A Wadena County Commission meeting Tuesday, March 24, was not surprisingly heavily focused on coronavirus matters. The entire format of the public meeting was a new experience as only two board members were physically present, Sheldon Monson and Jon Kangas. Tuning in virtually were commissioners Jim Hofer, Chuck Horsager and Bill Stearns as well as numerous county staff, reporters and Tri-County Health Care CEO and President Joel Beiswenger.

The group was using Zoom, a remote conferencing app, to communicate through laptops and phones, and because of only one license at the start of the meeting, things had to be hurried along in order to end by 3 p.m. At 3 p.m. an Emergency Operation Center meeting was to start using the same virtual service.

County IT director David Hotchkiss updated the board on technology, which he said is strained at this time as an increasing number of people are working remotely and eating up the bandwidth. He shared that he was working to address that concern. Another area of concern was the cellular phone usage. He’s heard people are having poor service because of how much traffic there is right now across the networks.

Public Health update

Public Health Director Cindy Pederson updated the board on the latest numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state. She shared that while Public Health works to limit physical contact, they are still completing the tasks that people need help with, just in different ways.

Car seat education has been ongoing through Skype. WIC continues over the phone. A blood test was performed at curbside. Other consultations continue over the phone or through Skype.

County employees

In an effort to provide days off to employees that may need them to stay home if inflicted with COVID-19, county board members unanimously approved three temporary changes from the COVID-19 Emergency Executive Committee. They include:

  • Allow employees still in their probationary period (and are accruing paid time off) the ability to utilize their accrued sick or personal leave time (PLT) before the end of their probationary period.

  • After employees have used all available accrued time in vacation, sick, personal leave time, compensatory, holiday compensatory and personal day, all employees will be allowed to use up to a negative eighty (-80) hour balance of sick or PLT.

  • Any employee making use of this amendment will reimburse Wadena County should they leave employment before their sick or PLT balance is back at, or above, zero (0).

Board members felt the changes were important to assist employees during this unprecedented time.

Odden responded to concerns from the community about county buildings being closed. He made it clear that the county work was still being done and that they were taking measures to do as much as they can without contributing to the spread of the coronavirus.

“I just like to remind people services are still happening, it just looks a little different now,” Odden said.

Restroom remodel bid acceptance is tabled

The plan to remodel bathrooms in the courthouse came under question while commissioners sought to approve bids for the project.

Upon looking over the bids, which added up to about $64,500, Monson and Kangas moved to table a decision. Monson said he sought to table because of the cost of performing a project that was not essential considering the uncertainty of economic times during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stearns initially felt the project should continue as planned considering the investment the county has already made into designing the project. Hofer also felt it was a decision the board has agreed to do and should proceed with.

“I think we’d only be delaying something we are already committed to doing,” Hofer said.

Auditor Heather Olson urged caution moving ahead as she looked at the possibility that property taxes could be slow to return to the county if an extension is granted by the state. She had not heard that was happening, but if it did, it would mean expected income would be arriving later in the year.

Odden noted that originally, they were not going to approve the bids until April 7. Hearing that, the board changed the motion instead tabling the decision until the April 7 meeting. It was suggested a lot could change in that two-week period.

While it was tabled, the recommended award to the low or the only bidder included:

  • Ceramic Tile Work to ITS Flooring & Coatings of Detroit Lakes in the amount of $31,940.

  • Plumbing/Mechanical to Daren’s Plumbing and Heating of Verndale in the amount of $27,600.

  • Electrical Work to Vinco Inc. of Fergus Falls in the amount of $4,949.

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