Wright County Board makes a pair of controversial decisions

by John Holler

Four hours after the conclusion of the July 16 meeting of the Wright County Board, Commissioner Mike Potter was still stinging from being on the wrong end of a pair of decisions that were expected to be sent to committee or to a public hearing, but were decided in an impromptu fashion.

“The swelling has gone down,” Potter said with a chuckle. “I took kind of a beating there in the board room.”

The topics of discussion were listed consecutively among the board’s items for consideration — the first being the debate on whether to hire a county coordinator or a county administrator and the second being whether the county wanted to add a wheelage tax resolution.

The coordinator/administrator debate included input from interested people in the audience, but most of the discussion was centered on a debate of the merits of both positions by Commissioners Charlie Borrell and Christine Husom. Borrell urged the board to stay with the coordinator position because he felt an administrator would put an unelected official in charge of department heads. Husom contended that the county needed an administrator to streamline county business practices, adding that just 13 of 87 counties in Minnesota have a coordinator and none the size of Wright County.

After lengthy discussion, Commissioner Mark Daleiden called for the board to meet in closed session to discuss the matter, but Board Chairman Pat Sawatzke informed Daleiden that state statutes don’t allow closed session meetings for such discussions. With the item expected to be referred to committee, Borrell made a surprise motion to advertise only for the coordinator position. With three commissioners being on record as favoring an administrator, the possibility of not getting a second to the motion (the board chair can’t second motions without passing the gavel) seemed likely. But, when Daleiden seconded the motion, things moved quickly. Both Daleiden and Husom changed course when asked to vote and the motion passed 4-1, with Potter casting the dissenting vote.

“It was kind of Chicken Little approach that the sky was falling and I was going to go along with it simply to make it a unanimous vote,” Potter said. “An administrator would make a clearer line of authority, but it’s not the added layer of government (Borrell) made it sound like. I don’t think they gave the administrator position a fair shake.”

Next on the agenda was Potter bringing a resolution forward for the county to impose a wheelage tax to increase funding for county road projects. The wheelage tax would impose a $10 fee per vehicle when the owner is renewing license tabs. He estimated that the county would generate $1.1 million a year, which the county will need. For the last several years, the county has advance encumbered money from the state for road projects — a practice the state discontinued this year. The highway department construction budget for 2013 is $13 million with $10 million coming from state and federal funds. In 2014, the construction budget is expected to be $11 million, but just $4.4 million coming from state and federal funding. Potter felt a wheelage tax would help tighten that funding gap.

Borrell said that the tax would never come off the books if it was enacted and Husom said she thought the tax was unfair. As it seemed the matter would be referred to a committee, Potter made a motion to approve the resolution — a motion that died for the lack of a second. As such, the issue is likely dead for 2013.

“It was a pretty tough day,” Potter said. “But, you have those sometimes. I’m not happy with how things turned out, but that’s why we have five commissioners that make decisions and not just one person. Things don’t always go how you think they should.”

In other items on the July 16 agenda, the board:

APPROVED Highway Engineer Virgil Hawkins to put together a requestfor proposal (RFP) for a space study for the county’s Public Works Building. The RFP will call for a space needs study and an estimate on the costs involved with creating more space or relocating a department. The RFP will seek out quotes to perform the space study and will be referred to the Committee of the Whole once they are received.

ANNOUNCED the results of the county’s annual auction, which was conducted June 15. The net receipts for the county from the sale after advertising and auctioneering fees were $160,008.

APPROVED the schedule for budget committee of the whole meetings. The meetings will take place over a two-week span in August and will be the first budget hearings for the four new members of the county board.

PRESENTED the winners of the Best Ideas Contest, which asked county employees to come up with ideas to save the county money and make the operation more efficient. The winner was Lori Achman of the human services department, who came up with a plan for training and orientation for new employees to make the department more efficient and reduce redundancy in job duties. Five other employees were honored for coming up with similar ideas how to save money by using sensors on lights that are rarely used, but constantly lit. Daleiden and Husom provided the prize money for the awards.

APPROVED a three-year contract with Maximus Consulting for the county’s annual indirect cost allocation plan. The contract is the same as the county was operating under with Maximus ($6,175 a year) and will cover the 2012-14 tax years.

AUTHORIZED signatures on a joint powers agreement with the Central Minnesota Emergency Management Services Region. The region includes 12 counties and coordinates EMS programs and funding proposals for the counties in the region.

APPROVED the June revenue/expenditure guidelines. Six months through the budget year, the county is at 48 percent of revenues and 46 percent of expenditures.

WAS informed that the sheriff’s department will conduct at public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 23 at the Silver Creek Township Hall to inform residents that a Level 3 sex offender will be into the area.

Contact John Holler at [email protected]