By Craig Moorhead
The Caledonia Argus
Houston County commissioners voted to establish a capital project fund to pay for a new County Highway Department headquarters/shop facility on Tuesday, November 12.
Finance director Carol Lapham advised the board to set up the account. “It would be my recommendation to look at the Road and Bridge Fund balance and transfer a million dollars to start, so that you have a balance in that fund, and then a decision could be made on how it’s actually going to be funded,” she said.
Commissioners agreed, but only transferred $200,000 to cover expenses incurred so far. Those have included additional land purchases at the current headquarters site in Caledonia, as well as hiring an architect to develop a plan to make the best use of the expanded footprint.
A preliminary draft of some initial options from Barrientos Design & Consulting (Milwaukee) was examined during the session. Although those plans are sure to be refined over the next few weeks, an overall picture is beginning to emerge. The three plans that were presented all include a main heated garage building with parking areas for equipment of various sizes, repair bays, lifts, parts storage, truck wash bay, and more, plus crew areas (rest rooms, lockers, showers). Offices for highway department staff are part of the same main heated building, too, which currently totals 26,732 square feet.
Yard buildings include several cold storage structures that are penciled in for a variety of potential spots, totaling 46,807 square feet. Those includes bulk space for “reserve” vehicles and seasonal equipment, tires, and other items, plus parking stalls for heavy, medium, and light vehicles, construction equipment, and “field equipment.” There is a shed for salt, sand and brine, and a fuel canopy. Outdoor bins for some unspecified items also appear on the plans, along with parking spaces. All three layouts include a retention pond along the southern side of the property, to the west of a spot set aside for either the salt shed or a cold storage building.
The document also lists existing (currently developed) space at the headquarters site for comparisons, which now boasts 2,756 square feet for vehicle parking and repair, 4,057 for mechanics and parts storage, 2,622 for crew and administration, and 6,000 square feet of cold storage.
“What we really haven’t arrived at, and it will probably take a little time to get there, is a consensus between the members of the county board and staff on what is really, truly, needed, considering the wants and needs of the Highway Department and the perceived ability of the taxpayers to pay (for it),” Commissioner Fred Arnold said. “That’s going to take some time to sort out.”
Commissioners approved a pact with CEDA (Community and Economic Development Associates) for 2020-21. Under the agreement, CEDA will provide 1,248 hours of services per calendar year to Houston County for $59,100 in 2020 and $60,282 in 2021. The post of Houston County EDA director has been filled by CEDA staff members for a number of years, and CEDA workers have also assisted with numerous EDA projects in various other capacities, such as grant writing.
The board also approved a 2020-21 delegation agreement/work plan between Houston County and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. That document is concerned with “the county’s plans, strategies and goals for administration and implementation” of the programs that oversee feedlots, including registrations, inspections and owner assistance.
The board accepted the resignation of certified Minnesota appraiser Michelle Quinn, with thanks for her 11 years of service to Houston County. Two probationary appraiser trainees were hired to fill the pair of vacancies at the Assessor’s Office (Joseph Olson and David Feuerhelm).
Commissioners also accepted the retirement of Department of Corrections technical clerk Carol Sherburne with thanks for her 18 years of service to Houston County.
In other personnel votes, Lynn Colsch was hired as a .6 FTE probationary technical clerk for the Houston County Finance Department, and Karlee Moulton was hired as a probationary child protection social worker with Houston County Public Health and Human Services.
Commissioners initiated a search for candidates (or reappointments) to the county’s Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment. At the end of 2019, two positions will need to be filled on each panel. One PC member has reached the end of three consecutive terms, and will need to sit out one term before reapplying, according to Houston County term limitation guidelines. The board can choose to waive that requirement if necessary to fill the post, however. The PC has no authority to grant permits, but does hold public hearings, advises the county board on permit applications, and fulfills other tasks as well. The BOA has quasi-judicial powers to grant variances, which can only be overturned in district court. That panel also has other duties, which include hearing appeals to county zoning decisions.