Commissioners discuss tax-forfeited property issues, statement printing error

Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Fillmore County commissioners arrived at the courthouse early enough before the Tuesday, April 2, county board meeting to see confused robins hopping about the courthouse yard, as snow had fallen overnight as a belated April Fool’s Day gift.

First, Auditor-Treasurer Heidi Jones and Land Records Director Brian Hoff came before the board with two items – the first being a request from a resident who wishes to repurchase forfeited property, and the second, an update on the property tax statement and valuation remailing.

The board discussed the property in question at length, determining that the fee schedule associated with the process of allowing a resident to buy back property lost to forfeiture has yet to be established so that it is administered fairly.

Commissioner Randy Dahl made the motion to proceed with granting permission for the landowner to recover his land, “with the caveat that we revisit the fee structure.”

Commissioner Mitch Lentz agreed, “We want to be sure everybody is treated the same and the fees cover the costs.”

A vote was taken and Commissioner Marc Prestby was opposed to the measure. “You’re letting this one go through?” he asked.

Board chairman Commissioner Duane Bakke pointed out, “This has to be unanimous.”

Dahl inquired whether the matter could be addressed after some further review, but the board chose to adhere to the vote, given that Prestby objected.

Jones then updated the board on a printing mistake made by the company that handles the production of the county’s property tax statement and valuation statements.

She stated that it was a “graphical error” and that attempts had been made by her department to contact the state for more options to correct the error, but she had received no response.

Hoff shared, “We noticed it right away Monday morning after the statements were sent out…they could have been working with a sample set and it became live.”

Prestby pressed Jones for who would be responsible for the cost of reprinting and remailing the statements, and she explained that the printer has agreed to take responsibility for the reprinting, but the county would be covering postage.

Bakke outlined, “It’s the same postage.”

Hoff noted, “The statements will say ‘revised’.”

County Coordinator Bobbie Vickerman spoke about the land taxpayer services department, apologizing for not having much more information than she had had at a previous meeting due to having been absent for various other commitments.

However, the board called Hoff and Jones back to sit before them to answer questions about how they see the county’s offices laid out to best accommodate taxpayers and county employees – with the emphasis on taxpayers’ needs.

Lentz commented that he saw the feedlot officer and his staff moving upstairs and the land records office finding a home in its place on the first floor as well, with the intent of freeing up space in the lower level for victims’ services.

“The cost would be extremely minimal,” Lentz said.

Dahl said, “I concur with Mitch on this.”

Prestby added, “I have to agree that it’s time to give them direction.”

Hoff remarked that he had some concerns about foot traffic congestion at service counters, particularly with absentee voting, and other business taking place. “It’s quite noisy up there. It’s not the most workable situation,” he said.

Hoff suggested an option that his department had posed as a solution. “The assessors and land records could go with zoning on the north side of the treasurer’s office,” he noted.

Referring to employees within the departments who apparently cannot get along while at work, Dahl interjected, “As managers, you two are going to have to manage your employees. I’m done with this kindergarten-type stuff here.”

Lentz pointed out that in his job, he has to sit at a cubicle and share space with quite a few people. “I’m used to a three by three cubicle with headphones, and if you sit that close to someone, you have to work with them,” he added.

County Attorney Brett Corson offered that there is a difference between working with the public and working in a cubicle, and Jones expressed her concern that the public is able to see documents that are to be kept secure.

“Elections – the data has to be protected. I want to do what’s right,” Jones said.

Lentz made a motion, “I make a motion to keep the land records office where they are, and zoning moves to the previous assessor’s office.”

Dahl seconded, commenting that the addition of partitions should be considered in the future.

Bakke interrupted Dahl, “We’re making a motion today, and they have to figure out what to do.”

Ultimately, the commissioners chose to vote for Lentz’s motion, and Bakke addressed Jones about her requests for more security.

“Maybe that you’re in a government building that has security, you’ll get comfortable,” he said.

Personnel issues

Human Resources Officer Kristina Kohn brought forward the second reading of the early retirement incentive program (ERIP) policy and a memorandum of understanding between Fillmore County and Local #49 for the workers’ pay plan.

Commissioners approved the ERIP policy change and the pay plan – the pay plan replaces the existing one and aligns it with a 3 percent increase in 2020.

The union voted to approve the plan subject to the board’s approval, and Lentz and Dahl again made the motions to proceed, after which the rest of the board obliged.

Sheriff’s report

Sheriff John DeGeorge presented information regarding the purchase of squad car equipment and the associated setup costs, as well as the 2019 training and duty ammunition.

He related that the equipment varies from squad to squad and, at present, his department is replacing a 2013 Impala with another vehicle because Chevrolet has stopped making Impalas and the department has chosen a different car.

“It’s going to have to be new stuff on the new car, and it’s expected to get two rotations out of the equipment, or eight years,” he said.

After Dahl brought up that the county has a squad vehicle that hasn’t been put into service with full equipment and that it is leased through Enterprise, DeGeorge clarified that the county’s contract with Enterprise is not a leasing contract – it instead purchases vehicles on the state bid just as the county would do.

“We pay a flat $350 for them to take a car to the shop, strip it down, they sell it, and the money they get is rolled into a new car or a check to the county,” the sheriff said.

Dahl said, “I’m in favor of all the equipment and setup, but I just would like to get away from Enterprise.”

DeGeorge informed Dahl that he felt that that is an issue for another day, and the commissioners granted DeGeorge’s request for equipment and setup for the vehicle that needs it.

The board then went on to approve his 2019 ammunition request as well. The sheriff answered a few questions and explained that training for officers who carry a different gun off-duty must train with that gun because they are charged with different responsibilities in public than the general population.

“If they carry a different gun off-duty, they’re still under our authority because they’re different than the state of Minnesota’s concealed carry,” DeGeorge said. “They’re expected to train with that gun as well.”

Other business

 The meeting was closed for a Law Enforcement Labor Services Local #85 labor services union negotiation session.

The consent agenda included approving payment of the $9,825.50 second quarter 2019 invoice for economic development staffing services provided by Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA), granting an overnight stay for property appraiser Roxane Alden and account technician Kayla Pierce to attend the Sidwell Legal Description Workshop sponsored by MCCC.

It also approved a request for Alden to attend the appraiser licensing course as recommended by the land records director.