were successful in obtaining that grant from the state, so there is funding available, and the county is going to provide assistance in drafting the contract documents, surveying, and inspecting the roadway during the construction project.” 

Houston County contributed approximately $1,500 in time and costs to the grant application process, and will also provide another $25,000 to $30,000 in services towards the road repair project.  

There were two other closed session during the meeting. After the first, the county board voted to settle litigation in a tax court case on a property located at 425 N. Badger St. in Caledonia. 

Under that agreement, Houston County agreed to refund $75,742 in taxes overpaid by the property owners, listed as RealCo, LLC on court documents. In return, the petitioners agreed to waive interest on the repaid taxes. Adjusting the valuation of the property for future taxation was also part of the agreement. 

A third closed session was also held to discuss labor negotiations, strategies, or developments related to those topics. But no actions were taken on those matters after that closed meeting ended.

The board decided to try to avert a potential lawsuit from county resident Adam Augedahl. By consensus, commissioners directed county attorney Samuel Jandt to draft a letter on their behalf, stating the board’s intentions. 

Jandt was asked to find out “what the actual demands are” from Augedahl or his attorney, and see if the county has coverage on the matter through MCIT (the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust). 

The issue was discussed by the board in open session on June 8, when Augedahl said that a building he constructed several years ago ended up below the base flood elevation, and stated the permitting process (through Houston County), contributed to that problem.

COVID-19 update

Public health supervisor Heather Myhre said that Houston County COVID-19 vaccination rates were 67% for those 12 and over, 70% for the 16 and over population, and 58% for all residents. 

Clinical trials are underway for vaccines that may be used on youngsters under 12 years of age, she added. And a walk-in clinic at the Public Health Department (former Meyer building) for the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine was scheduled last week. 

Houston County Public Health director John Pugleasa told the board that COVID variants are present in the county, but with the improving situation as far as vaccinations, overall case numbers are low. 

He also told the board that reports on the situation are probably not required at every meeting of the county board, and could be curtailed, occuring on as “as needed” basis. Commissioners agreed.

Commissioners also approved final payments on three competed bridge replacements. The final cost of a span on Gates Coulee Drive totaled $267,418, while a bridge on Prairie Ridge Road totaled $552,254. A box culvert bridge on Eitzen Creek Drive totaled $86,298.

Briefly

The board approved a resolution for a two-year Towards Zero Death state road grant. That enforcement/safety program will continue locally, with dollars being provided from October of 2021 to the end of September, 2023.

In personnel news, the board confirmed the resignation of Environmental Services Department employee Terry Ranzenberger. Sam Benson was hired as a dropsite supervisor, a 67 day casual/temporary position. Mark Tewes was hired as a probationary recycling center lead, effective July 6 and conditioned on a background check. Commissioners also approved a competitive search for a probationary custodian.

Two public tax sales of real estate were authorized. The first, for a parcel in Crescent Hills, Second Addition (La Crescent) will be held on July 29, while the second, for a property located at 315 S. Chase Street in Houston, will take place on the same date. The sales are scheduled to be held beginning at 10 a.m. in the commissioners room at the Houston County Courthouse.  

The board also approved a contract to continue to participate with four neighboring counties on a long-standing fraud prevention effort funded by grant dollars. And another contract – with Driftless Region Vector control – was also approved. That organization will canvass (inspect) several Houston County communities “for potential mosquito related health hazards.” 

When hazards such as mosquito breeding areas are found, the organization will attempt to contact property owners, and larvicide will be provided to treat mosquito breeding areas. Traps will also be set out to collect mosquito eggs from “(disease) vector species.”

Several 2021 fees were raised for certain county services. The general fee for county employees to perform various types of research will be $29.17 per hour. A pair of passport photos will cost $20. An ordination papers recording fee was set at $30.

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