Wadena County commissioners allocated $252,835 to county organizations, businesses and school districts on Nov. 17. The allocations are $146 over the $252,688.50 remaining from the CARES Act funding from the federal government. The funds allocated could possibly not be used by the organizations if lost revenue or increased costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be shown. Commissioner Sheldon Monson said the county cannot spend more than the funds available and the county will balance the funds. The funds that are not used, accepted or disbursed by Nov. 25 will be allocated to the county IT needs.
Wadena County received $1,692,093 from the coronavirus relief bill; previously funds have gone to school districts ($370,000); county small business grants ($331,736); and county expenses ($276,000).
The allocations on Nov. 17 included long-term care facilities ($58,500); museums/historical societies ($45,000); senior citizen centers ($40,000); housing with services ($34,200); food shelves ($20,000); school districts ($31,860); Wadena County Humane Society ($10,000); Wadena Lions Club ($10,000); and Wadena County Human Services and Workforce Center glass ($3,275). Commissioner Jim Hofer abstained from voting due to his Lakewood Health System board member position.
Commissioners also discussed needs across the county, including churches, additional Lions organizations, the Nimrod senior center and home and private school students.
While there was little other discussion on the amounts or organizations, commissioners and county employees noted the need for the funds to be spent on coronavirus related costs to avoid the county having to possibly pay back the federal government if the audit process shows costs spent outside of the designated categories.
“Whether or not these are organizations in our community which we all support and we all do, this is not an open checkbook to just be writing money and checks to wherever we see fit that is going to make our taxpayers have to pay for it later because we wanted to be nice now. We still need to make sure that we’re following underneath the federal guidelines for this money to make sure that we’re not doing that,” said county auditor/treasurer Heather Olson.
The Wadena Lions Club allocation received a few questions since non-profits could also apply for the Wadena County COVID-19 Business Assistance Grant program, which ended on Oct. 23. Commissioner Chuck Horsager noted several other Lions clubs throughout the county that could use funds as well. The Wadena Lions Club submitted a letter stating $13,000 in lost profits from fundraisers that fund projects in the community such as Empty Stocking, Christmas presents for Fair Oaks residents and high school scholarships.
After further discussion with the Department of Treasury, the CARES Act funds cannot be used for professional design services on the courtroom expansion above the jail, as county coordinator Ryan Odden said. The proposed allotment at the Nov. 10 meeting was for $250,000. The expansion project would prepare the courthouse for the next 20-50 years with the next step focused on design, as Odden said.
The building services committee and BHH will begin working on a five-year capital improvement plan to present to the board, including projects such as the expansion, upgrades to the courthouse and Public Health HVACs, updating the jail kitchen, courthouse restroom renovation and finishing the lower level courthouse remodel project. The development of the plan is not to exceed $10,000.
County technology $300,000
While the county’s technology needs for remote working was allocated last, commissioner Jon Kangas questioned the need and high cost of the laptops, mini-computers, internet jetpacks and technology security if there is space for county employees to social distance in department offices. At Wadena County Human Services, workers are rotating or working remotely, according to county coordinator Ryan Odden.
“We don’t know which employees are all of sudden we can’t be here for two weeks. Some of them they’re sick, they can’t be working. Other employees are in quarantine because they had a close contact and they are able to work,” Odden said. “I don’t know who's going to be next walking out the door and trying to keep normal county operations going.”
Wadena County IT director Dave Hotchkiss said less than 25% of county employees have a laptop, and their desktops could be brought home and installed in a “cumbersome” process. The IT department also does not have the staffing available to have possible exposure to the coronavirus in people’s homes. The laptops and mini-computers would allow employees to work in quarantine.
“Short-term I think that we need to be ready, long-term we really need to be ready because employees deserve the ability to work. We want to work,” Hotchkiss said.
Commissioner Chuck Horsager said with all the unknowns due to the pandemic, this option provides “insurance” for the county. The additional laptops will also help the county keep up with technology trends and updates in future years.
The final amount towards technology will be based on the remaining funds after all other funds have been allocated.
Short-term court space items $70,000
Commissioners Bill Stearns, Jim Hofer and Horsager included the short-term court items as one of the top priorities. The planned court space is at the Deer Creek school including a one-year lease ($28,000), 80 chairs and 32 tables ($22,000) and technology such as a sound system ($20,000). The courtroom at the Wadena County Courthouse cannot be used because of space limitations.
Sheriff's Department $46,228.50
Another department hoping to decrease physical contact and increase safety for staff, inmates and visitors is the Wadena County Sheriff’s Department. In the jail, staff enter inmates’ cell block every 15-30 minutes for a wellbeing check. The new guardian system for $20,728.50 will allow staff to scan a device outside the person’s cell, as Sgt. Bryan Savaloja said. The system tracks inmate movement and will decrease cross-contact between staff-staff and staff-inmates. Ladd said another efficiency is the digital log, which is information required by the Department of Corrections.
The three new metal detectors for $25,500 will be used at the county courthouse, jail and the Deer Creek school short-term court location. Odden said the courthouse metal detector is 10 years old. The new detectors will have a higher sensitivity level for detecting items, as Savaloja said.
The items qualify for coronavirus relief bill funds due to the decrease of physical contact.
Food shelves $20,000
The Menahga, Sebeka, Verndale and Wadena food shelves will each receive $5,000 though Kangas had hoped to increase the amounts to $10,000 each. After speaking with area food shelves, auditor/treasurer Heather Olson said there is not as large of a need as possibly anticipated though “their busy season” is approaching.
Historical Society $10,000
After being closed to the public since March, the funds will make it possible for the museum to partially re-open to the public by adding plexiglass, a room divider, wall remodel, research room furnishings and display room entrances, according to Odden. People would likely be able to make an appointment for visiting the displays, conducting their own research and purchasing books and souvenirs. During the closure, staff members have worked on research requests.
Ag Society $10,000
While some summer events were held at the fairgrounds, the funds will support the society’s losses including carnival payments and the expected revenue from the haunted house. For the 2020 and 2021 seasons contract with MidWest Rides Carnival, the society has paid $15,000 and is expected to receive $7,500 in credit towards the 2021 fair, according to a letter from society president Darin Lehmann. The contract revision has not been completed. The haunted house was projected to bring in $13,000.
This story was updated on Nov. 18, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. to indicate Jim Hofer abstaining from the vote on allocating the county's CARES Act funds.