Wright County questions changes to road cost participation policy

Daleiden announces re-election bid

By John Holler

Contributing Writer


When it has come to how Wright County participates in road projects within cities in which curb and gutter improvements are made, the plan has been pretty simple: if the curbs and gutters in question are part of a city’s sewer system, the city pays for 100 percent of that cost.

At the meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, that policy changed, despite objections from a pair of commissioners that the county highway department has never followed a policy calling for county funding for such projects.

County Highway Engineer Virgil Hawkins brought a resolution to the board that would call for a 50/50 cost split between the county and cities in which a county road project is taking place.

Hawkins sent out a request to respond to the 86 other counties in Minnesota. Forty-nine of them responded. Of those, 49 percent of the counties paid 100 percent of the cost, 12 percent play nothing, 9 percent pay 50/50 cost split and 30 percent play pay some percentage in between. Hawkins stated the proposal in front of the board would amend the current policy of 100 percent of curb and gutter costs be paid by cities to a 50/50 cost share.

Commissioner Charlie Borrell was the first to oppose the motion, saying that countywide taxes shouldn’t be used to pay for city street improvements.

“Explain to me why someone in French Lake Township’s taxes should go to Hanover’s curb and gutter on a city project because a county road runs through the city?” Borrell asked.

Hawkins explained that the money comes from gas tax money, but Borrell insisted tax money, regardless of source, is money that could be used elsewhere. Commissioner Pat Sawatzke countered that such a cost division has never been part of a county policy and that, for many years, the county highway department vehemently opposed cost sharing for city curb and gutter projects.

“I’ve been on this board for 23 years and, for 23 years, cities would say that it is unfair that you don’t pay for any curb and gutter,” Sawatzke said. “For 23 years, the highway department adamantly defended our policy that curb and gutter is a city expense and that, if there is curb and gutter work required that there won’t be a charge (to the county) for it.

“I think the same rationale (the highway department) used for all these years is no different today than it was then,” Sawatzke said. “For years I’ve heard why it’s fair and I’ve come to believe it. By doing this, it will increase the cost to the county. If you increase the cost to the county, it’s going to mean one of two things. It’s going to mean either taxes are going to go up or we going to do less roads. One of those two things will happen. Nobody here can deny that.”

Sawatzke and Borrell both said they would oppose the 50/50 cost share change to the county policy. On a motion by Commisioner Mike Potter motion to approve the policy change with Commissioner Mark Daleiden seconding, Daleiden then asked to amend the motion to say that each project would be subject to negotiation at a not-to-exceed 50 percent and each project is judged on its own merit. Sawatzke then made a motion to keep the current policy. It failed by a 3-2 vote.

Hawkins said a variable negotiation rate wouldn’t be ideal because if one city gets 50 percent of curb and gutter costs paid by the county, other cities would expect similar treatment. He said what would be different, as the formula is used in some counties varies county involvement in paying for curb and gutter based on the flow rates and what culpability a county has in bringing on that flow.

In the end, that broke the logjam. Sawatzke asked that the policy be amended to say that negotiations could be conducted with a not-to-exceed county cost of 50 percent and the negotiations be based on the amount of responsibility the county should have to the project. The amendment was added and the policy changed passed unanimously.

In a jab at the recent county malaise over its transit issues, Sawatke said, “If the Trailblazer board could see us now. We can take complex issues and come to a consensus.”

In other items on the agenda, the board:

HEARD, in a non-agenda item, Daleiden officially announced he will be running for re-election this fall. Daleiden had remained non-committal about seeking a second term earlier in the year, but made his announcement official following the board meeting.

ADOPTED a resolution proclaiming May 4-10 as Corrections Officer & Employee Week in Wright County, honoring those employees who work in the county jail. Jail Administrator Pat O’Malley told the board that corrections officers perform a vital service to the residents of Wright County despite rarely being recognized for the tasks they perform in dealing with prisoners in the jail.

SET a committee of the whole meeting for 10:30 a.m. following the May 27 board meeting to discuss concerns from the 10th Judicial District judges. The purpose of the meeting would be to tour the courtroom facilities and to hear the facility and security concerns that the judges have with the current courtrooms.

ACKNOWLEDGED receipt of an email from a representative of Midwest Transit, based out of Maple Grove, which could potentially provide an alternative to the controversial Trailblazer program, which broke off negotiations last month with the county after Wright County raised objections. The board voted to send Sawatzke and Potter to meet with the Midwest representatives on either May 7 or 8, depending on which date works better for them

HEARD that Highway Engineer Hawkins announced that spring road weight restrictions would be lifted Friday, May 9. Annually the highway department imposes weight restrictions on vulnerable roads to extend their life cycle.

APPROVED hiring two part-time county employees to serve as interim co-campground managers at Schroeder Park. The former campground manager announced resigned in late April. As part of the process, the county will advertise for a permanent campground manager.

AWARDED several highway department seasonal bids, including bid awards for bituminous hot mix materials, pavement markings, sealcoating and payment preservation and micro-surfacing contracts.

APPROVED posting a job opening for the deputy county assessor. County Assessor Greg Kramber was severely injured in a car crash in March and is expected to remain out of work for some time as he recovers from his injuries. The deputy assessor, who had intended to retire in March agreed to stay on as interim assessor until July 31. The posting of the deputy assessor will likely be a hire made internally so, if Kramber can’t return before Aug. 1 that the county will have continuity within the department.

REFERRED to the building committee discussion concerning repairs needed to the sheriff’s office Emergency Vehicle Operation Course at the county’s compost facility, as well as site work needed at the sheriff’s firearms range.

pproved upgrading the existing campground manager’s house at Schroeder Park with a not-to-exceed figure of $10,000. The funding will come out of the county’s site improvement line item.

REFERRED to the building committee discussion concerning having different building maintenance supervisors for the different county-owned facility. The discussion will include the potential of appointing one person to supervise maintenance duties for all of the county facilities and coordinate activities for the different buildings.