For years, the land purchases of the Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park have been a controversial topic with the Wright County Board of Commissioners. For years, the votes came down to a 3-2 vote at nearly every request for funding.
With the new county board, that has changed, but, thanks to a pair of large grants received, the approval of the sixth phase of land acquisition at the May 28 board meeting went comparatively quick and smooth.
The project was awarded two significant grants – one from the Parks and Trail Legacy Grant Program (which comes from the 3/8 cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008) in the amount of $1,528,925 and another in the amount of $333,333 from the Non-Metro Regional Park Grant Program (which comes from state lottery proceeds). Parks Administrator Marc Mattice said that he wasn’t expected to get awarded as much as the county did, especially from the Legacy Grant program.
“In the past, we’ve never received more than $500,000 from the Legacy program,, so I was very happily surprised,” Mattice said. “I was hopeful we would get the grant awards, but I was pretty stunned that we got more than $1.5 million from that grant program. We requested $1.9 million, but I thought the most we would possibly get was $1 million maximum. When it came across my desk last week that we got more than $1.5 million, I was more than a little bit surprised by it.”
The two grants require matching funds that are split between the county and the city of Monticello. The Legacy Grant award calls for a match of $656,575 – with the county share being $328,287.50. The Regional Park grant calls for a match of $288,167 – with the county match being $144,083.50. Board Chairman Pat Sawatzke said that the funding will come out of the capital projects fund and won’t be part of the levy process.
“We didn’t levy dollars specifically for this project,” Sawatzke said. “At the end of the year, when we turn back dollars that weren’t spent, we put them in the special projects fund. This has been a project that we have used that funding source for.”
With the most recent acquisition of 124 additional acres, the project is now approximately two-thirds complete and brings total acreage acquired around the lakes to 666 acres. However, Commissioner Charlie Borrell said that, while he voted in favor of the most recent acquisition, when the next request comes, he wants a contract in place between the county and the city of Monticello.
“I will vote in favor of this, but before we get to Phase 7, I want to see something more formalized than the current memorandum of understanding we have now,” Borrell said. “I want it to be clear what the duties of both the county and the city will be in the project and what parts of the park will be the responsibility of us and the city. I want it spelled out more clearly than what we currently have.”
In other items on the May 28 agenda, the board:
• Approved draft bid specifications for the construction project on County Ditch 10. The commissioners raised several questions about the project, such as whether cost savings could be realized by having the county’s Sentence to Service work crew do some of the tree removal as a way to reduce the overall cost of the project. The bids will be sent out to companies that perform such work and the bid award is scheduled for later in the summer with work beginning in the fall.
• Authorized signatures on a two-year contract with the Minnesota Department of Corrections to continue the Sentencing to Service program. The contract calls for the county to pay $58,000 a year, which covers 75 percent of the program cost. The cost is offset by the county/city projects the work crew performs. Between the inexpensive labor cost and the ability for prisoners to work off days from their sentences, estimates have indicated that the program saves the county tens of thousands of dollars a year. The STS program has been in place in Wright County since 1992.
• Approved a five-year contract with IES Inc. to serve as the county’s agent during the upgrading of the sheriff’s department emergency 911 dispatch system. Two bids were received earlier in the month – one from IES (Independent Energy Services) and one from CenturyLink. When compared side by side, it was determined that IES gave the county a better value for the work that will need to be performed, although both base bids were very similar.
• In a related item, the board approved a professional services agreement with Elert & Associates to conduct the Request For Information (RFI) and Requests For Proposal (RFP) processes for the sheriff’s department during the upgrading of the 911 dispatch system. The contract has a not-to-exceed amount of $33,000 and will include needs assessment program, technology planning, schematic design and contract administration follow-up.
• Received an annual update from Bob Goede of the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust. He discussed the status of MCIT’s property/casualty and worker’s compensation premiums. Thanks to several county programs that have brought awareness to injuries in the workplace and safety measures, the premiums paid by counties have dropped each of the last three years.
• Accepted the minutes of the April 5 meeting of the Bertram Chain of Lakes Advisory Board and the May 13 Parks Commission meeting.
• Authorized a claim from the consulting firm of Madden, Galanter & Hansen for work performed in April concerning an arbitration hearing being the county and the sheriff’s department in the amount of $3,884.
• Approved the April revenue/expenditure guidelines. Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala said that, through one-third of the budget year, there wasn’t anything that stood out as a concern.
Freelancer John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.