Wright County commissioners approve MOU to avoid Met Council interaction

For more than 20 years, Wright County has fought against being absorbed in the Metropolitan Council, a powerful group that handles transportation issues for the seven-county Twin Cities metro area. At the Nov. 26 meeting of the Wright County Board, the commissioners approved a Memorandum of Understanding that that would keep them out of Met Council jurisdiction.
Over the years, Wright County officials have let it be known in no uncertain terms that Wright County has no interest in being part of the Met Council and has fought its inclusion consistently the last two decades. This time around, however, it was the federal government that created the issue. Following the official results of the 2010 census, the area around the Cities of St. Michael, Albertville and Otsego were determined to be urban areas – the first time the census went beyond the seven-county boundary of determining the metropolitan area of the Twin Cities and its suburbs. Since that 2012 announcement, Wright County has done what it can to prevent being absorbed into the Met Council.
“It was made crystal clear early on after the announcement that we had no interest in being part of the Met Council,” County Highway Engineer Virgil Hawkins said. “It was from that framework that this process went on.”
The Memo of Understanding would keep Wright County as part of the Region 7W Transportation Policy Board, which represents counties in Central Minnesota, essentially along the I-94 and Hwy. 10 corridors. Commissioner Mark Daleiden stated the lack of county interest in being part of the Met Council was mutual.
“The Met Council has no interest in adding us to its group either,” Daleiden said. “The only reason this came up was because of federal regulations. This formalizes that we will maintain jurisdiction over projects planned in Wright County.”
The commissioners unanimously voted to approve the Memo of Understanding and keep themselves separate from the Met Council, which brought a sigh of relief for those who have feared Wright County would be the forgotten component of the metro area if it is absorbed into the Met Council.
“From those of us who want to keep our distance from the Met Council, this allows us to do that and stay in Region 7W,” Commissioner Charlie Borrell said. “That’s a good thing.”
In other items on the Nov. 26 agenda, the board:
• Conducted its annual Truth In Local Taxation evening meeting. There were a total of 12 members of the public who attended the meeting, all of them asking questions specific to the property taxes on their land parcel or address specific line items of the county’s 2014 draft budget and levy. The meeting last about 90 minutes.
•Adopted a resolution to advance state aid highway funds for 2013 in the amount of $1.08 million. Last year, the county advance-encumbered $3.1 million, a figure the new county board wanted reduced.
•Transferred $1 million from the general fund into the Technology Special Projects Fund for upgrades to be made the county’s infrastructure and technology upgrades in 2014.
•Accepted a grant in the amount of $282,000 for the 2014-15 Radiological Emergency Preparedness Grant. The funds help the county prepare in case of an emergency at the nuclear power plant in Monticello. In a related item, the board authorized signatures on the annual update of the county’s radiological emergency preparedness plan.
•Approved a policy that will allow employees to use their personal phones as work phones and receive a stipend for doing so. Under the county’s current policy, business is conducted on county-owned phones and redundancies and high costs have come into play. The program will start as a pilot project using the highway, parks and surveyor departments as the test group for the program in 2014. The program will pay a stipend of $15 a month for employees to use their own cell phones and $50 a month for those who need a smart phone to conduct business. The program takes effect Jan. 1 and will be reviewed after one year.
•Authorized a not-to-exceed amount of $29,500 to the have the firm of Hagen, Christenson & McIlwain Architects to be the consultant for a space study/needs assessment for the Public Works Building.
•Referred discussion of fourth floor security issues at the county courthouse to the Dec. 3 board meeting.
•Approved contracting with the University of Minnesota-Duluth to update the county’s Hazard Mitigation Plan. Not only was the UMD proposal cheaper, the university has a strong track record of completing such plan updates for other counties in the state.
•Authorized the Wright Soil and Water Conservation District to apply for grant money related to county ditches with the Soil Erosion and Drainage Law Compliance Program from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soild Resources. The deadline for grant applications for 2014 is Dec. 13.
•Referred discussion of lunchtime events sponsored by the county’s Wellness Committee to sponsor a Weight Watchers program once a week to the personnel committee for approval.

Freelancer John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.