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Wadena County transfers Friendly Rider, Volunteer Driver Program to Highway Department

Wadena commissioners voted March 11 to accept the recommendation of Social Services Director Paul Sailer and County Engineer Ryan Odden to transfer the Friendly Rider Transit Program and the Volunteer Driver Program from Social Services to the Highway Department, effective April 1.

Reasons for the transfer include Sailer's imminent retirement, Odden's willingness to house the program at Highway, and the purchase and remodeling of the former Bob's Auto building to house the Friendly Rider Transit Program.

Funding for the two programs will also be transferred from Social Services to Highway, and be supervised by Odden and his staff. The $400,000 MNDOT operations grant is the largest portion of funding to be transferred. The $10,000 Volunteer Driver Program grant will also be transferred to Highway.

Patrons of the Friendly Rider and the Volunteer Driver Programs will not see any changes in services. When the former Bob's Auto building remodeling is completed later this month, the 11 Friendly Rider employees will move into the building, along with the buses and maintenance equipment.

A waiting room is being constructed in the building, along with office space, restrooms, and an employee break room. Sailer, Odden, and commissioners discussed the possibility of obtaining a Park N Ride designation for the building's parking lot, for a time in the future when routes and services will be expanded.

The remodeling work on the building is being done by the Sentenced to Service Crew from Wadena and Todd Counties, through Community Corrections. "They are doing a nice job," Odden told commissioners. "They are very prompt and courteous."

Additional remodeling work consisting of installing a ceiling in the office and waiting room spaces, putting in a fire wall, and installing flooring were approved by the board at this meeting. STS will do this work also.

Commissioner Ron Noon commented, "Purchasing this building has opened up a lot of doors [for the county]. We're just beginning to explore the possibilities. Laying out this building with an eye to the future is important."

Sailer told the board that MNDOT District Three Transit Project Manager Sue Siemers had agreed to fold the remodeling cost reimbursement to the county into the lease payments MNDOT will make to the county, currently estimated at $1,750 per month.

The lease has not been fully drafted, the board learned. County Attorney Kyra Ladd and Odden are working on it. Although initially expected to last 10 years, the current thinking is that the MNDOT lease term will be eight and a half years. No one seemed to know the reason for the change, but it means that the county will be paid back for its investment in less time than expected.