Wadena County hires new assistant engineer
County engineer Darin Fellbaum said the assistant county engineer position would help fill two positions with one person based on his skills. A senior technician position, which includes working on bridge inspections, would not be filled since Maule can receive his bridge inspection certificate in about two years.
WADENA — The Wadena County highway department is filling staff positions with a new assistant engineer, summer maintenance staff member and shifting duties to create a sign technician position.
The board approved the updated positions, including hiring Anthony Maule as assistant county engineer. In 2020, the highway department had a half-time county engineer, assistant engineer and senior technician, according to commissioner Murlyn Kreklau. He added the positions will be on the new pay grid with some initial savings.
Commissioners also asked about ways to save money, such as contracting out services. County engineer Darin Fellbaum said the assistant county engineer position would help fill two positions with one person based on his skills. A senior technician position, which includes working on bridge inspections, would not be filled since Maule can receive his bridge inspection certificate in about two years.
“I’m going to take it on faith that some of the things that Ryan said about the reorganization and stuff, hopefully even within the highway department too, will ultimately save us money,” said commissioner Jon Kangas.
The next two years will include outside services for the county’s required bridge inspections after the senior technician resigned. A one-year contract with WSB for $30,400 includes 35 bridge inspections and their reports. Highway department staff will also go out on the inspections to earn hours toward their inspection certificates.
After a few years of discussions, one of the highway staff members will move to a newly created sign technician position. The current duties, such as ordering signs, location and inventory, have been completed by a highway maintenance worker 3 position. The sign technician will continue to help with snow and gravel projects.
The final position is for a part-time staff member to work in the summers instead of hiring two new seasonal members every spring.
With several discussions on legislative priorities, including approval to make a list in March, commissioners submitted their ideas to county coordinator Ryan Odden. Commissioner Bill Stearns, along with the support of the board, shared the county property tax disparity as the number one issue.
“It is time to equalize the property tax in the State of Minnesota,” Stearns wrote in a letter shared with commissioners. “This is untenable. Where is the 'One Minnesota'?”
The letter will be shared with the House and Senate tax committee and property tax subcommittee to start. The board plans to add priorities throughout the year.
The board also:
- Approved an updated fee schedule . Fellbaum said the increased steel price required a culvert pricing change. Commissioners also asked to decrease the handling fee for townships to $100 plus county costs. A 10% fee would remain for projects under $1,000. A new fee includes requested affidavits for tax forfeited properties. The fee is $100. Auditor-treasurer Heather Olson said the affidavits take an average of two to three hours to complete. The person requesting the affidavit, not the county, will pay for the service.
- Approved a support letter for the second phase of a youth intensive mental health option in Region 5. The letter supports applying for funding with Sourcewell. The program includes training for foster families who are providing respite care. The respite options will help prevent long-term out of home placements, according to Human Services behavioral health supervisor Britne Haasch. “We will be able to provide options closer to home, ensuring that youth served remain in their school district, activities and current services,” Haasch said.
- Heard the Soil and Water Conservation District’s 2021 year in review , including the “really active tree program” with over 56,000 trees sold, according to district manager Darren Newville. He also noted an application to receive grant funding for the Crow Wing One Watershed One Plan, which includes identifying priority water sources, working on problems and starting projects. Newville expects $800,000 to $1 million every two years for watershed projects. About 50% of Wadena County is in the Crow Wing Watershed, with other portions in the Red Eye and Long Prairie Watersheds. While the watershed planning is voluntary, the county must participate for the SWCD to receive the grant funding. The watershed is not a taxing authority. Commissioner Mike Weyer will serve on a policy committee about the plan with Kreklau as an alternate. Kreklau also attends SWCD board meetings.
- Discussed a letter from the county’s new auditing firm, Clifton Larson Allen, which asked commissioners to identify material interests for themselves and their family members. The board would like a definition on immediate family members and clarifying the statute that requires this information.