By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Houston County commissioners opened the new year on Jan. 5, welcoming a new member and doling out committee assignments for 2021. Dewey Severson will now represent District 1, which includes the City of La Crescent.

The board elected Commissioner Bob Burns as chairman for 2021. Greg Myhre will serve as vice chair.

Appropriations approved for the new year include $165,930 for SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating), $129,000 for the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District (plus an additional $4,800 to secure some matching funds for that organization), a total of $24,000 for the Houston County Agricultural Society (also called the Fair Board), and $42,500 (including matching funds) for the Houston County Historical Society. 

Kenneth Anderson, Larry Hafner, and new member Wayne Runningen were appointed to the Houston County Board of Adjustment. Edward Hammell and Larry Hafner were appointed to the Houston County Planning Commission.  

The board also accepted the upcoming resignation/retirement of recycling center lead Gary Massman, with thanks for his years of service to Houston County.

Commissioners also approved the purchase of a new John Deere track loader for the county’s Highway Department. The $66,457 cost will be partially offset by a $33,600 trade in allowance from the current machine. 

County engineer Brian Pogodzinski said the track loader is one of the most frequently used pieces of equipment in his department, typically performing about 400 annual hours of service.

There were dozens of committee assignments. Some key posts for  for board members included placing Severson and Burns on the Community Services Standing Committee, while commissioners Eric Johnson and Teresa Walter will serve on the Land Use/Public Works Standing Committee. 

The Finance Committee will include commissioners Greg Myhre and Bob Burns. The Negotiating/Personnel Committee includes Walter and Johnson. The Airport Commission will feature Burns and Myhre. The Highway Building Committee includes Johnson and Myhre. 

Myhre will also represent the board on the Planning Commission, with Johnson serving as alternate. Severson was assigned to the Houston County EDA Board, and the Parks Committee.

COVID update

Commissioners were briefed on COVID-19 vaccinations. Houston County director of Public Health John Pugleasa reported that: “We’ve had a number of constituents in Houston County contact us to find out when they’re able to get their shots. To be clear on that, there’s been a lot of publicity around the fact that vaccines are now being made available, and it’s great news. We really believe that vaccines are likely the path out of this. 

“But while there’s a lot of news about this, there isn’t a lot of vaccine yet...”

“We really don’t know how often we’re going to be receiving vaccines...” Public Health supervisor Heather Myhre reported. She added that public health nurses have began administering vaccinations to the initial group (called 1A). “We have been working through our EMS (emergency medical services) and EMS certified responders in all of our communities... So yes, we have given them (shots).”

Myhre said that “We have five nurses in our department, so we’re trying to spread that burden as much as we can. Our hope is to utilize volunteers who would be licensed individuals who as a part of their profession, at some point to provide vaccinations and have the skills and training to do so... They would also complete the training that’s required on the MDH (Minnesota Department of Health) side related to the COVID vaccine.” 

Pugleasa noted the 1A group also includes health care providers, long-term care residents, and long-term care staff. 

The director said the vaccination effort in Houston County will include numerous players, and may even include area pharmacies at some point. 

“The majority of our health care providers are out of the state, and all are outside of the county, (even though) some have presence in Houston County through clinics. So we’re working with those partners as well,” he stated.

“What I would encourage is that if people aren’t part of a priority group this 1A group, they should call their health care provider (or Hou Co Public Health.)  to get a sense of when vaccine would be available to them...”

Moving forward, “I think what we’ll see is right now, there’s high demand for vaccine, and low supply... But we’ll get to a point where we have a lot of vaccine and multiple places that people can access it,” Pugleasa predicted. “I think then our messaging shifts not saying hey, there’s just this specific group of people who are eligible right now, to ‘as many people who can get it should get it, because we need to have a high enough percentage of our populations who are vaccinated to establish herd immunity.”  

Briefly

Commissioner accepted a $3,000 donation from the Houston County K-9 Foundation to pay for a K9 (canine) lease. They also approved guardianship contracts through their Human Services Department. Providers include John Miller, Anne Yakle, Gregory Yakle and Frederick Guardianship Services. 

An updated Houston County Collaborative Agreement was signed with several agencies, including local school districts. That ongoing program addresses mental health services. 

Tax abatements were approved for Davison Properties, LLC (Hokah), and Barton Heintz (Caledonia). Finally, Severson offered to contact City of La Crescent officials to discuss a letter citing “ongoing concerns over the way certain functions of Houston County government are performed.” 

The missive mentions the apparent tardy delivery of tax notices, and claims that there was a failure to correct estimated market values. 

The letter also mentions the need for “timely information in advance of meetings so that adjustments can be reviewed and considered based on recommendations from the Auditor’s Office.”

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