County board authorizes auditor to pay bills directly

As part of the consent agenda of the Aug. 29 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, the board approved pay $1.43 million in bills – a total of 672 transactions to 327 different vendors. However, thanks to a resolution approved by the county board, those days may be over.

The commissioners adopted a resolution authorizing County Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala to pay all of the standard bills through his office rather than being required to wait until the next county board meeting to complete the typically random practice of approving the claims listing.

Hiivala told the board that gaps in payment of bills has long been an issue for the county. For example, the claims approved at the Aug. 29 meeting may have been submitted more than two weeks previously. He added that the board has the ability through state law to allow the auditor/treasurer to make payments on bills that come through his office rather than being held over until the next county board meeting for approval.

“This is by statute,” Hiivala said. “You have the authority to delegate that down to me to get these paid. We drafted this resolution which basically says that you delegate that authority down to me.”

Commissioner Mike Potter stated that the procedural shortening of the payments can have multiple benefits, including making the accounting of bills paid through various county departments more accurate from the time invoices are released to times they are paid. In addition, there are some companies that provide discounts for early repayments, which would be much more easily captured under the new provision for paying bills.

“We will be able to pay these timely and take advantage of any discounts for paying in a certain amount of time,” Potter said. “The efficiencies of this will help through the Auditor/Treasurer’s Office. It’s a win for the county to take advantage of any discounts and make sure we make timely payments.”

The board unanimously approved by a 3-0 vote (see below) to adopt the resolution. Significant bills are still subject to coming before the county board for approval and many of those bills are typically discussed in committee meetings before being recommended to be authorized.

In other items on the Aug. 29 agenda, the board:

• Were reduced to three commissioners for the majority of the meeting. Commissioners Darek Vetsch and Christine Husom were taking part in a nuclear preparedness exercise that kept them away from the board meeting. At that point, all of the votes by the remaining commissioners had to be approved or denied unanimously since all county board votes require three votes to be approved.

• Heard from Dr. Richard Lee of the Central Minnesota Mental Health Center Foundation, which serves Stearns, Benton, Sherburne and Wright counties. The CMMHC has been in place since 1963 and asked the county to approve a request from the CMMHC board of directors to amend and restate its Articles of Incorporation and amend its bylaws to make the center a stand-alone entity that has the purpose of meeting the needs of those in need of mental health services.

• Accepted the 2016 annual report of the county highway department.

• Approved the rezoning of 62 acres in Maple Lake Township from AG general agriculture to Agricultural/Residential.

• Adopted a grant agreement between the county’s veterans services department and the State of Minnesota for Fiscal Year 2018 operational improvement grants with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs.

• In a related item, acknowledged receipt of the Veterans Service Department’s activity report for the first two quarters of 2017.

• Authorized a repurchase of a tax-forfeit property in the City of Cokato. The property, which is homestead property, went tax forfeit after the couple that owned it got divorced and quit making mortgage payments. The original mortgage company assigned the property to a new mortgage company, which had no knowledge of the delinquent mortgage status of the property. The second mortgage company – Bayview Loan Servicing – agreed to pay all the delinquent taxes and penalties, which total $3,965.

• Adopted a resolution authorizing the seizure and sale of abandoned personal property on tax-forfeited land. Later this year, the county is going to conduct a public sale of the tax-forfeit properties seized over the last year. The county annually approves such a resolution authorizing the cleanup of items left behind on the property before the sale takes place.

• Referred discussion of three items to the Aug. 30 personnel committee – discussion of the ditch coordinator position, discussion of a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist position and discussion of the potential change of job classifications for two positions within the Health & Human Services department.

• Authorized scheduling a special leadership meeting in September following the budget process to continue the discussion concerning the different powers that would be available to the county going with a county coordinator vs. a county administrator.

• Approved payment of $1,064 to the firm of Madden, Galanter & Hansen for union negotiation work done on behalf of the county.

John Holler covers the Wright County Board of Commissioners as a freelance reporter for the Monticello Times