Wright County remains mired in transit discussion

By John Holler

Contributing Writer

 

The issue of transit in Wright County has turned into its own version of “The Neverending Story,” as the future of transit in the county seemingly changes on a weekly or even a daily basis.

At the most recent meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, there was yet another twist and turn to the county’s stance on transit.

At its previous meeting, the board discussed the option of going with a private contractor from Maple Grove, but officials from the Minnesota Department of Transportation stated it wouldn’t support such a move, instead urging the county to join up with the Trailblazer transit group based out of Glencoe. A week later, a decision had already been made by MnDOT that left the commissioners confused as to how they can proceed.

Commissioner Pat Sawatzke said that MnDOT essentially has given Wright County three options — allow Trailblazer to work out a joint powers agreement with cities, have Wright County strike out on its own with a procurement process to get a low bidder for the service, or have the county work under the administrative umbrella of Tri-Cap (a transit system of Benton, Stearns and Sherburne counties). With the clock ticking down until the July 1 date when the current River Rider program ceases to exist, the only alternative that would guarantee no disruption in service is the Trailblazer program.

Commissioner Mark Daleiden said he has been frustrated with the lack of control Wright County has had in the process. By a 3-2 vote earlier this year, the county approved entering into a joint powers agreement with Trailblazer, only to have Trailblazer halt negotiations with the county and work directly with cities to reach an agreement. When it appeared the county had found a viable, less expensive alternative, the brakes were put on again.

“The problem here is that MnDOT went and messed things up again,” Daleiden said. “They are not represented here today, so we are left to interpret what they mean.”

Those interpretations were quite different. Commissioners Sawatzke and Mike Potter both referenced the same documents received from MnDOT and drew very different conclusions as to what they meant. Others, including representatives from the City of Annandale and from Function Industries, felt the county needs to get something done before July 1, which would likely entail allowing Trailblazer to continue to negotiate with cities and organizations in the county.

Rod Peterson, the president of Functional Industries, which employees people with differing levels of disability, said that his worst fear has been realized — that Functional Industries would be caught in the middle of political in-fighting and that work the company has spent decades building and nurturing could be the casualty of this political war.

“If you tell Trailblazer you don’t want them here, they won’t come in,” Peterson said. “In essence, you’re darned near shutting us down because we don’t not have enough transportation to move the folks that used to be served by River Rider. Without that transportation for even two weeks, the jobs that we have worked 20 or 30 years to establish are going to disappear.”

The board wrangled with how to proceed, to the point that Board Chair Christine Husom passed the gavel to make an amendment to a motion. However, her motion, which would soften the language and give county support of the Trailblazer program, died for the lack of a second.

In the end, the commissioners voted to send a letter to the Trailblazer board which stated that, while the county is still looking at continuing the procurement process, it wouldn’t stand in the way of cities to reach an agreement with Trailblazer. The motion passed by a 3-2 vote with Commissioners Mike Potter and Daleiden voting against the motion, which both believe will simply prolong the process even further.

In other items on the agenda, the board:

ACCEPTED the minutes of the May 5 budget committee of the whole meeting. The meeting was called to review the final 2013 budget figures. County departments turned back $1.97 million to the general fund with another $1.55 million turned back in the road and bridge fund. However, it was noted that, because road projects are often delayed from the times bids are set that the road and bridge figure will likely be considerably lower than $1.55 million. The approximately $2 million turned back to the general fund will likely be used to fund capital improvement projects in the county that aren’t part of the standard budgeting process.

ANNOUNCED that the photographic flyover of the county will be delayed until 2015. Ideally such county flyovers are done in April before trees start sprouting leaves. But, this spring, the combination of late-spring snow and inclement flying weather made it impossible to start the process, much less finish it. The price agreed upon with Aerial Services Inc., which won a contract with Wright, Sherburne and Stearns counties, will remain in place for when the flyover is completed next year.

AUTHORIZED signatures on a highway right of way plat agreement for the construction project on County Rd. 12, which is slated for construction in 2015.

APPROVED the April revenue-expenditure guidelines. There was nothing the stood out as being an issue. Early in the year, several line items, including furniture and equipment expenses, seem much higher than the numbers reflected through one third of the calendar year because the purchases for the entire year have already been made.

AUTHORIZED an administrative fine of $200 to Whispering Pines Golf Course east of Annandale for a failed alcohol compliance check. Throughout the year, the county operates sting operations to send someone underage into an establishment to attempt to purchase liquor and, if the person is served or isn’t asked for an I.D., it is a violation of their liquor license. This was the second violation for the golf course, but the first with its current ownership.

APPROVED retaining an appraiser to conduct independent appraisals of three properties in the county that are part of value disputes that are slated to be argued in tax court.

ACCEPTED the findings and recommendations of the planning commission to rezone 39 acres of land in Corinna Township from Ag General to Ag Residential. Although Corinna Township does its own planning and zoning, the county must approve all changes that would alter the county’s zoning map.

APPROVED a claim from Frank Madden, Galanteer & Hansen for labor relations consultation done on behalf of county during April.

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