For the last two months, much of the discussion at the Wright County Board of Commissioners has centered on whether Wright County would remain part of the Tri-County Forensics Laboratory.
A June 23 date was offered as a deadline for the county voting whether or not to serve Anoka and Sherburne County notice that, if the funding formula doesn’t change, Wright County would pull out of the joint powers agreement.
As D-Day finally arrived at the June 23 meeting, the board passed a 3-2 vote to delay taking any action until September.
The discussion almost ended when it began when the first comment on the issue came from Commissioner Mark Daleiden, whose initial remark was to make a motion. “I’ll make a motion to table this until the first meeting in September so the board has time to tour the Tri-County lab,” Daleiden said. “I want to have discussions with other counties before we do anything rash.”
The motion was quickly seconded by Commissioner Christine Husom, who said that, had Daleiden not made the motion, she would have. I was going to ask the same thing, so we can invite the other counties to our Aug. 11 meeting,” Husom said. “We’ve had these different discussions – Anoka County has had theirs, Sherburne County has had theirs, we’ve had ours. I want to get all of the commissioners together to discuss this.” With a motion and a second proffered in less than one minute, the matter went to discussion – which would last for almost a half-hour.
Commissioner Pat Sawatzke came to the June 23 meeting armed with dozens of documents from the minutes of previous county board meetings and Tri-County lab committee meetings that emphasized the point that Wright County has been contending the funding formula policy.
He pointed out that as early as December 2007 – before the facility even opened – Wright County had objections on the record to the funding formula, adding that statements made by Sherburne County Board members directly conflict with what the minutes stated.
“Over time history seems to change,” Sawatzke said. “Even people that were part of history seem to change history in the statements they make and the things that they say.”
Commissioner Charlie Borrell said that his problem with the Tri-County lab isn’t so much with the funding formula, it’s with the cost.
Wright County pays almost $400,000 a year to be a member of the Tri-County lab, when they could hire an employee at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab dedicated to processing only evidence from Wright County.
That would cost taxpayers about $89,000 a year with the same speed and quality of service the county is getting for four times the price.
“I don’t know if this needs to get postponed; I think we should deal with it now,” Borrell said. “I want to do what’s best for Wright County. Just as when Sherburne County pulled out of River Rider, it was to their benefit. That’s why they made a vote to do it. I’m prepared to just withdraw from the organization. Even if I went over there and it was as good as it could possibly be, it doesn’t make economic sense. If we wanted to put a dedicated person for Wright County, we could do it at the (BCA) crime lab for way less money. I just don’t see this panning out economically for our county. I don’t need to postpone it. We just need to give our notice to get out.”
Daleiden said he may well end up agreeing with Borrell, but given the investment the county has made, having the extra time to research and discuss the matter.
The question on the motion got called and the motion to table until the first board meeting of September passed 3-2 – with Sawatzke and Borrell voting against the motion.
In other items on the June 23 meeting, the board:
•Received a legislative update from Minnesota Sen. Bruce Anderson. He reported on the decisions made at the special session of the Minnesota State Legislature and how those funding decisions will impact local governments like Wright County.
•Approved a one-year contract between the sheriff’s department and the Minnesota Department of Corrections to board prisoners at the county jail at a rate of $55 a day. The contract will run from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.
•Authorized giving Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala powers and authority related to the administration of tax-forfeit properties. The three powers that will be delegated to Hiivala are classifying tax-forfeit land as conservation or non-conservation, establishing the appraised value of minimum bid prices on those properties and selecting some parcels for private sale.
•Heard a presentation from John Peterson of the Waverly American Legion concerning an abandoned cemetery in Woodland Township. The American Legion wants to work with the Montrose VFW to clean up the one-acre cemetery
•Approved the findings of fact for the redetermination of benefitted landowners along County Ditch 38.
•Authorized payment of $11,070 to the firm of Madden, Galenter & Hanson for union negotiation work performed on behalf of the county during May.
•Acknowledged receipt of the May revenue/expenditure guidelines. Hiivala said that 42 percent of the way into the budget year, both the revenue and expenditures are in line with where they should be.
•Approved the sale of a tax forfeit property in the City of South Haven. The city purchased the property on behalf of Serenity Path, a non-profit detox facility based out of Paynesville. The county can’t sell tax-forfeit properties to non-profits, but it can convey the property to a city. South Haven.
•Appointed Greg Bakeberg of Howard Lake to serve as a representative of the agricultural community to represent Wright County to the North Fork One Watershed, One Plan Policy Committee. During a previous meeting of the policy committee, it was noted that the agricultural community wasn’t represented.
•Set a closed session of the negotiation committee of the whole for 10:30 a.m. following the June 14 board meeting.
Freelancer John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.