County board pays bills

Published 10:22 am Thursday, September 25, 2008

Jail and other bills, out-of-state travel requests and another reduction in Mower County District Court hours were among the items facing the county commissioners this week.

The Mower County Board of Commissioners approved a bill from Knutson Construction Services at their Tuesday meeting.

The bill is for pre-construction services in the amount of $41,292 on the new Mower County Jail and Justice Center project and represents 90 percent of the firm’s allowable payment.

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Knutson Construction Services is the construction manager for the jail and justice center project.

The commissioners also approved a bill from Whitewater Wireless in the amount of $108,209.

The amount actually represents several individual bills left-over after the firm’s work on the new radio communications system and tower project.

The county commissioners could not automatically rubber-stamp a request for out-of-state travel for finance director Donna Welsh.

In an effort to reduce spending, the commissioners routinely scrutinize each elected official’s and department’s head’s requests for out-of-state travel.

The Welsh request was to attend a training session at Fort Lauderdale, Fla. connected to funding for the Michael H. Seibel Child Exchange and Visitation Center.

The trip is slated to take place Oct. 15-18 or the same time county officials and staff are completing their 2009 property tax levy and budget work.

The first question raised came from Ray Tucker, 2nd District. “Can we be reimbursed for the time she is gone from her county job?” Tucker asked.

David Hillier, 3rd District, said, the county can only be reimbursed for Welsh’s travel and hotel expenses.

“We don’t have a lot of choice in it,” said Richard P. Cummings, 1st District county commissioner and chairman of the county board. “It’s a federal grant.”

“There wasn’t supposed to be any county time spend on the Seibel Center after we gave them the grant. We were just a pass-through agency for their federal grant,” Tucker said. “We increased our donation to the project from $100,000 to $200,000 and out involvement should have ended at that point.”

Cummings suggested the commissioners asked Kathy Stutzman of the Parenting Resource Center, Inc. to come to a future county board meeting and explain why the county is still tasked to be involved in the Seibel Center’s operations.

At that point in Tuesday’s discussion, the commissioners called the finance director to join them in the board room.

“What is your role?” Tucker asked Welsh.

The finance director responded, “To monitor the agency we are contracting with.”

“Are we being reimbursed for your work for them?” Tucker asked a second question.

According to Welsh, $4,000 was set aside in the federal grant money received by Mower County for the pass-through funding for the Seibel Center.

“As we go along with this,” Welsh explained, “there’s a huge responsibility and the need for accountability.”

Dick Lang, 4th District county commissioner, was unconvinced the county’s role, financial or otherwise, was ending. “When we gave them $200,000, I thought that was set in stone and that was that we would have no further involvement with this project,” Lang said.

The commissioners approved Welsh’s out-of-state travel request, pending the visit with Stutzman.

The Seibel Visitation Center is located where the former Downtown Motel was located along First Avenue Southwest across from the Austin Post Office. Child exchanges between custodial and non-custodial parents are taking place in the secured location.

Also Tuesday, the commissioners had a second out-of-state travel request to consider.

Mower County Assessor Richard Peterson received the commissioners’ approval to send two appraisers from his office to a training session at Storm Lake, Iowa Oct. 28 and 29.

According to Peterson, the training will involve site visits to commercial properties.

The commissioners also acknowledged receipt of a notice from Mower County Court Administration that beginning next week, all court services would be suspended at 4:30 p.m. or 30 minutes earlier than the usual quitting time.

Already, court services are reduced to Wednesday mornings only.

According to Cummings, the notice described the reduction in court services (both administration and district court hours) as another cost-cutting measure by the state of Minnesota.