Grant Count Social Services Director Stacy Hennen and Chief Deputy Troy Langlie met with the Board of Commissioners last Tuesday to outline a plan that would combine their departments into one County Services building, instead of two. This past summer the county began making plans for a new facility that would include offices for Social Services, Public Health, and the Veterans Service Office. The estimated price for this building was around $4 million. As part of the process, the county was required to develop a five year capital improvement plan that included a new 9,000 square foot Law Enforcement Center that would stand alone and cost an estimated $2 million. Other aspects of the capital improvement plan included an addition to the Highway Department building, and asbestos removal and demolition of the old county hospital building, bringing the total cost of bonding to $7 million.
Meanwhile, the city of Elbow Lake demolished half a block of old buildings on main street in anticipation of this site being purchased for the Social Services building, and JLG Architects were hired to develop a floor plan that would serve their needs.
At a public hearing on the plan and bonding for the buildings, there was opposition and a petition was submitted asking for a public vote before the plan was implemented.
On Tuesday, Hennen said, “We should step back a bit and rethink things.”
She asked for permission to discuss with JLG making modifications within the current buildings’ footprint that would allow us to add law enforcement, and a discussion of what changes would be necessary as well as how that would impact cost.
“The goal would be to look comprehensively at all the county needs and attempt to address all the needs in one space with the most cost effective, yet functional, option possible,” she added.
Hennen and Langlie outlined what they felt would be cost savings of turning two building projects into one, including: minimizing the number of physical plants that require maintenance and upkeep, and sharing, or consolidating areas such as reception rooms, meeting rooms, interview rooms, etc.
Langlie said they figured by consolidating the law enforcement center they could get by on around 7,500 square feet. He added that some needs, such as a dispatch room, would need to be “hardened” to be made secure, and they could not compromise on that.
“When the courthouse was being remodeled the winter of 2011-12, we moved operations down to Social Services and combined somewhat,” said Langlie. “We found it worked very well and we even discovered some efficiencies.”
Hennen said the new building may have to be bigger than originally planned, which means expanding either to the north or the east. However, the city of Elbow Lake has a major electrical junction just to the east and moving that would cost.
Commissioner Peter Hoff asked if it wasn’t unusual to combine these two services?
Hennen said Government Centers such as this are actually becoming more common.
Commissioner Hoff said he was worried that, although the plan should bring down costs, it may actually drive up the costs.
Langlie said the goal would be to make sure that did not happen.
County Attorney Justin Anderson explained that if the new plan, or bonding request, was a substantial modification from the original, state law says the process could start all over again. The county would hold a public hearing on the plan and citizens would file another petition requesting a vote if they wanted to. He suggested a modification substantial enough to meet this requirement would have to be several million dollars less, or more, than the original request of $7 million.
Eventually the commissioners passed a motion authorizing renderings from JLG reflecting the addition of a law enforcement center in the Social Services building. They were told the renderings might be completed in as little as two weeks.
Grant County Coordinator James Standish submitted the final 2016 solid waste budget of $550,181 for approval. The budget includes $392,671 charged to cities and rural solid waste customers. Some cities will be paying more for solid waste collections, based on the amount of solid waste picked up last year. Ashby’s percentage of the counties total went up from 12.19 percent to 14.33 percent, for an increase of $6,445. Barrett’s percentage went up from 9.31 percent to 10.02 percent, for an increase of $1,293. Herman’s percentage went up only a fraction. Elbow Lake saw a big decrease in percentage from 36.91 percent to 35.39 percent for a decrease of $11,898; and Hoffman saw a decrease in percentage from 15.13 percent to 14.27 percent for a decrease of $5,538.
Rural customers saw a decrease in percentage from 13.83 percent of the counties solid waste to 12.75 percent.
Standish said these numbers will be passed along to the various city councils who will use them to set their cities 2016 garbage rates.
Standish told the commissioners that he is having trouble finding someone to take the job managing the metal and appliance recycling site in Elbow Lake following the injury to Ron Ehlers. He said the other manager has been filling in, but will be taking a vacation from February 17 to February 24 so the site will have to be closed down during that time.
“The ideal person for this job would be someone who is retired and can work with the public. It could be a big problem if we can’t find someone,” said Standish, adding that he has had an ad in the newspapers for several weeks with no applicants.
Standish said the job is for 12 hours per week at over $12 per hour.
The commissioners talked for awhile about alternatives but Standish said this has been a good system and he would hate to go back to an unmanaged site because it is abused.
Standish received approval to apply for a grant from the Lake Region Arts Council for the decorative elements project in the courthouse that would help with the costs.
The Grant County Highway Department’s Tom Hagen requested permission to advertise for a new Heavy Equipment Operator to replace a terminated employee. The new employee will work out of the county garage in Herman with the current employee in Herman transferring to Wendell.
Hagen told the commissioners it has been a good winter for the Highway Department with little snow to plow, the crew has been cutting brush and is now hauling clay for use this summer in mixing with gravel.