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County finally receives big tornado clean-up payment

During their four-hour meeting on March 27, Wadena County Commissioners learned that the state and federal governments had finally sent about $776,000 in FEMA and DHS funds to the county to reimburse cleanup expenses from the June 17, 2010 tornado.

Despite the fact that 21 months have gone by since the tornado devastated the area, commissioners and Auditor-Treasurer Char West were delighted to receive the funds.

West said, "They have now paid us $872,764 in reimbursements, and that's 90 percent of what we expected to get back."

FEMA sent $582,668 and the Minnesota Department of Homeland Security sent $194,222 in March 2012 payments. An earlier payment of $95,872 was received several months ago. The total cleanup funding requested from FEMA and DHS is $1,069,239. The county is still owed about $196,000 from government agencies.

An astonishing amount of paperwork is required to receive FEMA and DHS reimbursement for disaster-related costs. Last summer, the county hired nationally-known consultant Robert Wright, operations coordinator of Adjusters International (AI), a disaster recovery consulting firm from New York. At a June 2011 board meeting, the Wadena commissioners voted to hire AI to evaluate the county's and the Ag Society's progress on completing the FEMA paperwork required to get payment for the property destroyed on June 17, 2010 under the FEMA Public Assistance Program.

Wright helped the county, Ag Society, and the city complete the paperwork in time to meet a deadline for submitting requests for reimbursement or for requesting extensions of time.

Also during their March 27 meeting, commissioners welcomed new 4-H Coordinator Bonita Oestreich, who was introduced to the board by Bunni Olson, University Extension Office Manager. Oestreich is from Alexandria, and offered the board and media chocolate chip cookies as an introductory gift. She started work on March 5.

Olson told the board that one of two casual employee positions authorized by the board has been filled, and that there was a candidate for the other casual employee position as well. The board voted to hire both people: Kris Huebsch and Lynda Knutson. A "casual employee" is a person who agrees to be on call in a worker pool, to fill in for office workers who are sick or called away in emergencies. Casual employees only work when requested by a county department head.

Sheriff Mike Carr appeared before the board with a list of requests for board action. First, he requested a four-year renewal of the county's contract with A'viands, LLC, the jail's food service provider. A'viands has been the county's vendor since 2008, and has not raised prices in four years. The new contract allows a 3.5 percent increase each year, due to rising costs for food. Over time, the costs work out to $26 more per day, or $9,600 per year, according to Commissioner Dave Hillukka's figures. A'viands serves three meals per day, seven days a week, to all jail inmates.

Next, Sheriff Carr announced the resignation of Deputy Aaron Hillukka, and requested approval to hire a replacement deputy with a minimum of two years of patrol experience. The board accepted Deputy Hillukka's resignation with regret and wished him well. The board approved Carr's request to hire a replacement deputy. The department has only five full-time deputy sheriffs.

Carr's third request was for permission to sell two spare squad cars at the Verndale Firemen's Auction on April 21. These two vehicles - a 2005 Ford Crown Victoria and a 2006 Ford Crown Victoria - have substantial mileage and some mechanical issues, and are not needed by any other county departments. The board approved the request.

Next, Carr announced the hiring of two new Sheriff's Department employees to replace individuals who will be leaving. Administrative Assistant Melissa Peterson "will be the new Jean Birch," Carr said, although no one can ever replace Jean Birch. Peterson was hired at Grade 52, Step 1, at $14.69 per hour. Jailer/Dispatcher Renata Parks was hired at Grade 51, Step 1, at $13.48 per hour. The board approved the new hires.

Finally, Carr requested a new fee to be charged by the Sheriff's Department for providing civil fingerprinting services. Frequently, people need to obtain their own fingerprints to submit them as part of a hiring process for school districts, government jobs, or other types of applications for jobs or bank loans. The board asked Carr to do some research and return to the board with information on what neighboring counties charge for this service.

County Engineer Ryan Odden appeared before the board to announce that he has filled two seasonal work positions with the Highway Department, and to request approval of the low quote for replacing the roof on the Home and Hobbies Building at the fairgrounds. The board approved the hiring of Timothy Lee from Wadena and Ryan Kobliska from Staples to work in the position of Temporary Maintenance Worker I. They will be paid $11 per hour and will begin work in May. Odden is still trying to fill a position for a temporary engineering technician.

The board approved the low quote of TW Construction, Hewitt, for the roof replacement at the fairgrounds.

In other business, the board:

• approved the membership of the county's 2012 Labor Negotiations Team recommended by contracted Human Resources Consultant Cheryl Goettig: Paul Sailer, Commissioner Dave Hillukka, and Goettig.

• approved the signing of a contract and first of three payments for the aerial photographing of the county and the production of new plat books. Spectrum, Inc., of Wadena was the low bidder and will receive the contract for the plat books.

• received the annual report of MCIT from risk management consultant Jane Hennagir.

• approved the signing of a new contract with Minnesota Counties Computer Cooperative (MCCC) for a computer software program that provides county attorneys with connections to other state software they need for their work. The program is part of the County Attorney's regular budget and costs $982 per attorney for 2012, and more each year after that until 2019.

• learned about another courthouse security meeting that will be held April 6 with architect Tony Stoll, and approved funds for paying Stoll for his professional services.

• approved the county's 2012 payment to the Ag Society for annual maintenance of buildings at the fairgrounds.

The meeting adjourned at 1:05 p.m. The next meeting will not be held on the first Tuesday in April, as is customary, but will be held on the second Tuesday, April 10.