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Wadena County to sell Sebeka Legion

Commissioners handled a variety of important county business matters at their meeting May 13.

Sebeka city attorney Jeff Pederson appeared before commissioners to present an escrow agreement to the board, regarding the former Sebeka American Legion property now owned by the county through tax forfeiture.

The board was asked to agree to have the county deposit $120,000 into the Pederson & Pederson Trust Account to be disbursed by the firm as an escrow agent.

The city of Sebeka, meanwhile, will deposit a quit claim deed to the Sebeka Legion property with the escrow agent (Pederson), will undertake a quiet title action to remove objections to the property title, and having removed the objections and obtained the quiet title, will return the escrowed funds to the county.

After the quiet title action is completed and the objections removed, the City and the County can conclude the sale of the Sebeka Legion.  The City has already obtained the rights to the property formerly owned by the First National Bank of Sebeka, Pederson said.

Sebeka City Council members have asked for a “walk-through” inspection of the Sebeka Legion premises.  That walk-through will take place as soon as County Coordinator Curt Kreklau, Jr., can arrange a time with the council members.

Commissioners also learned that the employees of the Department of Social Services had rejected the offer of AFSCME Council 65 to become the representative of the 45 employees.  By a vote of 15 for and 23 against, the employees decided not to become part of AFSCME Council 65.

In addition, commissioners heard a sobering report from child protection services worker Mike Willie and interim social services director Steve Reger about the number of child abuse reports in Wadena and neighboring counties over the past few years.

Willie and Reger were responding to a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune showing the vast differences among Minnesota counties in their responses to child abuse reports.  According to the article, some counties close more than 85 percent of the reports without an assessment or investigation.

Willie and Reger explained to commissioners about the minimum criteria that a child abuse report has to meet in order for the report to trigger an investigation.  They said that reports can come from anyone – teacher, neighbor, bus driver, nurse, etc. – and be delivered to a county official. The child protection service (CPS) worker evaluates each report to see whether, if all of it were true, the behavior described in the report would be considered child abuse.

If the behavior would be considered child abuse, then a formal investigation begins.  If the behavior would not be considered child abuse, then the report is closed, or “screened out”, and no investigation is done.

In Wadena County in 2013, there were 452 reports of child abuse or neglect delivered to CPS workers.  Of those, 71 percent were “screened out” as not meeting the state’s definition of abuse or neglect.

The 452 reports were the highest number of reports ever received by the county CPS workers.

Reger and Willie presented figures indicating that since 2007, the number of report that were screened in (fully investigated) has remained between 28.4 percent and 39.6 percent of all reports submitted.

Reger and Willie indicated to the board that the number of reports indicates that Wadena residents care a lot about children, but that people apparently do not know what Minnesota Statutes say is child abuse and what is not.

Willie and Reger explained that the current trend is to try to handle child abuse cases by working with the families, rather than by putting family members in jail.  

Reger explained, “There are other methods of creating safety for children than by a court event.”

Willie said, “We try to work every angle before we take a case to court.  We do our due diligence, and only go to court when the situation needs court intervention.”

The topic of transit services also came before the board at the May 13 meeting.  County Engineer Ryan Odden and Reger explained a new proposal for additional transit services that recently was brought to them.

The KLN Family Brands company of Perham, which produces Barrel o’ Fun snack foods, Kenny’s Candy, Nutheads Chocolate Factory, and Tuffy’s Pet Foods, has a desperate need to hire additional workers.  Odden said the company needs 100 workers right now, and 250 more after that, but cannot find the workers in or near Perham.  They believe there are workers in Wadena County who could be brought to Perham to work in the plant.

The Productive Alternatives company, which trains workers and supplies transportation services, has offered to buy a used bus and operate it between Wadena and Perham to carry workers to KLN.  KLN will pay for all the bus fare costs for the riders.  To purchase the bus, Otter Tail County would contribute $22,500, Productive Alternatives would contribute $10,000, and Wadena County would contribute $10,000, under this proposal.

The bus would run continuously between Wadena, Perham, and other nearby locations between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. to carry workers to and from work.  In addition, KLN would pay the costs of operating the bus at night to carry third shift workers back and forth to Wadena.

Reger was enthusiastic about the possibility of what he called “a significant advancement in Central Minnesota for those with disabilities.  It has been a struggle to find employers who will recruit individuals for supported sites, sheltered employment, and higher levels of employment.”

Reger said there would be the possibility of allowing county inmates who are permitted work release by the court, to ride the bus and hold a job at KLN – something that is very difficult for inmates to do now, because of the lack of public transportation in the area.

Commissioner Ron Noon spoke in favor of the idea. He said, “The money will be earned from jobs in Otter Tail County, but it will be brought back to Wadena and spent here.”  Commissioner Bill Stearns said he could support the idea if the $10,000 Wadena County contribution came from the Social Services fund, not from the Transit Fund. Commissioner Dave Hillukka objected to the whole idea, saying that people should be employed in Wadena.

Reger said, “This would be a partnership. You have to take some of it on faith.  Productive Alternatives is a well-respected company that has done a lot to help people with disabilities.  This plan would allow people to be gainfully employed, who have not been employed before because they lack transportation.  Currently there area no supported employment jobs in the area.”

No vote was taken on whether the county would agree to the proposal.  Stearns asked Reger and Odden to get some figures on economic development that could be generated by the proposal, and return to the board at a future meeting.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved extending the winter hours of the transfer station through the rest of 2014. The hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturday.

  • Approved the recruitment of one summer employee to work at the transfer station.

  • Approved paying $5,400 for a set of building plans to expand the transfer station.

  • Heard a presentation on health insurance costs from Resource Training and Solutions.

  • Appointed county coordinator Curt Kreklau Jr. to the county’s building services committee.

  • Learned that the Minnesota Department of Human Services audit review of Wadena County for 2012 showed that there were no findings requiring corrective action.