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County no closer to garage decision

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The door is still open on the Verndale garage controversy after a Staples official gave some assurance that Wadena County won't be penalized for delaying a decision on its contract with the city's garage.

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Commissioner Rodney Bounds wanted the Verndale garage on Tuesday's board meeting agenda because the contract requests a six-month notice for either party to discontinue the contract.

Public Works Director Don Klein said there aren't punitive clauses for not giving six months notice, and while he couldn't speak for the city council he didn't think it would be a problem to give the county more time to make a decision. County Highway Engineer Joel Ulring has been great to work with and the arrangement has been good for both parties, he said.

"We're certainly happy to collaborate with the county," Klein said. "Given the kind of economic climate that we're all facing these are the kind of arrangements the public demands of their elective officials. I believe they want that cost savings ... and reduction in duplicity."

Not everyone agrees about the benefits of the collaboration.

Plow operator Ken Moyer addressed comments made at a previous board meeting where Staples residents said locating the plow in Staples led to improved safety of their roads.

Moyer said the reason the ice problem in Staples is better than it used to be is because he started using a new truck with an underbody blade in 2005.

"That is an immense better deal than just going with the plow," he said.

If he leaves Verndale with the plow he can be in Staples no more than a half hour later than if he leaves Wadena with a county pickup, Moyer said.

"But there is a whole hour that you guys are paying me to drive over there and do nothing," he said.

Commissioner Ralph Miller said with proper scheduling he didn't think having the shop located in Verndale would make a difference for Staples' roads.

The plowing of Verndale's county roads has also came up as a cause for concern.

Commissioner Rodney Bounds said Verndale Mayor Ardith Carr presented him with a lot of papers about what it costs the city to plow county roads.

"They're losing money plowing county streets," he said.

He also thinks it's costing the county more money to rent a garage in Staples, he said.

Bounds also disagreed with Ulring's recommendation that the county put out a request for proposals to have a consultant perform a jurisdictional study on the county's road and maintenance systems.

The study would involve the public, Ulring said. Although some commissioners have received public input, Ulring said his office has yet to receive a phone call about the closing of the Verndale garage.

"It sounds like the silent majority is staying silent," he said. "The vocal minority is what we're hearing."

That's why he suggests taking the approach of hiring independent consultants, Ulring said.

"It would give us a lot of credence to what we are doing here," he said. "Are we doing the right thing or not."

The study would not only help with the Verndale garage decision it would provide a good review of the county's road system and help determine if the county state aid highways are where they are needed based on traffic volume and patterns, Ulring said. Once the county knows what its best network of roads should be, then it can determine what is the best way to maintain them. He realizes the study would cost money, but he believes it would lead to greater efficiencies, he said. Ballpark figures he was given for the study range from $15,000 to $20,000 with the county's state aid allotment covering half of the cost.

Bounds said he wasn't saying the study itself was good or bad, he just didn't think it related to the Verndale garage issue.

Commissioner Lane Waldahl wants to wait to make a decision about the Verndale garage until after a meeting of department heads and the board to discuss the possibility of the county receiving cuts in state funding, he said.

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