By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

The Houston County board held their first business meeting of the decade on Tuesday, January 7. District Two representative Eric Johnson was appointed chairperson for 2020. The post of vice-chair went to Robert Burns of District Three.

A 3-1 vote accepted of a $10,000 Legacy grant issued through the Minnesota Historical Society. Those dollars will require a $1000 local match, and will be used to implement a construction planning study for restoration work on the exterior of the now-vacant historic Houston County jail building. Personnel/facilities director Tess Arrick-Kruger said that the study is a prerequisite for applying for a possible large grant to help to pay for the actual work at a future date. Johnson cast the “no” vote. 

“My main reason to oppose is that I feel if we’re going to go into this phase with the old jail, that we should have a plan in place by the board on what we’re going to utilize that jail for,”Johnson said. “And the fact that we’re in the middle of trying to construct a county shop, I feel we don’t have the room and the money to do both.” 

Commissioners also voted 3-1 to increase funding for Root River Soil and Water Conservation District by $14,400, using the commissioner’s fund to pay for the non-budgeted expense. The move will secure a State of Minnesota 1:1 matching grant to be used for “best management practices” on projects such as field terraces and retention ponds. Burns cast the lone “nay” on the measure, noting that the 2020 budget was only recently approved.

Other 2020 appropriations were accepted by resolution. Topping the list were SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating) at $163,478, the RRSWCD ($129,000 plus the added $14,400), the Houston County Historical Society ($37,500 plus a maximum of $5,000 in matching dollars for society fund-raising), and the Houston County Agricultural Society ($20,000 plus an additional $4,000 after financial reports are delivered to the county).

Robert Thoen was reappointed to a new four-year term as Houston County veteran services officer, beginning January 25, 2020. Diane Imhoff was hired as a 67 day technical clerk to assist with elections.

Bids for official county newspaper were opened. There was only one – a cooperative offer from the Caledonia Argus and Spring Grove Herald. The offer was accepted.

Some budgeted equipment purchases for the Houston County Highway Department were also approved. Those included a plow truck with box for delivery in the spring of 2021, which will cost $278,258 (payable when delivered), a new motorgrader with blade for $199,868, a five-year lease agreement for three pickup trucks totaling $90,573, a catwalk working platform for road sign work ($23,400), and $14,500 for a pair of three-point disc movers. 

The final payment for a pair of bridge replacements was approved as well. Minnowa Construction installed the box culverts on Old Indian Trail Road and County 4 for a total cost of $631,280.

Two conditional use permits were also granted. The first will allow the Caledonia Sno-Gophers to construct and operate a snowmobile trail groomer shed in an agricultural district, with the organization purchasing some land  from Ma Cal Grove Country Club along Highway 44 to make that happen. The second will allow James and Samantha Cunningham to operate a horse stable in an ag. district located within Black Hammer Township. 

Committee assignments were handed out, some of which will likely be amended once a commissioner for District 5 is elected in April. Some key posts include Commissioner Jack Miller and Johnson on the Human Services Standing Committee, Commissioner Teresa Walter and Burns on Land Use/Public Works, Johnson and Miller on Personnel/Negotiating, and Miller and Burns serving on the Finance Committee. Burns will serve on the Airport Commission, with Johnson and Miller on the Highway Building Committee. The Parks Committee will feature Burns and Miller. Burns will also represent the board on the Planning Commission.

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