By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Houston County commissioners put in a long day on July 14, meeting for nearly three hours in a session that began in the morning, then returning in the afternoon to hear three presentations.

After an extended discussion, the board passed a resolution on how they intend to spend $2,262,920 in  Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) dollars. 

The document cites an initial allocation of $1,130,000 for a local economic support program, and “authorizes the Finance Committee to allocate additional economic assistance once county-specific expenses have been fully funded.”

Those county-specific necessary expenses must be directly related to the pandemic. The resolution lists “medical expenses, public health expenses, payroll expenses, (and) compliance with public health measures” as qualifying costs. 

As far as the economic assistance program, that will take the form of grants for local businesses, which may also benefit from some additional CRF funds which have been allocated to Houston County townships and cities. 

Finally, funds which townships and cities have not utilized by November 15, 2020 will be transferred to Houston County, which must allocate all of its CRF dollars by December 1, 2020 or return them to the state, the resolution adds. 

On a related note, commissioners accepted a CARES Act grant for election support. Those dollars total $22,610 ($11,771 for cities and townships, and $10,838 for the county) must be used for COVID-19 expenses for elections which meet state guidelines. 

Townships which have opted to use mail-in balloting have not been allocated dollars from this grant, auditor/treasurer Donna Trehus reported.

Other news

The board approved a $278,022 offer from low-bidder Van Gundy Excavating to replace a bridge on Gates Coulee Road in Money Creek Township. 

An $84,180 bid from Generation X Construction to remove a bridge on Lorenz Road (Hokah Township) was also accepted. And an offer from Subsurface Inc. to rehabilitate (line) two deeply-buried culverts on county roads 6 and 8 was approved as well. That quote totaled $47,000.

The board held two closed sessions. The first was to discuss a lawsuit filed on July 10. That case was brought by plaintiff Mound Prairie Township against the Houston County Highway Department, and involves the township’s South Ridge Road project, according to county staff. The second closed session was called to discuss labor negotiation strategy. 

Commissioners approved a conditional use permit for Shannon Fritcher to build a cabin in an agricultural district in Winnebago Township. A wetland exception application for tiling agricultural fields was also approved. 

That project was investigated by the county’s technical evaluation panel, with input from agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Applicants were Grace Nelson and Deborah Paulson, and the site is West Beaver Creek Valley in Winnebago Township.

The afternoon sessions were held so that three competing firms (Fowler and Hammer, Market and Johnson, and Wieser Brothers) could present their proposals to serve as the construction manager for the “development and construction” of Houston County’s new highway headquarters/shop facility. The contract for that job could be awarded as early as the board’s July 28 regular session.

Briefly

A single consent agenda vote approved several items, including the hire of Dylan Felton and Eliana Babinski as casual/temporary (67-day) employees, and the hire of Noah Stigeler as a casual/temporary (67-day) assistant custodian.

Ten property tax abatements brought by assessor Cindy Cresswell Hatleli were approved as well.

Finally, the board discussed a resolution which would have raised the local wheelage tax from $10 to $20 per vehicle. 

Commissioners tabled the matter, but did discuss using wheelage tax dollars (which currently total approximately $200,000 per year) to defray the cost of eventual bond payments which will be needed to help pay for the new highway facility.

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