Wadena County board: Some townships may find new districts under redistricting plans
The host of topics included new ideas like a snowplow safety program and items that have come before the board previously like a courthouse conference room.
WADENA — In the first regular series of work sessions , Wadena County commissioners hit the discussion button loud and clear.
“Hopefully this will work out. I know we’ve discussed it a little bit, and it’s been rather successful in other areas,” said commissioner Jon Kangas. “This is an opportunity to discuss things but then also we have a week before we would vote on options to get more information, just a time to work things through.”
The items discussed can return on the regular board agenda or consent agenda at future meetings.
The highway department hopes to add a snowplow safety program in partnership with area schools. The program would run in November for kids to explore the snowplows, receive a T-shirt and educational materials. County employees would visit a specific grade, such as fourth grade, at each school.
Commissioners asked about private and Catholic schools, which could possibly join the public school students for that day.
The program cost for the T-shirts and activity books are to be finalized as well as where the funding will come from. The Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust (MCIT) fund and Sourcewell were suggestions.
Commissioners are overall favorable to the idea to increase safety. Kangas noted the program as more of a city function due to their proximity to the schools.
Courthouse video conference room
With several years of conversations, planning and funds invested in a courthouse video conference room, commissioners shared ideas about the rest of the building. For example, a dedicated mail room outside of the break room. Auditor-treasurer Heather Olson shared the county’s hope for a central location so packages are not left throughout the courthouse.
The teleconference option would be a resource to the county, including trainings and negotiations, as IT coordinator Dave Hotchkiss said. There would also be a storage room for new and old electronics equipment.
Sentence to Serve crews and county maintenance employees would work on the conference room project. The board also approved $12,883.40 for a TV, audio equipment, control units and labor in 2020.
Kangas and county attorney Kyra Ladd questioned the need for more meeting rooms. He also noted a land service office to combine departments with easier public access. The increasing salary and benefits costs for county employees and the impact on taxpayers are ongoing concerns.
“We need to be open to cutting taxes and making the county feasible, but in the meantime I think the best we can do is small projects that we can afford that just make us a little better each day,” said commissioner Murlyn Kreklau.
Following the 2020 United States Census, Olson noted redistricting timelines , including the county deadline of April 26. The redistricting timeline can shift based on litigation over the congressional districts.
Commissioners suggested ideas for county redistricting based on state statutes, such as moving Huntersville Township to district 5, Red Eye Township to district 4 and the half of Leaf River Township in district 4 to district 1. The main goal is to have Leaf River Township combined in one district to decrease the number of voting machines.
If there is more than a 5% population change in their district, a commissioner runs for reelection. The adjusted districts could mean about a 3% change for commissioners Sheldon Monson (district 1), Kangas (district 5) and Kreklau (district 4). Commissioners Mike Weyer (district 2) and Bill Stearns (district 3) would not have changes to their districts.
Districts 1, 3 and 5 are up for election this year already.
Olson will present more ideas in the future. The county board or a citizen's committee can decide on the districts.
Process of appointed offices for county recorder
Commissioners reviewed the appointment process for the county recorder position. Monson and Kangas said they received a large number of calls against the appointment process, mainly on the issues of the auditor-treasurer position that was previously included and people wanting the opportunity to vote.
“It’s not a new idea but you (Monson) seem to be balking at it already before it’s even out of the gate, so I guess my question to you is how deep into the woods … are you expecting us to go before you will go along with this?” Stearns wondered.
Commissioners also asked about who would have discretion on the funds the county recorder is in charge of.
The county plans to start the process to hear from constituents. The board would decide on the change following a public hearing, which will be set at the next meeting.
Commissioners also discussed:
- Legislative priorities: With an upcoming Association of Minnesota Counties conference, commissioners will brainstorm a list of talking points to share with representatives at the conference and throughout the year.
- ARPA funds: Commissioners noted the needs and wants throughout the county and plans for more research on a list of submitted ideas. They said funds should be designated soon, such as on ideas like sewer and water projects or HVAC. The funds cannot be used for past debt.
- 2022 committee assignments: A list of committee assignments, though commissioners hope to remove some of the committees. A big unanswered question is why a commissioner has long been set as a voting member on the Bell Hill Recovery Center board. Bell Hill is a private tenant. Commissioners are typically liaisons and not voting members on the committees.