County Board opts to hire land services director to replace retiring assessor

By : 
GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY
BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP

Fillmore County’s commissioners, some wearing their midterm election “I Voted” stickers, carried out regular housekeeping during the Nov. 6 Board meeting.

The Board focused mostly on the process of replacing retiring county assessor Cynthia Blagsvedt, set to leave her position on Dec. 14 and officially retire on Jan. 31, 2019, as there are certain certifications required of the assessor’s role.

It was made clear by Fillmore County Coordinator Bobbie Vickerman that while the discussion was taking place on Election Day, there was by no means any intended effects of such — it simply happened that she was unable to attend the Oct. 23 meeting during which she had planned to present the information.

A proposal was brought to replace the assessor’s position with a land services director, and questions were raised as to the implications of doing so and of rearranging the county assessor’s office staff.

Lengthy debate followed, with disagreements among the commissioners about how the job description of a land records director would be laid out. Several were concerned how it would affect the organization and collaboration of and between each involved department — the assessor, recorder and the auditor-treasurer offices.

Commissioner Duane Bakke observed, “Obviously, we have people here in the room who are running for election (as auditor-treasurer) today, and there’s really no effect on the election.”

He pointed out that perhaps it would be beneficial to the individuals running for election to the auditor-treasurer’s position and to the county if the decision were to be delayed.

Lentz remarked that the occasion was an opportunity to move forward and that the structure of the assessor’s department wouldn’t change anything because they are required to carry out their assigned tasks no matter what.

Cost savings entered the conversation, as the Board had chosen to combine the public health and social services departments under a community services coordinator’s oversight a few years ago in an effort to streamline operations.

It was brought up that the county hadn’t saved as much as the Board had intended, but in the end, Bakke noted, there are fewer employees handling reception at the community services building, resulting in fewer annual expenditures. Also, choosing to combine some parts of the various departmental duties might do the same for the assessor’s and associated departments.

Bakke stated he didn’t feel that finalizing the departmental organization was immediately necessary, but that approving the transition from an assessor to a land records director might be, given the timeline.

County Attorney Brett Corson stood to share his perspective on the matters at hand, asking about the language written that declared the auditor-treasurer “shall” be the clerk of certain meetings — a point the commissioners noticed because it would mean there had been historical conflicts in operation, accompanied by an objection that the action was set to take place on the same day as an election.

“I think there wasn’t any intent to do this on Election Day, but wouldn’t it be good to let the person be elected? Could we have a process that involves the auditor?,” he asked.

After further conversation – some involving the matters of interdepartmental collaboration and departmental cross-training — Lentz stated he felt the board should move forward with seeking an individual to fill the position.

Commissioner Randy Dahl interjected with a rhetorical question of whether the Board needed to make changes in the hierarchy immediately, and Lentz agreed that could be true. He reiterated that no matter how the departments are organized, they will still function as they ought to do.

Commissioner Marc Prestby registered that he wanted to see a departmental order in place before choosing to vote on the assessor’s position versus a land records director’s position.

Recorder Dave Kiehne spoke up to share his view that if there were to be a land records director instead of an assessor, and an assistant land records director as momentarily broached, it would be an additional layer of bureaucracy that would affect the collaboration between departments.

“Changing this job description on the assessor’s side isn’t going to change the collaboration between departments,” Kiehne said.

A commissioner briefly challenged Kiehne’s assertion that interdepartmental collaboration is doing well at this time, after which models of how the three involved departments would be structured were distributed, with Lentz maintaining favor of one and Bakke in favor of another.

Commissioner Gary Peterson, who hadn’t said anything until asked about the topic, commented, “I think it’s moving along well, but we have to put the skids on (departmental organization) for a while.”

Ultimately, Bakke made a motion to “proceed with the process for going out to hire a land records director.”

Dahl seconded, and Prestby suggested that “assessor” be added to the title. A vote was taken and passed for the land records director’s position to be advertised.

Department reports

 Highway Department Engineer Technician Supervisor Darrell Schmitt requested the Board grant final payment for several road construction projects across the county. All were approved.

Next, Airport Manager Pam Schroeder gave an update on a grant she had chosen to apply for to assist with the upgrading of the Fillmore County airport — which needs hangar and other improvements. She explained she had chosen to apply for the Airport Supplemental Appropriation Funding grant, available up to $2 million but on the county’s application as $1,000,975, because she felt the county might have a chance to receive funding even though the airport is rather close to Rochester.

Social Services Coordinator Kevin Olson presented an agreement for foster care transportation with Kingsland Public Schools, explaining that if the county places a child in foster care outside of the Kingsland district, it would be responsible for half of the cost of transporting that child to school.

Olson said, “This is only for the schools with Section 8 Title I funding. Kingsland is the only one that has approached us at this time. We have not placed anyone in another district.”

Lentz addressed the rest of the Board as the motion passed, saying, “You might want to refer this to the schools in your district.”

Next on the community services agenda was the matter of allowing a Crest regional chairperson to sign the memorandum of understanding for the Regional Behavioral Health Crisis Program on behalf of Fillmore County and a resolution in support of using bonding for regional triage centers for crisis intervention.

Bakke questioned why Olson was bringing the triage center funding before the Board when it had already been included in bonding, and Olson answered it was simply a letter of support. The board voted to accept the actions.

Director of Nursing Jessica Erickson asked for the Board to approve the Minnesota Evidence-based Family Home Visiting Grant shared with Houston County, as well as giving an update on the Minnesota Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP). She reported that the county has a balance of approximately $28,000 and that amount will likely be spent on health improvement programs by the end of December.

Also, maintenance supervisor Terry Schultz brought forward a quote from Winona Heating & Ventilating for roof repairs at the county’s law enforcement center, and the board voted in favor of the repairs.

Additionally, Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA) representative Marty Walsh, serving as the county’s economic development director, asked the Board to consider the January 2018 housing study proposal and sponsorship of a Fillmore housing study for $5,000 from Compeer Financial.

Other business

The consent agenda included approving the general election canvassing meeting set for Nov. 14 at 10 a.m. — as well as appointing commissioners Peterson and Prestby as members of the canvassing board.

It also included approval of a three-year agreement for the SELCO contract that would allot a $5,500 a year increase.

Vickerman expressed her appreciation and admiration of the auditor-treasurer staff handling the midterm elections, as she noted that there is a lot of work involved in making democracy successful.