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Setting goals one disagreement at a time: Goodhue County in 2019

Brad Anderson

CANNON FALLS—Before the Goodhue County Board members delve into the policies, actions, ordinances and arguments that they want to make in 2019, they needed to set goals so Chair Brad Anderson, commissioners and county staff have an idea as to what will be focused on in the coming months.

In the event room of the Mill Street Tavern in Cannon Falls Thursday, the board and four county staff members began throwing ideas up to see what would stick—literally. Ideas for positions and studies that had at least three commissioners in favor of pursuing them were written on Post-it notes and stuck onto a board.

When the board meets to talk about issues, there is frequently a debate amongst the five men as to how to proceed or what to do about a specific concern. The goal-setting meeting, which involved no final decision making, was no different.

Salaries and solid waste

The first idea raised on Thursday was to revisit the incomes and annual raises that county employees receive. Barney Nesseth, who brought the item to the (dinner) table, expressed that current annual raises are not sustainable. The board began to wonder what a fair wage for a county worker is.

Administrator Scott Arneson told Nesseth, "What I think you think is fair won't hold water."

The topic was jotted onto a Post-it and put on the board. County will revisit this topic later in the year.

The county's solid waste program was also discussed. As the Republican Eagle has reported, there is currently a plan being worked on to close the Bench Street Landfill and send all trash collected in Goodhue County to the Red Wing Solid Waste Campus. County and city staff are advocating for this plan, some commissioners favor of it, and other commissioners oppose it.

The conversation at the goal-setting meeting was a fairly accurate reflection of what happened at the Jan. 8 County Board when commissioners had to decide whether to continue proceeding with the plan the final decision will not be made until this spring).

Arneson explained that this is really the only option for the county, unless commissioners want to pay millions of local tax dollars to clean the landfill.

Nesseth said that the plan is not fair because his constituents will pay more than those closer to Red Wing. Again, nothing was decided at the goal-setting meeting other than that commissioners will revisit it, as they had already planned to do, later in the year.

Levy issues

A common theme throughout the night was the levy that the board passed at the end of 2018. Scott Safe, Paul Drotos and Anderson voted in favor of the levy and Majerus and Nesseth voted against. This divide appeared when the board discussed:

• Ensuring that their capital budget remains steady — Arneson explained that the recent levy had to increase to account for past inconsistent capital budgets.

• During the discussion on analyzing the properties that the county owns and whether to keep them or sell them, the conversation started with looking at properties to see if they should be sold and then transitioned to the fact that some properties are seen as more valuable and thus can be taxed more by the state, to finally debating the need to raise the levy.

• Per diems is one of the topics that Majerus wants to discuss this year. Per diems are the stipends that board members receive when they attend meetings other than regular board meetings. This could be town halls, city councils or a variety of other meetings. According to Melissa Cushing, the county's human resource director, if there are minutes taken at a meeting board members are usually able to claim a per diem.

Majerus does not think it is fair for board members to receive a $20,000 annual salary and then per diems on top of that. He told Anderson and Drotos: You take per diems and you voted to raise taxes and Nesseth and I did not vote to raise taxes and we do not take per diems.

Anderson explained that he will attend at least 16 meetings during January, many of which are all-day meetings. He also spends time preparing for meetings and attending events.

Majerus told Anderson that it is fine that he goes to all of those meetings but "I can't do that because you raised my taxes." At that point Nesseth, who was sitting between the two, pushed the two apart and suggested that the group move on to a different subject.

Despite the tangents and the numerous arguments about the levy and other topics, commissioners succeeded in setting goals and topics to focus on in the 2019 year. Their list of things to work on, from making the jail more cost effective to funding the drug court, ensures that County Board meetings will give commissioners plenty to talk about and numerous chances to debate with one another throughout the year.