Austin still up for VA clinic

Published 10:36 am Friday, January 30, 2009

The Mower County Commissioners are realists about the prospects of locating a new Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Austin.

“Realistically speaking,” said Dave Hillier, 5th District county commissioner, “what are the possibilities of locating it here (in Austin)?

“I think it’s a great idea, but we already have one in Rochester,” Hillier said.

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has announced plans to open 31 new outpatient clinics in 16 states.

Minnesota could get two of the clinics. One would be located in the Twin Cities area and another along the Minnesota-Iowa border.

The subject was discussed at last Tuesday’s county board meeting.

Wayne Madson, Mower County veterans services officer, was absent for health reasons.

Craig Oscarson, county coordinator, shared what little news he knew about the prospects of a clinic being located in Austin after an exchange of e-mails with Austin city administrator Jim Hurm.

According to Oscarson, while the VA in Minnesota has its hospitals at Minneapolis and St. Cloud, “They want to locate outpatient clinics that are 40 miles away from veterans.”

Austin is 40 miles away from Rochester, where a clinic is located.

Hurm told Oscarson, the clinic would “bring business and jobs to Austin” and asked the county board to endorse the idea.

Local veterans organization are expected to support the proposal also.

Norman Hecimovich, a spokesman for local veterans, said Austin, Albert Lea and Owatonna are the top three choices for the location of the new outpatient clinic. “This would save veterans from driving or riding a van to Minneapolis for the simple things like blood tests, x-rays, PTSD consultations, etc.”

Hecimovich is urging individual veterans as well as veterans service organizations to write letters of support for locating the clinic in Austin.

Specifically, Hecimovich said the letters should be sent to Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congressman Tim Walz.

For many veterans, transportation is a constant challenge.

Presently, Mower County furnished a van with financial support from the veterans organizations that is used by veterans to get to the VA hospitals and Rochester clinic.

Presently, Mower County is awaiting delivery on a new van, being retrofitted for veterans’ use.

Last summer, veterans organizations from all over Mower County, led by Austin Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 1216, conducted a successfully fundraising campaign, which raised more than $27,000 for the van’s purchase and outfitting.

The nation’s tough economic times could impact more so upon veterans living on fixed incomes, making transportation for medical care an expense they cannot afford.

As Hillier indicated in his remarks, there is no real opposition to the idea of locating a clinic in Austin; only the knowledge the competition will be fierce to locate it elsewhere.

Dick Lang, 4th District, made a motion to endorse the idea and Tim Gabrielson, 1st District, seconded it.

It was unanimously approved by all five county commissioners.

“I think it’s important to support this,” said Lang after the vote.

Oscarson explained, the VA’s apparent intent in locating another clinic along the Minnesota — Iowa state line is to make it available to northern Iowa veterans, who have no other clinic nearby.

Dave Tollefson, 5th District county commissioner and chairman of the county board, said simply, “We have to support this. There’s no other way.”

‘Wait and see’

News of the closing of a McNeilus plant at Dexter caught the commissioners by surprise Tuesday.

“We’re asking Craig (Oscarson) to explore the matter,” Ray Tucker, 2nd District county commissioner said. “Right now, it came as a surprise to us, and we want to find out just what is happening.”

Mower County was a financial partner in the efforts of the Development Corporation of Austin in locating the plant at Dexter, where the city of Dexter had created a Tax Increment Finance District to also serve as an incentive for the plant’s location in Mower County.

The company announced early this week it was closing the plant and 26 jobs were terminated.

According to Tucker, “As far as we know the company is current on their loan payments to Mower County.”

“We will just have to wait and see,” said Tucker, who added the commissioners hope to have more information at their next meeting.


In other action, the county commissioners:

— Appointed Julie Stevermer and Angie Knish to be departmental delegates to the Association of Minnesota Counties. Margene Gunderson was appointed to be an alternate.

— Agreed to allow Mower County to continue to issue open burning permits rather than ask the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to take over the responsibility.

— Expressed deepest sympathies at the death of former long-time Mower County Commissioner Robert R. Shaw.

— Agreed to open seasonal bids for the Highway Department 1 p.m. March 9.

— Scheduled final building committee meeting before accepting Mower County Jail and Justice Center bids for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4. Other related dates of importance include: Pre-bid conference for contractors Feb. 12; bid opening 2:30 p.m. Feb. 26; hear recommendation for awarding contract March 10; start contraction April 1; complete construction July 2010. Mower County plans to build a 2-story, 128-bed jail and justice center on 2 blocks of downtown city property being acquired by the city of Austin.

— Discussed news that Jackson County plans to appoint its Auditor-Treasurer to, in part, answer budget concerns. Currently, Mower County Auditor-Treasurer Doug Groh is an elected official.

— Approved separate electrical billings for Mower County Historical Society and Mower County Agricultural Society (Fair Board). The MCHS will be allocated a $7,000 share of the repair appropriation made by the commissioners to the Fair Board for fairgrounds improvements. Hereafter, the MCHS will be responsible for paying all of its electrical billings. The settlement was recommended by the county board’s finance committee.

— Announced a negotiated settlement has been reached between DHS and a licensed day care providers concerning past-due billings, dating back to January 2007. The past-due billings total $24,284 and the County will pay the provider 90 percent of the amount. The County has a new policy prohibiting paying past-due billings beyond 90 days. However, exceptions have been made for DHS mileage reimbursement claims and the Auditor-Treasurer. The commissioners acknowledge extreme budget concerns in the DHS, but the county coordinator said there was $10,600 left over in the DHS account for licensed day care providers. The rest of the money will come from DHS reserves, according to the settlement negotiated by the county and recommended by the finance committee. It was unanimously approved by the commissioners.