On the road again
Two of Douglas County's public service leaders joined forces in the interest of the people they protect at Tuesday's county board meeting.
Douglas County Social Services Director Mike Woods and Sheriff Troy Wolbersen have a shared interest in providing safe transport of juveniles and adults receiving social service assistance. Woods said the sheriff's office has been providing transport services for the social services department for the past 28 years that he has been with the department.
"I believe having the sheriff's department provide transportation reduces the liability to the county," Woods said. "It's secure transportation."
Woods said transportation time and mileage has "gone through the roof." Both Woods and Wolbersen agree there is a need for an additional transportation officer and vehicle.
Wolbersen estimated the sheriff's office provides 500 transports a year outside of regular court transportation. Individuals need to be transported to hospitals and juvenile facilities. There are roughly 600 court-related rides.
Deputies travel distances as far as Rochester, Fargo, Brainerd and Thief River Falls, logging between 1,500 and 2,000 hours per year on the road.
"Those are not precise numbers but it certainly supports another transport officer," Wolbersen said.
Commissioner Jim Stratton asked if doubling up on passengers is possible. Woods and Wolbersen acknowledged that practice is done when feasible, which isn't often.
"When we can, absolutely," Wolbersen said. For instance, with juveniles and regular inmates, two and sometimes three can be transported in one trip. Statutory restraints and safety concerns prevent multiple-passenger transport with mentally ill individuals.
"For what it's worth, there is a very real need here and I strongly support what Mr. Woods proposed," said County Attorney Chad Larson.
Knowing it may be a matter of finances, Woods offered to transfer funds from the Social Services 2014 budget to help distribute the cost.
"I think as a team, as a county, we can make it work," Woods said.
Commissioners approved the request, which is estimated to cost $93,500 including the one-time cost of approximately $40,000 for a vehicle.
As the lazy days of summer come to a close, the pace picks up in the auditor/treasurer's office. County Auditor/Treasurer Char Rosenow has begun budget preparations for 2014.
Based on instructions from the Department of Revenue, Rosenow suggested commissioners set the preliminary levy at $26,655,090, up 8 percent from this year. Commissioners unanimously approved. The 2013 levy was passed at $24,548,839, a 0.31 percent decrease from 2012.
County Board Chairman Dan Olson reminded commissioners that the levy cannot go up from the amount proposed but can be reduced. According to the state of Minnesota's formula, the levy could be set at $30 million.
"I think they're wrong, but we have it in writing," Rosenow said. Commissioner Jerry Johnson agreed, suggesting the state legislators "were really tired that last week of session last year."
A budget hearing has been set for December 5 at 6 p.m. in the Public Works building at 526 Willow Drive in Alexandria.
NEW COUNTY SURVEYOR AND APPRAISER
Two new faces will be seen around Douglas County properties.
Pat Veraguth joins the Public Works department as county surveyor. Veraguth comes to Douglas County from Winona County where he worked as surveyor for more than 15 years. Veraguth told commissioners he has heard good things about Douglas County and looks forward to serving.
Steve Christenson has joined the Douglas County Assessor's office from the Land and Resource office. Christenson had been with the Land and Resource office since 2005.
Christenson's transfer has left the Land and Resource office short-handed once again. Land and Resource Management Director Dave Rush advises the public to be patient when placing calls to his office, saying that staff will respond, it just may take a little longer.
"We're spread rather thin in the Land and Resource department these days," Rush said.
Regarding staff turnover, Rush said, "We want good people, not just warm bodies."
Rush has been assisting neighboring Pope County since they were left without a director earlier this year. Amanda Stromer has been hired as Pope's new director, but Rush will be providing support until she is acquainted with the position.
Douglas County Public Health Director Sandy Tubbs was granted permission to hire a new public health nurse. She reported $3,591 in hospice donations for the month of August.