Amy Kowalzek

Morrison County Land Services Director Amy Kowalzek discusses an ordinance to combine the Planning Commission and Board of Adjustments with the Board of Commissioners Tuesday at the Morrison County Government Center.

A lengthy discussion concluded with a 3-2 vote by the Morrison County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, to approve a resolution that will combine a pair of county land services boards.

The recommendation from the Morrison County Planning Commission was to combine it and the Board of Adjustments. Commissioners Mike LeMieur, Greg Blaine and Mike Wilson voted in favor of the ordinance change. Commissioners Jeffrey Jelinski and Randy Winscher were against the measure, wanting instead to table the issue for further examination.

The combined board will go into effect on April 1, 2021.

“I am viewing it as a value add to have the same individuals serve on the Planning Commission as well as on the Board of Adjustments, because they’re much more well-rounded and much more educated in zoning matters,” said Morrison County Land Services Director Amy Kowalzek.

The change would create one, five-person board that would serve as both the Planning Commission and the Board of Adjustments. Each person on the Board would serve a five-year term. There would also be one ex-officio, non-voting member — filled by a county commissioner — who would only give input on matters involving the Planning Commission. One member would come from each of the Commissioners’ five districts, and would be chosen by their representative.

Under the current, two separate committee format, 14 people are needed to fill all of the positions. One group, the Board of Adjustments, deals only with the variance side of a land ordinance while the other handles questions regarding conditional or interim use permits, for example.

Another major reason for combining the groups is the short construction season in Minnesota. The new combined Planning Commission/Board of Adjustments would meet twice per month, as opposed to only once for each separate group right now. If a project requires approval and a public hearing, it can take a while before it reaches a stage where it can move forward.

A concern of the Board was to make sure all segments of the county’s population were represented on the new board. Winscher noted that he had heard concerns about how viewings would be done from several agriculture producers in his district.

Wilson said he had also heard concerns from farmers.

“I did have a call from a few of the farmers,” Wilson said. “We discussed the fact that, having 14 on a board, they may only have two farmers on that board. If they feel that only a farmer represents a farmer, then they only have two versus 12; where here they have one versus four. But what really came out of that conversation is, they do not make rules. They apply the rules that are already written.”

Kowalzek said having a representative from each district should help create diversity on the board. She added that having one, five-person board would create one that was more knowledgeable about the topics on which it was making decisions.

“One of the comments at the public hearing was that in moving to five members, we’re really trying to establish a professional position rather than a citizen board,” Kowalzek said. “I have to agree. I think this board should have some credibility, should behave in a professional way, should be knowledgeable enough to be able to handle a request and any twists and turns that come with it in a very professional way. I have applicants that come back and say, ‘Who are these citizen people making decisions about my livelihood? What can they possibly know? They don’t know anything, because they’re just citizens.’ So we see the other side of that.”

The plan is to have the Board meet twice per month, though that is only in the bylaws. It can therefore be amended to fit the workload of cases that need to be heard.

Jelinski asked Kowalzek why the current boards can’t meet more than once per month without combining them.

“We don’t because of the time commitment, the noticing requirements and the expense,” Kowalzek said. “In order to fully recover the cost of a meeting, we need three agenda items; to fully cover the cost of all the noticing, the per diems, the mileage, staff time, all of that. When we have just one Board of Adjustments, where we’re just hearing variances, the odds of having two agendas with three or more items in a month; it’s not probable most of the time.

“If we had a combined board, we could fill those in with Planning Commission items so we could always have, probably, at least three items per agenda to fully cover the cost of the meeting,” she said.

The Board also clarified that, if the ordinance were to pass, it could be changed again through the same process if the one board format was not working.

After more than an hour of discussion, Winscher asked if it would be possible to table the issue for further discussion at a planning session.

The motion which was already on the floor, however, was to adopt the ordinance change. In a roll call vote, the Board passed that initial motion.

“I will be at your next planning session to talk more about it, whether you want it or not,” Kowalzek said.

Board of Commissioners Briefs:

In other business Tuesday, the Morrison County Board of Commissioners:

• Elected Board Member Mike Wilson as board chair;

• Elected Board Member Greg Blaine as board vice-chair;

• Adopted travel policy and payment amounts of $75 per meeting for Board of Adjustments and Planning Commission members and $50 for all other county appointed committees;

• Adopted policy on how public meetings will be posted in 2021;

• Adopted the Morrison County Board of Commissioners Code of Conduct and 2021 committee assignments;

• Set the 2021 salaries of the Morrison County Attorney ($136,884.80); Morrison County Auditor-Treasurer ($92,497.60); Morrison County Recorder ($90,729.60); and Morrison County Sheriff ($131,622.40); and

• Approved the Morrison County Record as the county’s official paper of record in 2021.

The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is a planning session at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12, in the Board Room at the Morrison County Government Center.

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