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County works on long term plans for highway, personnel

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MORRIS – On Tuesday, Stevens County Board of Commissioners chair Jeanne Ennen appointed two committees to work on long term projects for the county: a plan to improve facilities for the Highway Department and a proposal to revisit a job classification study.

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Committee will develop plan for highway department

After reviewing a list of needs and wants developed by staff at the Stevens County Highway Department, Commissioners Ron Staples and Bob Kopitzke were appointed to a special building committee to come up with a plan for improving or building a new facility and try to put a price tag on the potential project.

In February, the board decided against doing a feasibility study on how to improve the facility and instead directed County Engineer Brian Giese to work with his staff on their ideas for the project.

On Tuesday, Giese shared ideas with the board and presented some preliminary suggestions for how to fund a facility project.

Needs that should be addressed include increased shop space; improvements to the ventilation, plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling and water supply systems; updates to major equipment; additional work areas for fabrication and salt/sand storage; and improvements to the lot and office area.

Wants in a facility project include more space for repairs and warm storage, and enhancements to the office, conference room, engineering lab, breakroom and overnight sleeping areas, said Giese.

Giese told the board he thought the best idea would be to build a new facility, but that most of the needs and wants – aside from additional space – could be addressed by remodeling the existing building.

Commissioner Phil Gausman pointed out that if the board decided to build a new shop, the old building could be used for some of the wants like warm storage space.

Kopitzke noted that it can sometimes cost more to remodel an existing building than starting over again.

“There’s value in new construction just in heat savings and better heat systems,” Kopitzke added.

Without a more specific plan to remodel the existing facility or start from scratch, cost estimates have varied widely, anywhere from $800,000 to $1.5 million.

Giese offered two preliminary ideas for how to pay for a project: bond for the project or combine existing reserves with state aid funding by pushing back a planned road project in 2016.

Giese said the second option might be more palatable since it wouldn’t necessarily include a tax increase, but that it would delay the county road program by one year.

“Our ability to maintain (our roads) over the years has been a good investment and this is taking one step backwards, but I also do definitely see the need to have adequate facilities to continue the maintenance of all of our highways,” said Giese.

Kopitzke and Staples will meet with members of the Highway Department to develop more specific ideas for the full board to review.

Stevens County requests job classification study

On Tuesday, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners approved a request for proposals for a new classification and compensation study.

The study is designed to review employee salaries within the county and compare them to other public and private entities to make sure they comply with Minnesota’s pay equity law and that they are fair, said Human Resources Director Janet Raguse.

The county had a pay study done by Government Management Group (GMG) in 2006, but since then some “real issues” have arisen with the system, including inconsistency and the fact that the way jobs are rated is proprietary information, said Raguse.

“It’s difficult to explain or understand why any points or jobs change grades,” said Raguse.

As the county has been reviewing job descriptions in several offices, employees have asked to appeal the rating of their position, which Raguse said she thinks should continue.

“As we do that, it really tweaks the system and it starts to not be as accurate,” said Raguse.

The request also includes a separate addendum for an organizational study to look at the structure of the county and identify any gaps or duplications in services as well as recommendations for staffing levels.

Proposals will be reviewed by a committee consisting of Commissioners Ron Staples and Phil Gausman, County Coordinator Brian Giese, and Raguse. 

Other business

  • The board voted to enter into a preventative maintenance agreement with G & R Controls to maintain the software and updates that run the heating and cooling system at the courthouse. The contract includes an initial payment of $7,150 for this year and an additional $4,600 per year. The contract also includes repair visits throughout the year.

  • The board authorized County Engineer Brian Giese to replace a tandem truck. The replacement truck with have a Mack chassis from Nuss Truck and Equipment and a body from Towmaster for a total cost of $203,010.

  • The board authorized Giese to hire two summer seasonal workers for the Stevens County Highway Department. Giese said the workers will assist with maintenance through lawn mowing and roadside mowing as well as some project inspection.

  • The board approved $7,080 to Breth-Zenzen Fire Protection to replace about 290 feet of sprinkler mains at the Lee Community Center.  

  • The board approved $4,759 to modify the court administration offices to make space for an additional employee.

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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