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Wadena Board discusses upgrades to transfer station

Upgrading the Wadena County transfer station is one of the perennial topics that is discussed at least once a year, and then tabled. The transfer station is the place where recyclable materials are brought and stored until they can be transported, and the place where and individual residents can bring their garbage, tires, old household appliances, etc., and pay a fee to have the county dispose of them. It is located on 170th St.

The transfer station reached its capacity long ago, but the county has not approved an expansion of the building facilities, upgraded the loading dock, or purchased a replacement bailer for many years.

Solid Waste Director Mike Hanan and Transfer Station Supervisor Tammy Ehrmantraut appeared before the county board at its March 18 meeting to propose a major renovation of the facilities.

According to their proposal, for the past two years, the Solid Waste Committee has been looking at alternatives that would allow improved storage capacity and reduced handling of recyclables. The county acquired 1.3 acres of land next to the transfer station that allows expansion of the existing building and a storage area for electronic waste, appliances, and household hazardous waste.

The Solid Waste Committee obtained a proposal from JP Structures, Inc., aka Vercon, that suggests building a 100 ft by 80 ft building to be attached to the east side of the existing transfer station building. The proposal includes a storage area and the roofing of the existing truck load out area.

The project is estimated to cost $1.4 million. The Solid Waste Committee suggested in its proposal that it would fund the project with $200,000 from the Solid Waste Fund, a loan of $1,000,000 from the General Fund at 4 percent interest, and a payback time of 10 to 20 years.

Commissioners briefly discussed the proposal and agreed to discuss it again at several upcoming meetings. The Solid Waste Committee wants to begin the construction project within a couple of months, and have it completed by the fall of 2014. Three commissioners seemed to favor approving the project, while two had concerns that they want to bring up in future meetings.

Human services director vacancy

Also at the March 18 meeting, Human Services Director Paul Sailer introduced his temporary successor, Steve Reger, who began serving as Interim Human Services Director for one day per week in March, and for three days per week in April and May, if needed.

Reger expressed his appreciation of the opportunity to help the county during the transition period as Sailer retires on March 31 and his successor is interviewed and selected.

About a dozen applications for the position were received. The applications were screened by a committee composed of the board chair, vice chair, county attorney, human resources consultant, and interim human services director. This committee interviewed eight candidates during the week of March 17. Two or three finalists were to be selected, and these individuals would be invited for a second interview with the entire county board during the last part of March. This will be a special public meeting and the time and place will be posted at the Courthouse.

County coordinator Position

About a dozen applications were received for this position and put in the county's vault. On March 18, the board chair looked over the applications and requested that complete copies of all of them be made for the screening committee composed of the county attorney, human resources consultant, five commissioners, and Morrison County Coordinator Deb Gruber.

The applications will be read by the committee members individually on their own time and ranked by them. The rankings will be combined by the human resources consultant and a set of finalists selected. Commissioners want to begin interviewing the three to five finalists during the week of March 24.

There is still no agreement on where the office for the county coordinator will be located, but pressure is mounting on the board to make a decision soon, since the coordinator is projected to begin work on May 1.

Transit building lease

Negotiations continue between MNDOT and the county on the composition of the lease for the new transit building, formerly Bob's Auto, next to the Highway Department on Harry and Rich Drive in Wadena.

County Attorney Kyra Ladd told the board that she was not ready to circulate the draft lease agreement because MNDOT official Sue Siemers now insists that the agreement be for rental and not for lease of the building. Responsibility for repairs and utility payments has not been decided, although the current thinking is that MNDOT will pay 85 percent and the county will pay 15 percent for the term of the lease or rental agreement. After the term of the agreement ends, there is so far no determination as to who will pay the ongoing utility and repair expenses for the building. Ladd said that MN DOT does not want to pay rent after the lease ends, but wants to use the building for free. In time, all of this will be settled. At that point, Ladd will circulate the draft agreement for board discussion.

Hourly employee overtime request

Ladd appeared before the board to protest the Payroll Department's refusal to give Ladd's administrative assistant the overtime pay that Ladd approved during the most recent pay period.

Ladd informed the board that her administrative assistant is not a member of a labor union, is not a supervisor, is not a professionally-licensed employee, and is paid on an hourly basis, not a salaried basis, and is therefore entitled to overtime pay under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and under Minnesota state law as well.

A heated discussion ensued among board members and Ladd. Part of the problem seemed to stem from the fact that a number of years ago, the board decided to assign each county employee to one of four groups: two labor unions, the MERIT system, and a remaining group that the county labeled the "confidential unit". The "confidential unit" included elected officials, non-elected department heads, other supervisors, and employees who didn't fit into any of the other groups. Ladd's administrative assistant was placed into this "confidential unit" without her or the county attorney's consent.

The problem with the administrative assistant being placed into the "confidential unit" is that the "confidential unit" does not receive overtime pay; instead, all the workers in that group, all of whom are salaried workers except Ladd's administrative assistant, receive compensatory time, referred to as "comp time", that they can use to take paid time off from their jobs. According to the law, Ladd declared, her administrative assistant must be paid overtime pay, not comp time, for her extra work.

Board members said that the county could not pay overtime pay to a member of the "confidential unit" because that violated county personnel policy. Ladd said that county personnel policy does not trump Federal law.

In the end, the board voted to pay the employee the overtime pay she was authorized at her last pay period, and any time in the future. They agreed to discuss how this employee and be removed from the "confidential unit" where she clearly does not belong. Sheriff Mike Carr also brought up his belief that one of his employees also does not belong in the "confidential unit" because she is not a member of a union, not a professionally-licensed person, not a supervisor, and is paid on an hourly basis.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the hiring of four seasonal employees for the Highway Department.

• Tabled a discussion of a resolution prohibiting audio and video recording in county buildings.

• Approved a liquor license for the Vintage Golf Course, which is now under new ownership by a community group doing business as Terrace II, Inc.

• Learned that no quotes were received for the work of remodeling a small area in the Social Services Building.

• Approved a renewal liquor license for Wahoo Valley Bar and Grill.