By Ivan Raconteur
Two of the five seats on the Wright County board will be on the ballot in November.
One of the incumbents will seek reelection and one will not.
Commissioner Karla Heeter announced Tuesday that after six years on the board, she is leaving at the end of this term to take a position with Allina as executive director of the Buffalo Hospital Foundation.
Heeter, who lives in Silver Creek Township, represents District 1, which includes Annandale, precincts 1 and 2 in the city of Buffalo, and the townships of Chatham, Corinna, Maple Lake and Silver Creek, as well as both the city and the township of Clearwater.
Heeter was first elected to the board in 2003 to fill a partial term through 2004.
During Tuesday’s board meeting, Heeter said she believes it is important to have at least one woman on the board, because this provides a different perspective, and she encouraged women to run for office.
“I enjoy my role, and I have been proud to serve,” Heeter commented.
Commissioner Jack Russek of Delano holds the other seat that is up for election this fall.
Russek stated that he does intend to seek reelection.
Russek was first elected to the county board in 1992. He represents District 3, which includes the City of Delano, precinct 3 in Buffalo, the Wright County portion of the City of Rockford, Rockford Township, the City of Waverly, and Franklin and Woodland townships.
Although the filing period is not yet open, former Delano mayor Jon Steinmetz announced in February that he also intends to run for the District 3 seat.
High school juniors from across Wright County attended Tuesday’s county board meeting and toured other areas of the government center.
The tour was part of the annual American Legion “Boy and Girl County Day.”
Schools represented included St. Michael, Delano, Buffalo, Maple Lake, Monticello, and Cokato.
After brief introductions by the county commissioners, the students had the opportunity to ask questions.
One student asked the board about the biggest project it had worked on.
Commissioner Karla Heeter said the $50 million jail/law enforcement center was the biggest project. It will initially accommodate 340 people, and have the capacity for expansion to house up to 600 inmates, Heeter said.
Commissioner Pat Sawatzke said it costs about $100 per day to house an inmate. The county averages about 130 inmates per day currently, and only has space for about 100. The rest have to be boarded in neighboring counties, wherever space is available.
Sawatzke said the highest costs associated with running a jail is labor, and the new jail was designed to be much more efficient to staff, which he said will reduce costs to between $80 and $90 per day.
Commissioner Jack Russek said in 1993, when the current jail was new, the county budgeted $500,000 annually in income for boarding inmates from Hennepin County.
Today, the county budgets $400,000 annually in expenses for paying other counties to board Wright County inmates.
One student asked Heeter what it is like to be the only woman on the board.
“I think it is important to have a woman on the board. It provides a different perspective,” Heeter replied.
Another student asked the board members what is the most difficult part of being a county commissioner.
Russek said keeping a balanced budget is the most difficult part.
Sawatzke said procedures are the most difficult part.
“We have to have rules and policies, and we have to apply them fairly. I hate to tell people “no” when they have a request that seems legitimate, but sometimes, even if the board thinks it’s a good idea, we just can’t support it,” Sawatzke said.
When asked how many hours per week commissioners put in, board members agreed that it was at least 40.
Heeter said all of the commissioners have five to 15 committee assignments, and are required to attend many day and evening meetings.
“You can’t be a commissioner and have another full-time job. The schedule varies too much,” Heeter commented.
After meeting the county board, the students toured the courts area, and met the county attorney, the sheriff, and the department heads.
Later, the students participated in a game where they were given a courthouse map, and were instructed to locate the correct county department that could help them answer game questions from a list provided.
Jail project update
Sawatzke read the minutes from the April 15 owner’s committee.
One issue that was discussed was overtime.
Rick Streich of A&P Construction told the committee that as a result of losing some days due to inclement weather, the committee may have to authorize the masons to work overtime.
Streich said this change order could result in paying 18-20 workers an extra $15-$30 per hour for eight hours.
Sawatzke expressed concern about this, and said the mason’s contract should cover overtime needed to meet construction schedules. He said he was concerned about the precedent the county would set by paying overtime.
It was unknown at the time if a change order will be needed, or if the contractor will find enough funds in its budget to cover the cost of the overtime.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• accepted a $500 donation from the Wright County Horticulture Society for the purchase of shade trees in Schroeder and Otsego county parks. Society representative Bev Johnson told the board that the group raises funds by selling perennials from the members’ own gardens during its annual plant sale. This year, the sale will take place Saturday, May 17 from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Sturgis Park in Buffalo.
• authorized commissioners to attend a Wright County Futures Project meeting Thursday, May 15 at 6 p.m. in the Rockford Township Hall.