Wadena County Commission: County levy increase shrinking, but not final
Wadena County Commissioners tabled a decision to slice the final tax levy Tuesday, Dec. 11 during their regular meeting.
Not comfortable with a 4.2 percent increase that was approved as the preliminary levy this fall, the budget committee was able to lower the increase to 2.83 percent as of Tuesday. But before approving that amount, commissioners agreed to table a decision so incoming Auditor/Treasurer Heather Olson, department heads and all commissioners had another week to look over the numbers before the next meeting, Tuesday, Dec. 18.
The state average levy increase is 4.2 percent, according to Commissioner Jim Hofer.
If the numbers remain the same as shown Tuesday, the total Wadena County levy sits at $9,063,077, an increase of $249,114 from the 2018 levy. The levy decrease from the preliminary budget to the current budget is about $120,000.
In other business commissioners:
• Approved going ahead with a remodeling project at the courthouse. The project involves creating new bathrooms in former office space in the upstairs of the courthouse. The total project cost came in at $185,103. That includes: General construction by Haataja Contracting for $65,800, plus an alternate at a cost of $17,700; HVAC by Climate Makers at $6,700 plus alternate at $7,100; Plumbing by Climate Makers at $9,700; Electrical by Vinco, Inc., at $8,614 and alternate $15,471; Vercon as the project manager, at a cost of $43,765; and $10,253 for general costs including dumpsters, quality control, temporary toilets, permits and insurance.
The remodel involves the temporary move of the IT department. They will move to the lower level board room. Commissioners also approved, as part of the motion to allow county maintenance staff to assist with work when possible to cut some labor costs.
• Commissioners held off on a decision to approve funds for improvements to the Hope Center in the former Wensman building. This care center building will be used to provide services for those with disabilities and is run by peers. It's set to open soon. The building committee approved of repairs to the exterior of the building including adding 2-inches of insulation and stucco finish at a cost of $28,194. Commissioners wanted a better idea of county facility needs. Commissioner Bill Stearns said the repairs didn't go far enough to update the building's exterior. Stearns had further recommendations of how other remodeling could occur throughout the courthouse to make more useable space for those occupying the facility. Other commissioners agreed that the planned remodeling made sense as they move forward.
• Approved temporary leave of absence for Heather Olson, who is exiting her position as Wadena County Highway Accountant and taking the elected position of Wadena County Auditor/Treasurer. The leave of absence is effective for 10 years per statue 3.088. According to that statute: "in the case of an elected city, county, or tribal council official, on the completion of the final day of the term to which the official was elected, the officer or employee shall be reinstated in the public position held at the time of entry into the legislature or taking city, county, or tribal council office, or be placed in a public position of like seniority, status, and pay if it is available at the same salary which would have been received if the leave had not been taken, upon the following conditions: (1) that the position has not been abolished or that its term, if limited, has not expired; (2) that the legislator makes a written application for reinstatement to the appointing authority within 30 days after the last legislative day in a calendar year or, in the case of an elected city, county, or tribal council official, within 30 days after the expiration of the elected term; and (3) that the request for reinstatement is made not later than ten years after the granting of the leave.
• The 2019 court appointed legal services contract was awarded to Malcolm Whynott of Whynott Law Office in Wadena. The contract was previously with Wadena attorney Harry Taves but was ended. The contract involves the same conditions as Taves contract including providing the legal services to indigent individuals upon appointment by the Wadena County Courts at a cost of $15,000 annually. Two proposals were received for the contract but neither was disclosed.
• Human Services Director Tanya Leskey was approved for cost of registration to be covered to attend the Innovation Annual Conference in Reno, Nev., April 9-12. Travel dates may extend times by one day before or after dates noted. The cost of registration for the event is $550. She is attending after it was announced the Region 5 child care innovation project advanced to the national level.
• Commissioner Stearns was awarded the Diamond Award for his years of service on the South Country Health Alliance board.