Forensic lab meeting still in limbo

Commissioners from three counties seek way to resolve extension to shared lab use deal

The logistics of getting three county boards of commissioners together is relatively daunting. With committee appointments and scheduling conflicts, finding a time that works for all three county boards is no small task. At the June 19 meeting of the Wright County Board, County Coordinator Dick Norman said the process of trying to find a date to schedule a meeting with the commissioners from Anoka and Sherburne Counties is ongoing.
“We’re working on it,” Norman said. “We’re trying to find dates that will be open for all three boards.”
The meeting Norman and the other two county coordinators are trying to facilitate comes in light of the Wright County Board’s decision to reject a five-year contract extension with the Tri-County Forensic Laboratory, which processes evidence for all three counties. The contract was voted down 3-2 at the June 12 meeting, prompting Commissioner Jack Russek, who represents the Wright County Board on the committee, to announce that he was quitting effective immediately.
Norman placed the item of replacing Russek on the June 19 agenda to see how the county was going to respond to Russek’s impromptu announcement of his resignation from the advisory board. His decision was made following the board’s denial of the contract, which Commissioner Pat Sawatzke argued is patently unfair to Wright County, since the funding formula is based on population rather than usage. Sawatzke contended that Wright County has been subsidizing Anoka County to host the forensic lab and that the funding should be based on parameters other than simply population.
For his part, a week later Russek said he hasn’t changed his mind on his decision to quit the committee.
“The sheriff (Joe Hagerty) and I have been arguing with Sherburne and Anoka County since (the forensic lab’s) inception,” Russek said. “We’ve gotten nowhere with them in all that time. Nothing that we have tried has worked. Maybe someone else can get something done.”
Norman said that the three counties are still attempting to lock down a meeting date where the full boards from all three counties have an opening in their respective schedules. With budget hearings for all three coming in August, the window of opportunity is relatively tight. Norman said that the plan is to try to find a date in July that would work for all three counties, but haven’t been able to nail down a date yet.
The board laid over the question of replacing Russek until July 31 in hopes that the differences between the counties can be ironed out when the three boards hold their summit meeting and, perhaps Russek will remain on the board.
“I think we should wait until after we meet with the other commissioners before making this decision,” Sawatzke said. “Maybe by then, Jack will change his mind.”
Russek joked that he hasn’t changed his mind yet and said, “I don’t think anyone else wants this job.”
In other items on the June 19 agenda, the board:
• Was informed that the county won its appeal of a sales tax audit from the state. In 2009, the Minnesota Department of Revenue did an audit of the county and claimed the county owed $66,000 in unpaid sales tax for things like aerial photography of the county, furniture expenditures at the county jail and software purchases. The county claimed that some of those items should be exempt from sales tax. It took three years, but the county won its claim. Back in 2009, the county paid $30,000 to the state, citing that it was liable for that portion of the bill. The final audit decision was that the county had overpaid by $125 when it made its first payment and received a check in that amount, ending the dispute.
• Received an update on a pair of ditch questions pertaining to recent flooding around County Ditch 38 near Montrose and County Ditch 24 in Silver Creek Township. No official board action was taken on either ditch at the June 19 meeting. The current plan is to wait for the current water created by heavy rains earlier in the month to recede to allow the ditch tile to be examined on both ditches.
• Approved three-year contract agreements with the unions representing the Assistant Wright County Attorneys Association and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local No. 49.
• Approved a revised non-union salary schedule effective July 1. Changes were made to the salary schedule based on the results of a recent job classification study.
• Authorized signatures on a $175,000 two-year Radiological Emergency Preparedness Grant between the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division and the county. The grant would provide funding for emergency preparedness in the event of a mishap at the Monticello Nuclear Power Plant.
• Acknowledged receipt of the May revenue/expenditure guidelines. Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala said that, through 42 percent of the years, the county’s revenues and expenditures are essentially on track and on budget.
• Approved the minutes of the June 11 meeting of the county board of equalization.
• Set a committee of the whole meeting for 8:30 a.m. Thursday, July 12 to interview finalist candidates for the county highway engineer position. The intention is to have a permanent replacement for County Highway Engineer Wayne Fingalson, who will be retiring in early August.

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