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Terry Long applied a crack sealant to roads in Lake Emma Township recently. Several townships reported overland flooding damage to roads and culverts. Long Construction has a contract in four townships. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

FEMA assessing Hubbard County road damage

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Hubbard County officials are hosting FEMA representatives this week, touring the area to assess damage caused by overland flooding and rapid snow melt.

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To date, the tally is over $200,000, said Emergency Management Director Dave W. Konshok. Hubbard County has been included in a federal disaster declaration under the umbrella of the Red River Valley flooding, but federal reimbursement locally will only cover damage to public property, not to individual homeowners.

FEMA official Colleen Appleby appeared before the county board Wednesday and pledged to do what the agency could to reimburse the cost of fixing gravel roads, repairing culverts and mending washed out areas.

FEMA will reimburse the state 75 percent of the damage and the state will reimburse the county. The remaining 25 percent would be left up to the state and county to cover.

Konshok said Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed picking up the entire tab, but legislators haven't approved the proposal.

To date, the Hubbard County Public Works Department has covered the lion's share of the damage and made repairs.

Twelve townships and the town of Akeley all qualified under the disaster umbrella, Konshok said.

In other county board action the commission:

Office hours

-Took no action on a request by coordinator Jack Paul to post office hours on some county departments.

At least three departments, the Auditor, the Recorder and Environmental Services, have reported issues with customers who appear five minutes before closing, which is 4:30 p.m., with complicated problems that necessitate employees staying overtime to assist them.

"Employees can't be expected to work overtime for nothing," Paul said. Many are union employees and their contracts specify that any time worked over their regular hours be paid in overtime, he said. Non-union employees are entitled to comp time for working beyond their regularly scheduled hours.

"I would have thought the biggest problem would be solid waste where they show up with a trailer load of crap at five (minutes) to 5:00," board chair Lyle Robinson said, noting that it happens regularly.

Paul wanted to post signs instructing the public to arrive at county offices by 4 p.m. "to satisfy your inquiry" or to make an appointment.

"I think if people walk into this building at 4:29 to be served they need to be served," objected commissioner Cal Johannsen. "We're here to serve the public. The alternative is to work four 10-hour days."

But Johannsen said departments must "do what you gotta do to get the work done."

But both Johannsen and commissioner Dick Devine questioned whether 10-hour workdays are productive.

"We're a public entity," Devine said. "People expect services and don't think about the consequences. We have to find a way to do it."

Johannsen said in times past there would be a stampede of employees leaving at 4:30 when county offices closed. "What is so almighty about a few minutes?" he questioned.

"You haven't totally convinced me the problem is so big it needs to be solved," said commissioner Don Carlson.

Robinson suggested tabling the matter until the board can meet with the unions mid-year. The county has had a strict hiring freeze in place and will revisit its precarious financial situation at the end of June, to see if more cost-conscious measures should be enacted. If the county is in better fiscal shape, some measures in place can be relaxed.

The board did get some good financial news from Auditor Pam Heeren.

Through April of 2009, the county has collected $534,425.22 more in taxes than it did at the same time last year.

"I can't tell you why but it's a good thing," Heeren said.

Solid waste

-Authorized solid waste manager Vern Massie to attend an information session in Perham, which is seeking to expand its solid waste incinerator. The county currently has a contract with Waste Management, Inc., to haul its garbage to Gwinner, where it's landfilled. The contract expires in June 2011.

Commissioners approved Massie exploring whether Hubbard County can save money transporting the waste to Perham to be burned, but the prospect made Robinson uneasy.

"I think when you put that stuff in the air it'll kill you," he said of the emissions an incinerator might release into the atmosphere.

"It's in the ground, too," Johanssen said of the alternative.

"It needs to financially compete," Robinson said in urging Massie to do some cost comparisons. Currently the tipping fees are comparable, $58 per truckload of WSI to $60 for Perham, but there would be additional transportations hauling the waste to Perham.

Courthouse security

-Authorized the purchase of security equipment and cameras that will protect the county courthouse.

The proposal, which would cost $8,995, would install 11 security cameras in and around the courthouse main floor and in the courtrooms and court administrator's offices and hallways. The system will be purchased from Arvig Communication doing business as ACS Security Solutions, the low bidder.

The cameras will be motion sensitive; data can be stored and downloaded onto compact discs.

The system will compliment a new metal detector installed this week going into the courtrooms.

Law enforcement

-Accepted donations of $2,500 for the Sentence to Service program and accepted a Boat & Water Safety grant in the amount of $27,135, which will fund the program from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Approved the purchase of 20 picnic tables for Farris, Heartland and Lake George parks for $12,549.37.

-Received the monthly jail report indicating the facility has billed out $68,937 in revenues to date from housing inmates from other counties.

The facility budgeted $200,000 in anticipated revenues to date. It may not achieve that total because most of the Clay County inmates housed during the recent flood have returned to Moorhead, but Paul said the facility appeared to be on track to meet that goal.

During a meeting break Carlson and Johannsen discussed the revenues. The jail has underperformed according to projections used to build the facility and it's been a sore spot with the board for the past year.

"If you take the money they claim they're taking in and divide it by the number of people there, we're not doing very well," Carlson said.

Sheriff Frank Homer said neighboring Cass County, which has been mentioned as a possible boarder, is still in discussions with Crow Wing County. It has had a longtime contract to house its inmates there even though Park Rapids is much closer.

The facility did hire a new jailer to replace one who resigned.

-Heard that veteran's contacts are rising substantially. Konshok said that's due to vets experiencing the economic downturn, too. Case levels are at 1996 levels, he told the board, and many cases are involving lengthy and complicated appeals to the Veterans Administration for reimbursement.

The board also adopted a resolution of support for a proposed veteran's home in Bemidji. Beltrami County Commissioner Joe Vene has been lobbying the state Legislature for a home with acute and extended care in northern Minnesota. He said it will be many years in the planning stages, and would like to get funding for a feasibility study in place initially.

"We've identified 32,000 veterans in northern Minnesota that are underserved or unserved," he told the board. "North of Bemidji is a total void" for the availability of services for vets.

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