By Craig Moorhead
The Caledonia Argus
On Tuesday, July 13, Houston County commissioners voted to formally end the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration that was made by the board chair on March 18, 2020, and extended by the full board soon after.
At the time of last Tuesday’s meeting, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 71% of Houston County residents age 16 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Those with at least one dose included 59% of the county’s total population, while the rate for ages 12-plus stood at 68%. Those numbers are somewhat higher than statewide averages.
Another vote ratified a change order (No. 11) for the new county highway shop/headquarters facility currently under construction. The total added cost to “connect the new electrical and gas service to the new building and install a clean agent (dry) fire suppression system in the records room” was quoted as $29,419.
But the board voted to withhold a 10% ($2,200) contractor’s fee from the change order subtotal, since they contend that the construction manager was told that the records room required a “dry” fire suppression system before the bid documents were prepared.
Under their consent agenda, the board voted to hire Darlene Peter as a probationary deputy recorder, clerk tech1, effective July 26. Isaiah Bunke was hired as a probationary deputy sheriff on the same ballot, effective August 3. The latter action was conditioned upon the completion of medical and psychological examinations.
Board clerk/EDA director Allison Wagner also reported the Houston County EDA is seeking applicants for an opening on it’s board of directors.
The board also held extended discussions on reorganizing Houston County’s Zoning/Planning Department, which also houses Environmental Services and has traditionally had a single director overseeing both areas.
The Zoning/Planning office is responsible for the enforcement of the county’s zoning ordinance, including feedlots, septic systems, and permits for various forms of development in townships, floodplain and shoreland rules, and more.
The workload has increased as some staff have left the department - and not only because recruitment has sometimes been challenging - but also because La Crescent Township (which used to have it’s own zoning officer) has decided to have Houston County provide that service.
So even though the department is already short-staffed, it continues to field a wide range of responsibilities which are sometimes intertwined with Environmental Services.
Commissioner Eric Johnson repeated his call to shift the responsibility for feedlot and septic inspections to the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District, since the county has recently had to rely on Winona County to help with the former, and private engineering firm G-Cubed to provide the latter. Other commissioners disagreed, noting that Houston County is “ultimately responsible” to make sure those tasks are completed.
After more than an hour of discussion, the board reached the consensus that the place to start is to hire a full-time (not just an interim) department head.
“We have not advertised for a department head (since the last person to hold that post resigned),” Commissioner Dewey Severson noted, “and I feel that... hopefully, if we can get somebody in that’s going to lead this department who is going to look at how are we going to run this. We’re talking about a lot of if’s here and I’m trying to catch up, because of my short tenure here. But I feel that in order to do it correctly... let’s get the horse before the cart, or whatever you want to call it, to go forward.”
On a related note, the board decided to review the county’s solid waste disposal contracts, a topic which comes under the heading of Environmental Services.