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Wadena commissioners rebuff plan for replacing HVAC equipment

At the July 24 work session, commissioners reacted with skepticism to County Coordinator Curt Kreklau's attempt to present a plan for replacing the county's 45-year-old heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment.

Kreklau worked with the Minnesota Dept of Commerce to begin development of a Guaranteed Energy Savings Program (GESP) for the county. This program encourages cities and counties to work with qualified energy services contractors to identify ways to save utility costs by replacing outdated HVAC equipment through a special financing program. Dozens of cities and several counties have already signed up.

The financing program, described in Minnesota Statutes 471.345, Subd.3, allows municipalities to enter into a guaranteed energy savings contract with a qualified provider to obtain operational equipment upgrades and replacements without upfront cash costs. The improved efficiencies and resulting utility cost savings pay for the project through the contract's term, usually 5 to 20 years. All the capital improvements are made within the city's or county's existing budget, and equipment performance is guaranteed. Taxpayers won't be asked to pay new taxes to fund infrastructure improvements.

But when Kreklau began to speak about the program, he was interrupted after about two minutes by Commissioner Jim Hofer who spoke about the county's five-year building services plan, and by Commissioner Rodney Bounds and Commissioner Ron Noon, who took turns ridiculing the GESP idea. Bounds said he had replaced the light bulbs in his shop "and I didn't save 50 cents on the deal," and Noon said, "They [utilities] just raise the cost of the electricity."

Then Bounds said, "There must have been a good sales person. He's got you believing everything he said." And later, "If you're doing a lot of projects, it's probably not going to make any difference. It's gonna be 10, 15 years down the road before you see any savings."

Noon said, "We just put on a new roof and new windows to seal the building. That in itself is cost savings."

After one or two more comments, Commissioner Bill Stearns moved on to the next topic, an unscheduled visit by representatives from Enbridge Oil Company, who wanted to inform the county that their Sandpiper pipeline might be crossing Huntersville Township bringing tar sands oil from North Dakota to Clearbrook. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will make a decision in August about whether the project can proceed. Final decisions on the exact route of the new pipeline will be made in 2015.

Although the item was not on the agenda, the commissioners spent about 45 minutes listening to the Enbridge representatives and asking questions.

Another item on the work session agenda was the discussion of the proposed county tax abatement policy drafted by Auditor/Treasurer Judy Taves. Taves presented the policy to commissioners and answered questions. County Attorney Kyra Ladd reviewed the policy and had no concerns about it. The board will vote on the policy at the Aug. 5 meeting.

Also on the work session agenda was a discussion of the report submitted by the county's Economic Development Authority Committee. The committee, required by Minnesota Statutes, was appointed earlier this year and completed its work in June. The committee recommended that instead of creating a new county-wide Economic Development Authority(EDA), that the county instead contract part-time with one of the three existing EDAs already operating in Staples, Wadena, and Menahga. Commissioners agreed that the board should issue a Request for proposals to the three agencies, asking how they might provide services that were county-wide and at what cost. The report will be voted on at one of the August meetings.

Stearns asked Kreklau to draft the RFP letter, perhaps with the assistance of Region 5 staff, and have it ready in August or early September.

A fourth item on the work session agenda was a discussion of how and whether to restructure the county's Building Services Committee. During the discussion, a consensus emerged about a problem with janitorial services in the Social Services and Public Health buildings. Commissioner Jim Hofer asked to be relieved of his duties as chair of the committee, and asked that Kreklau be made the supervisor of the Building Facilities staff. Stearns asked Kreklau to go to the Personnel Committee and discuss the job descriptions of the four janitorial staff and report back to the board.

An item added to the agenda by Bounds was a discussion of whether part-time county personnel should undergo background checks. Bounds favored the checks. Stearns asked Kreklau to talk to Chief Sheriff's Deputy Bill Cross about it.

Another item added by Bounds was when to have performance evaluations done on the new management staff hired in the past two years: Auditor/Treasurer Judy Taves, Social Services Director Tanya Leskey, and County Coordinator Curt Kreklau. Commissioners agreed that the performance evaluations should be done annually during closed board meetings. Kreklau was asked to get dates when these meetings could take place.

Also on the agenda was an update on the plan to revise the county's website and hire a private firm to redesign it and provide maintenance. Bounds criticized the plan and proposed that the new Systems Analyst, when hired, be tasked to redo the website. Noon disagreed, favoring a professional web developer. Stearns ended the back-and-forth.