Wright County Board informed about potential gas price changes

by John Holler

As part of the Dec. 17 county board meeting, one of the items up for approval was setting the mileage reimbursement for employees who travel as part of their job. The action in front of them was to inform the county that the federal reimbursement rate will rise to 56 cents a mile as of Jan. 1. While the county kept its rate at 50 cents a mile, Board Chairman Pat Sawatzke asked how quickly the county can lower its rate because, from what the commissioners heard the previous week at the Association of Minnesota Counties annual meeting, gas prices are expected to stay the same or drop in the future.

“When we were at the AMC meeting, there was a legislator from North Dakota who was talking about the massive oil reserve that they’re tapping into and how that will potentially impact Minnesota as they ship the oil out,” Sawatzke said. “They’ve known for a long time that there were tremendous amounts of oil underground in North Dakota, but they didn’t have the technology to get it out of the ground because it was buried under a layer of shale that they couldn’t get through.”

While still in the early stages of tapping into the new technology, Sawatzke said the technological advance could create an oil boom in both North Dakota and Texas, where similar technology is being used to bring up oil previously unavailable to conventional drilling. The impact of the new technology could have far-reaching implications and end America’s dependence on foreign oil.

“It could be amazing what ends up coming from this,” Sawatzke said. “Analysts are projecting that in eight years we will no longer have to import oil and in 10 years we may actually be exporting oil. I don’t know how that will impact gas prices, but I would have to think it would keep prices down since we would have the supply here to meet the demands we have.”

The board was informed that, if the federal government lowers its mileage reimbursement rate that the county can reduce its own rate accordingly.

In other items on the Dec. 17 agenda, the board:

SET 2014 salaries for elected department heads as follows: County Attorney Tom Kelly $120,640, Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala $113,990 and Sheriff Joe Hagerty $113,990.

BY a 4-1 vote, approved the county board salaries at $36,982, a 1 percent increase from the current rate. During the economic downturn, the county board had frozen its own salaries. The commissioners haven’t had a pay increase since 2008. Commissioner Mark Daleiden voted against the increase, saying that the commissioners should keep their salaries at the same level, but understood that they haven’t been increased in six years and his objection was more symbolic than a strong belief that the commissioners should freeze their own salaries.

APPROVED an addendum to the county’s contract with the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities to allow the county to use some of the YMCA’s facilities as the Bertram Chain of Lakes Park becomes more operational in the coming years. The addendum allows the county to use facilities and equipment beyond the original agreement signed several years ago when the park land purchases began.

SET the per diem rate for attendance at committee and advisory board meetings at $50.

APPROVED the non-union salary schedule, which calls for a 1 percent cost of living increase to wages across the board.

SET the final cut off date for claims to be paid in 2013 for 3 p.m. Monday, Dec. 23. Any claims for payment made after that won’t be processed and approved until the first board meeting in January.

APPROVED increasing the county’s contribution toward non-union employees with family health insurance by $50 a month, effective March 1, 2014.

SET a transportation committee of the whole meeting for 10:30 a.m. following the Dec. 31 county board meeting. Among the items to be discussed are reviewing of federal-funded road projects and the county’s 10-year highway construction work plan.

TABLED discussion of a contribution to the I-94 West Corridor Coalition. Last year, the county made an $8,000 contribution to catch up its commitment to the I-94 coalition with contributions that had been made for the Hwy. 55 coalition. The board received a letter from I-94 coalition referring to the county’s contribution for 2014 as “membership dues” Sawatzke said he thought the money paid in 2013 was a one-time contribution and didn’t constitute annual membership dues to be paid each year. The item was laid over to get more information.

MADE a pair of appointments to the Great River Regional Library Board. The county appointed Wayne Rebischke of Buffalo as a new member to the board and re-appointed Jim Shovelain. Both will serve three-year terms.

AUTHORIZED signatures on a 2014 contract to have Dr. Quinn Strobl to provide medical examiner services for the county. Wright County has contracted with a multi-county medical examiner service based in Anoka County for the last several years.

APPROVED final acceptance of the contract with Omann Brothers Paving of Albertville for the Montrose Safe Routes to School Trail Project.

Contact John Holler at [email protected]