County hears about homeless problemHomelessness, increased fees for food, beverage and lodging licenses, the floodplain ordinance and law enforcement center were all topics at Tuesday’s regular Douglas County Board Meeting.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
Homelessness, increased fees for food, beverage and lodging licenses, the floodplain ordinance and law enforcement center were all topics at Tuesday’s regular Douglas County Board Meeting.
Connie Nelson from the Homeless to Housed Coalition spoke before the commissioners, asking them to approve a proclamation designating November as Homeless Awareness Month.
Nelson noted that more than 60 people in Douglas County do not have a house, apartment or any other form of housing to call home.
This past summer, the Community Impact Coalition, a program of the United Way of Pope and Douglas Counties, hosted its second annual Project Community Connect, at which time more than 60 people who attended the event identified themselves as homeless.
The proclamation states that ending homelessness is critical to the vitality of families, schools, businesses and communities within Douglas County.
In addition, the document stated that the Douglas County Homeless to Housed Committee seeks to bring both awareness and an end to homelessness by coordinating a community response to address the issues of homelessness.
The board approved the proclamation in a 4-0 vote. (Commissioner Norm Salto was absent from the meeting.)
Public Health Director Sandy Tubbs asked the board to consider approving an increase for 2010 for food, beverage and lodging license fees.
The proposed fee increase is 5 percent.
The base fee for food, beverage and lodging establishments is currently $185. The new fee would be $195.
Tubbs explained to the commissioners that the sole source of funding for the Douglas and Pope Counties Environmental Health Department, which handles the licenses for food, beverage and lodging, is from the fees.
“We solely rely on these fees to make our budget,” she said. “If we don’t increase the fees and then use our fund balance, we will have to subsidize the program.”
After about a 15-minute discussion on the issue, the board approved the fee increases with a 3-1 vote. Commissioner Jerry Johnson voted against the 5 percent fee increase.
Dave Rush, director of Douglas County’s Land and Resource Management, asked the board to approve a new floodplain ordinance, which he said had very few changes.
Rush explained that the floodplain is now based on elevation and that the ordinance does not allow structures to be built in a floodplain area.
If there is a structure currently located in a floodplain area, there are restrictions for remodeling those structures, he said.
Rush also said that although Douglas County can have input into how floodplain areas are determined, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) establishes where and what those areas are.
He said that the new floodplain ordinance, along with a map showing the areas, is available on the county’s website at www.co.douglas.mn.us.
Law enforcement center
Although no board action was needed on the subject of the law enforcement center (LEC), County Coordinator Bill Schalow discussed the issue with the commissioners.
He explained that there are two parts to the remodeling project – the old jail located in the lower level of the courthouse and the LEC building itself.
Commissioner Dan Olson said that before any work is done, the commissioners need to know what the costs are going to be.
Schalow said the jail committee is working on that and that it asked architects to look into what it would cost to reconfigure the old jail. He indicated that nothing has been done about the LEC.
It was determined that the reconfiguring or remodeling of the old jail and the LEC project are two separate issues and that the board is currently focusing on the old jail project.
Commissioner Jerry Johnson stated, however, that “at this point we shouldn’t be spending money on anything.”
Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen spoke up and told the board he needed some clarification.
“What about the LEC? I asked for direction and now what I heard today is do nothing. I’m confused. I have heard so many different things,” Wolbersen told commissioners.
Commissioner Johnson said, “That’s where I would be. Do nothing. Not until we have costs aligned.”
Board Chair Bev Bales told the sheriff that the commissioners have to look at the old jail first and then they can start looking at the LEC.
“We will keep you abreast of what’s going on. We will keep you informed,” she told Wolbersen.
Wolbersen told the commissioners he needed some direction on what to do because the LEC is in need of repairs – the roof continues to leak and something needs to be done about the carpeting, among other items.
“I am asking the board to give me some direction,” Wolbersen said. “We have put off a lot of [maintenance] issues because we have always thought it was a new jail/LEC project.”
It was later determined it was not the roof that was leaking, but that water was coming from washing machines used by inmates when doing their laundry, according to Commissioner Bales, who contacted the newspaper Thursday morning.
After more discussion and no decisions, Wolbersen told the commissioners again, “Am I to look at costs? I haven’t gotten an answer. I don’t mean to be a pain, but I need direction.”
Johnson mentioned that there is a building committee for the LEC and that maybe the committee can take a look at the issues.
“I would say for right now to be patient or more patient,” said Johnson.