A quick overview on the county housing study showed renter needs and successes, as Scott Knudson of Community Partners Research noted during the Wadena County Board of Commissioners meeting on Jan. 5.

The housing study highlights Menahga, Sebeka, Staples, Verndale, Wadena and the county’s housing options and needs. Commissioners approved the study in February 2020. Community Partners Research have worked with the county and area cities on small cities grant applications, including after the 2010 tornado in Wadena.

RELATED: Study could show the real needs in area housing

Within the study, each city has recommendations of expected modest growth based on the number of households added over the past few years.

“In each one of these communities additional housing is needed, and that you’re not really going to see any household growth without housing units being there for people to occupy,” Knudson said.

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The cities have limited vacant or underutilized housing that might not have the desired amenities or be in poor condition, as Knudson said. The goal is for each city to construct housing units in the next 5 years.

Knudson said Wadena, Staples and Menahga have added multi-family housing projects in the past 10 years with “greater success” with rental housing than owner single-family projects. Verndale and Sebeka could also benefit from rental choices.

The continuing problem is of course affordability with new homes and rental sites costing “substantially higher” than existing housing, according to Knudson.

The county-wide study means the county can better work with cities on their possible housing projects, as commissioner Sheldon Monson said.

You can learn more about the study during the Wadena County Housing Study town hall Jan. 20 at noon on Zoom. RSVP by emailing Executive Director of Economic Alliance Katie Heppner at wceda@wcta.net by Jan. 19. You can also request a digital copy of the county and city studies.

Engineering technician job classification

Along with the county’s ongoing DDA job classification and compensation study, county engineer and coordinator Ryan Odden noted needing to update the job description for the senior engineering technician II position and increasing pay for their bridge inspection duties.

The description does include forming a new position title, though it is primarily updating the senior engineering technician description to include the additional duties. The bridge inspection frequencies and inspection types required by MnDOT have been increasing since a 2008 bridge collapse, Odden said.

The bridge inspection duties were previously completed by the three engineering employees and assistant county highway engineer Jeff Adolphson, who began working for Hubbard County in April 2018. Diana Heston had been trained by Adolphson on the bridge inspection duties and has the needed bridge certification. The certification is a five-year process, as Odden said. Heston has worked in bridge inspection for 10 years. She has also been completing these duties, which without the updated job description are outside of her class, and not been paid for them.

The description applies to the position not the specific person, though, as county attorney Kyra Ladd reminded commissioners.

The job descriptions need to match the job the employee is doing to avoid a future grievance, as Commissioner Bill Stearns explained. Henson could ask for full back pay if the description and compensation are not updated.

Heston did note her additional duties in the DDA study questionnaire appeal process. Odden said the changes should have been brought to the board sooner.

RELATED: County approves fee schedule changes, hears study update

With the job description approved, compensation became the next discussion with Heston moving from grade 54 to 55 and step 10 to eight. The county has a 10 step pay scale. The pay steps are based on years of service and county employees move to the next pay step on their work anniversaries. The grade is based on the job description.

When employees move to a higher grade they move back pay steps. There also needs to be a difference of at least 50% between the steps for employees to receive a meaningful pay increase, as Odden explained.

Commissioners Jon Kangas and Mike Weyer noted future increases of people moving up steps are not clearly included in the county’s financial implications. The approval for this position is one of many commissioners expect to see as additional description and compensation changes follow the DDA study.

“The other side of it is how are we going to pay for changes if some positions may have to go up, some positions may have to go down and that is a decision this board has to make,” Kangas said. He later added, “We only have x number of dollars in the pocket for salaries and benefits and we can’t just give in $5,000 raises here and $3,000 here and $10,000 here. We just can’t continue that unless we show a plan how we’re going to replace it.”

Ladd suggested a previous resolution about consistency between calculating the grade and step changes be added to the personnel policy. The board could also discuss updating how these calculations are made.

Other action

The board also approved:

  • Renewing Knob Hill Sportsman’s Club liquor license.

  • The Highway Department’s annual maintenance and operations purchases for $904,000. The purchases include equipment rental, metal culverts, dust control, aggregate materials, aggregate crushing, bituminous material, diesel fuel, roadside weed spraying, traffic signs, sign posts, salt, and road striping.

  • Submitting an application for Wadena County State Aid Highway 3 with Todd County Public Works Department to the Minnesota Local Road Improvement Program. CSAH 3 and Todd County’s CSAH 34 run along the border of the counties. Both counties are responsible for maintenance of the road. If approved, the project would be in 2022.

  • Appointing the 2021 Association of Minnesota Counties delegates as the commissioners, Wadena County Coordinator Ryan Odden and Wadena County Human Services Director Jennifer Westrum. The commissioners will also each be on an AMC policy committee.

  • Appointing Stearns and Monson to the Todd-Wadena Community Corrections Executive Committee and Advisory Board.

The board also had a closed session on negotiation strategies for labor contracts as well as a closed session to review Wadena County building services director Sean Uselman.