The Houston County Board of Commissioners listened as representatives from Southeastern Libraries Cooperating, or SELCO, made a pitch for a new contract.

“There’s a lot of action at the library,” Barb Bissen of the Hokah Public Library reported at the July 15 meeting.

She was joined by library directors from La Crescent, Caledonia and Houston. The presentation also featured programs which were held by the Spring Grove Public Library.

Counted visits to Houston County libraries have tripled in the past eight years, the group added, while attendance at a wide variety of events has doubled.

SELCO is seeking a new three-year contract with a 3 percent increase in funding each year, beginning in calendar year 2015. Houston County funding in 2014 totaled $134,405, or $15.92 per capita for residents not living in cities with SELCO libraries. That leaves the county slightly below the average for 11 SELCO counties ($18.89 per capita in 2012).

Cities which feature SELCO libraries are contributing more per resident. Spring Grove, at $80.65 per capita in 2012, topped the list. The average for all SELCO cities that year was $41.33. Caledonia came in at $17.08, La Crescent $25.42, Hokah $35.17 and Houston $39.79.

Commissioners have not yet set the 2015 budget.

“We’re here to give you the background, to sort of fill you in on what’s been happening in the libraries, and it really is your choice as to how you want to move forward,” SELCO executive director Ann Hutton said.

E-cigarettes and local laws

Public health/nursing director Mary Marchel appeared with Erin Simmons of the American Lung Association. The pair offered a series of additions to county ordinance No. 5, regulating the possession, sale and consumption of tobacco and tobacco-related products, and a new ordinance (no. 14) which specifically addresses electronic delivery devices also known as “e-cigarettes.”

“We really want to stay relevant with what’s happening in the tobacco industry,” Marchel said.

She added that “the heart” of ordinance 14 is this: “The use of any electronic delivery device is prohibited anywhere smoking is prohibited by the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act.” What the ordinance does, basically, is treat e-cigarettes exactly like conventional cigarettes as far as no-smoking zones.

Ordinance No. 5 would be updated to include “nicotine and lobelia delivery devices,” as well as synthetic cannabinoids. The latter category includes a long list of substances, including K2, Spice, Bath Salts and Pandora Potpourri. Sales of those would be a misdemeanor. Also, prohibited tobacco sales (to minors) would now include e-cigarettes.

The board voted unanimously to host a public hearing on the proposed ordinance changes at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 5.

More borrowing by Houston County?

Bruce Kimmel of Ehlers Inc. gave commissioners an overview of the county’s current debt and it’s options as far as further borrowing.

Assuming that the county requires $6 million for capital project financing, Kimmel presented a variety of scenarios, including saving a million dollars annually for six years before breaking ground. Projects include a new highway department headquarters/shop and financing improvements to the Houston County Fairgrounds.

Kimmel assisted the county when bonds were issued for the justice center. He stated that 73 percent of Houston County’s statutory authorization to issue capital improvement bonds remains. A 10-year GO bond taken in August 2015 would probably cost taxpayers $726,180 per year in added levies, while a 20-year bond would cost $440,480 annually.

Total county debt service for taxes payable in 2015 is now at $1,229,372, Kimmel said. For a $100,000 home, property taxes to pay back debt are running about $52 per year, he noted, although the impact on more valuable properties can’t be estimated by simply multiplying that figure. The justice center bonds are set to expire in 2030, but can be “called” beginning in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Finance director Carol Lapham noted that the county’s latest rating (AA standard) is slightly better than the AA- which Ehlers used for its figures. Kimmel said that would shave a bit off of interest rates, bringing the 3.10 percent expected on a 20-year issue down to 3 percent. A 10-year note would probably cost 2.12 percent in fixed interest.

Noting those estimated interest levels, Commissioner Steve Schuldt said, “We’re in an opportune time. If we’re ever going to bond, now’s the time to do it.

“What I would really encourage you to do is, don’t defer those capital projects because they will get more expensive,” Kimmel said, adding, “Either pay cash or issue bonds, or do something together. We’ve seen a lot of counties wait and had those project costs slip away, whether it’s a road project or a building project.”

Jailer/dispatchers hired

The board voted to promote three half-time jailer/dispatchers to full-time status, effective July 27. They are Kelsey Connor, Michael Rasmussen and Michael Meredith. Zachery Swedberg and Scott Rinn were moved from 67-day employees to half-time status. One additional half-time hire will be required, personnel/facilities director Tess Arrick-Kruger said.

Commissioners also accepted the resignation of Houston County EDA Coordinator Rick Howden, who contracted with the county through Community and Economic Development Associates.

Highway votes

The board accepted a low bid from Brennan Construction of Lansing, Iowa, to replace a bridge on County Hwy. 3 for $721,847. Three firms applied for the job, county engineer Brian Pogodzinski reported. The cost came in at approximately 1 percent under the budgeted amount. A $2,772 fencing replacement quote for that job was also approved, along with another stretch of fence along the County Hwy. 8 work zone for $373.

Traffic Marking Services won the county’s annual road striping contract with a bid of $94,090. Pogodzinski said that figure was 2.74 percent under the engineer’s estimate. There were three bidders.

In other news

  • During the public comment session, Jack Knight of the Allamakee County Soil and Water Commission addressed the board on frac sand mining. He stated that new Allamakee County industrial mining regulations are more restrictive than those in parts of neighboring states, and urged commissioners to adopt a similar course of action.

“Houston County is a mirror image of Allamakee County” Knight said. “With the same borders, very similar politics, similar interests in tourism, farming, as well as job development, I would just urge you to do the conservative thing and adopt an ordinance similar to Allamakee County’s.”

  • Commissioners also appointed Carlyn Kraabel to the Houston County Water Planning Board. He will serve the remainder of Roger Stenhoff’s term, which expires Dec. 31.
  • The board approved a date and time for the county auction via their consent agenda. That event will be held at the Houston County Fairgrounds at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13. More than a dozen vehicles are listed for sale, along with a variety of other items.
  • Commissioners also approved the sale of several tax-forfeited properties. Three parcels in La Crescent are “landlocked lots” (valued at $3,200 each), while the fourth in Caledonia features a small house. That parcel is valued at $18,900.
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