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Geared up for a 'building year'

Ron Allen, who represents District 1 of Goodhue County, was appointed County Board chair at meeting Jan. 7. Allen said the board will focus on infrastructure projects in 2014, including long-awaited Highway 52 interchanges and renovations to county buildings and roads. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

Infrastructure projects will be a top priority for Goodhue County in 2014, newly appointed Board Chair Ron Allen said.

“I think it’s going to be a building year,” Allen said, pointing to a slew of projects designed to make the county safer and more efficient.

After years of discussion and attempts to secure funding, Highway 52 interchanges in Cannon Falls and at County Road 9 are scheduled for completion this fall.

Allen said the projects will be an important safety improvement for county residents.

“These have to be done,” he said. “They’re going to save lives.”

A number of additional county roads will receive attention as well, Allen said, with the county looking to begin repaving and sealing work this year.

Allen said the biggest development this spring will be transferring mental health services to Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center, which entered into a contract with the county to privatize services last year.

“This is an important change because it’s going to be more cost effective for the county and we’re going to provide more services,” Allen said.

The organization has announced plans to open an office in the Red Wing Merchants Bank building and begin seeing patients by April 1.

The county also will roll out an updated website this spring — something Allen said is “way overdue.”

The current website design has been around since 2005, and is beginning to look cluttered, he said. The new layout should be more user-friendly and eventually will allow county residents to pay bills and apply for permits online.

Among the more contentious issues facing the board in 2014 is what to do with the Citizens Building in downtown Red Wing. Commissioners weighed options for the building last year, including renovation or construction a new office at the site of the soon-to-be-demolished Public Health Building nearby.

Allen said it’s not a done deal yet, but the board is leaning toward renovation. The project would add a handicap-accessible entrance, new elevators and a redesigned workspace to improve safety for county employees working in the building.  

A more definite project will be installing backup generators at the Government Center and Public Works shop. Allen said the generators will keep the Justice Center and Public Works going in case of power outage or a crisis, as well as allow departments like Land-use and the Veterans Service Office to remain operational.

This is the second time Allen has been appointed County Board chair since first being elected as District 1 representative in 2005.

The same five commissioners have served on County Board for nearly a decade.

Allen said board members each bring years of experience, adding that their repeat terms have allowed them to research and stay focused on long-term plans.

“There’s a lot of stability here,” Allen said. “We have a very stable board that’s committed to goals such as interchanges, and that’s why they get done.”

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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