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County board talks transit lease, social services

The county board covered a lot of ground during a three-hour meeting Feb. 12.

Commissioners approved the terms of a transit lease request, increased two garbage fees and discussed a host of human services issues.

Friendly Rider will move into a new facility adjacent to the highway department on Harry Rich Drive around April 1. Paul Sailer, human services director, said the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which funds 85 percent of local transit operations, is willing to spend up to $2,500 per month to lease the new building and pay for utilities.

At that rate, the county would be able to pay off the $170,000 facility within eight years.

"We can get our investment back," Commissioner Ron Noon said.

With state funding and bus fares, Sailer said, Friendly Rider is self-sustaining and will remain that way.

In an unanimous vote, commissioners approved sending the lease proposal to MnDOT.

Earlier, the board held a public hearing to consider two garbage fee increases. No citizens attended.

After keeping the meeting open for 40 minutes as they considered other business, commissioners raised the per ton transfer station (paid by citizens when they drop off heavy waste that can't be handled in Wadena) and per ton hauler rates (charged to waste management companies that transport ordinary household trash to a Perham incinerator) by $2 each. When hikes take effect April 1, the per ton transfer station fee will be $84, while the per ton hauler rate will be $79.

The higher fee will help cover increased costs, said Tammy Ehrmantraut, the Wadena County solid waste department supervisor.

"They generally go up every year," she said. "(Haulers) know it's coming."

By design, human services issues dominated most of the meeting. For years, the five commissioners met once a month as a separate five-member social services board. They dissolved that redundant body last month, deciding instead to add a third monthly regular board meeting devoted to the same topics.

During a good chunk of the meeting, Sailer and other human services employees provided informational updates, while the board took no action.

One of the many charts provided indicated applications for most forms of public assistance have declined over the past few months, while the Wadena County unemployment rate in December was 6.9 percent - down more than 3 percentage points from the previous year.

Other documents revealed fund balances and payment histories.

Sailer will retire at the end of March after 26 years as human services director, .

The board appointed a screening committee to help identify his potential successors. It will include Sailer, a human resources consultant, the county attorney, the county auditor/treasurer and commissioners Noon and Bill Stearns.

Meanwhile, commissioners directed Sailer to attempt to recruit a retired human services director to serve as interim leader until the board hires a permanent replacement.

Sailer said that's a better option than temporarily assigning an in-house manager to the post.

"It's hard to relieve existing supervisors of their other duties," he said. "It just causes some problems."

In another personnel matter, the board opted against hiring a permanent replacement for a vacant human services office support position and instead approved a temporary summer worker to help the department keep up with its workload when other staff take vacation.

Noon said the job would be perfect for a young person looking to gain experience in the human services field.

"If you can encourage young people to stay in the area," he said, "they'll work for us for a long time."