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County kicks much-debated garage decision down the road

Spring weather has Wadena County commissioners in no hurry to decide the much-debated fate of the highway department's Verndale garage.

Chairman Dave Schermerhorn said the county had all summer to mull whether it should reopen the garage and end the county's rental of garage space in Staples.

"I think level heads need to look at this," Schermerhorn said at Tuesday's meeting.

Commissioner Rodney Bounds continued to elaborate on his strong belief that closing the garage was bad for Verndale and bad for the county.

Bounds disagreed with numbers Ulring presented at the previous board meeting showing a savings to the county of $1,166.65 to close the Verndale garage. Bounds came up with his own set of numbers and he can't see a savings to justify moving the garage, he said.

Safety at the Verndale School is also an issue, he said. The fire chief told him the road by the school isn't plowed out as well as it was when the Verndale shop was open.

It's also important to keep the garage a local presence, Bounds said. Every building is important in a small community like Verndale.

"Why would you open a garage in Staples, when we have a garage in Verndale?" he asked.

Orv Meyer, who served as a commissioner for district two, and several other members of the Staples community addressed issues relating to that question.

Staples has one of the most heavily traveled roads in the county, Meyer said. It's always been a problem. The traffic used to compact the snow before the plow got there, causing the grader to make many trips to remove the compacted ice, he said.

When Ulring came on as county engineer he recognized the problem and arranged to have the garage in Staples, Meyer said. Todd County had plowed it for a while, but this was a much better solution.

"The system now is working," he said. "Why change something that's working?"

Larry Lundblood, president of Central Lakes College in Staples, said he is concerned about the safety of his students. The school added about 75 students to programs starting next year.

"So the numbers of students, people using that road, will increase," he said. "So we're very concerned about making sure that it's plowed early."

Jerel Nelsen, a Wadena County resident from north of Staples, said he drives County State Aid Highway 30 every day and has seen a dramatic improvement in road plowing the last couple of years. The road is the main feeder into the north part of Staples, he said. The industrial park, a couple of Lakewood Health Systems facilities and the college are all located there.

Staples Mayor Chris Etzler pointed out that the Wadena County portion of Staples is the fastest growing area in the county.

Richard Sorgert, who lives in Thomastown Township, said he believes it's a bad idea to put the garage in a different county. The county should reopen the Verndale garage, he said. The county also shouldn't look at the issue as if somebody who lives on a county road is any better than somebody who lives on a dirt road.

Ralph Miller maintained his support for the efficiency of locating the garage in Verndale.

Ulring doesn't want to belabor the issue, but he would like the county to make a decision, he said.

He said snow removal is the most difficult thing he deals with as head of the highway department. There's always room for improvement, he said, but the department does its best.

"Snow removal is never easy because there are never two storms that are alike," Ulring said.

Schermerhorn said he didn't think the board was in a position to make a decision that day. Snow plowing isn't just a big issue for the highway department, Schermerhorn said.

"Not only is it your toughest job, it's the toughest job on my phone that time of year," he said.