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Another week, another twist in the Wright Co. transit saga
MAY 12, 2014

County to consider another provider

By Ivan Raconteur
Herald Journal Editor

A potential new player has emerged in Wright County’s quest for transportation service.

The county has been looking at options to provide transit service after River Rider Transit ceases operation June 30.

The county considered a joint powers agreement with Glencoe-based Trailblazer Transit, which serves McLeod and Sibley counties, but negotiations were terminated in April.

Wright County approached Tri-CAP Transportation, but Tri-CAP was unable to take on Wright County at this time.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Pat Sawatzke said he has been in contact with Midwest Paratransit Services.

The company is based in Maple Grove, and provides transit service in Hennepin and Washington counties.

Sawatzke said the company operates about 40 buses, and owns a building in Buffalo.

The board discussed exploring an agreement with Midwest Paratransit.

“We have nothing to lose,” Commissioner Mike Potter commented.

The board authorized Sawatzke and Potter to meet with Midwest Paratransit to discuss options.

Meanwhile, some Wright County cities have joined forces, and have been working with Trailblazer Transit.

The cities took this initiative after negotiations between Trailblazer and the county broke down.

Even supporters have noted the city option is not perfect, because it does not cover all of the county, but the goal has been to get something in place by July 1.

Commissioner Mark Daleiden suggested the county could work with the cities on a joint powers agreement to negotiate with Trailblazer.

He noted the county does not have a lot of other options.

Board Chair Christine Husom said she would like to make amends with commissioners from McLeod and Sibley counties. She said the cities would like to have the county work with them on the joint powers agreement.

Borrell said the cities are doing a good job. He said what Trailblazer is offering the cities is different than what it offered the county.

“We didn’t get anything but ‘take it or leave it,’” Borrell said.

Daleiden pointed out the situation with the cities is different than with the county, because it involves service only in specific cities.

“I think the county needs to step up and look at it as an investment in the future,” Daleiden said.

He added that the county should provide a transit system that will work for everyone in the county.

Sawatzke said he was open to exploring the idea of working with the cities.

“Even if you made this a countywide system, there are going to be parts of the county that aren’t served. You aren’t going to drive down to Stockholm Township and pick someone up, because it is too far out of the way,” Borrell said.

Husom suggested the county should at least try to match the service that has been in place, which accounted for 50,000 rides annually.

Campground manager position discussed

Parks Administrator Marc Mattice told the board the longtime manager of Schroeder Park announced her retirement last Monday.

He proposed appointing two part-time seasonal workers as interim co-campground managers at Schroeder Park, at a wage of $13.28 per hour, until the manager position can be filled.

The two staff members have worked in the park four and six years, respectively. They have been managing the campground since it opened for the season.

The position will be posted with a closing date of May 18. Interviews will be conducted the week of May 26.

The board approved the request.

In related business, the board approved improvements to the campground manager’s house.

Mattice said it still has the original carpets from 1979, the walls have not been painted, and other repairs are needed.

Campground managers are allowed to live in the house rent-free during the season, April through October. They may choose to live in the house the rest of the year, but must pay rent during the off-season.

The board approve the request for repairs and improvements, not to exceed $10,000.

Corrections officer week

The board adopted a resolution proclaiming May 4-10 corrections officer and employee week.

Jail Administrator Pat O’Malley said there are 62 employees in the jail division who are not often seen or thought about by the public.

Jails hold every type of criminal, charged with every type of crime, O’Malley said, and their criminal behavior does not stop just because they are in jail.

One corrections officer typically manages 40 to 60 inmates, O’Malley noted.

Funding policy questioned

A recommendation from the transportation committee of the whole meeting proved controversial.

The board was asked to adopt a resolution for a cost participation policy under which there would be a 50/50 cost split between the county and city for curb and gutter installation, based on a survey of other counties.

Sawatzke said for the 23 years he has been on the board, the highway department argued curb and gutter is a city expense; the county has not paid for these items.

Sawatzke said he opposed the recommendation on the grounds of fairness, and because it would increase the cost to the county. Sawatzke said either county taxes will go up, or fewer road projects will be done. He said he was not going to vote for it.

Commissioner Charlie Borrell said these projects are in the cities, and that’s where the funding should come from.

The most recent resolution regarding funding policy was adopted in 1993.

Commissioner Mike Potter made a motion to approve the resolution as recommended.

Commissioner Mark Daleiden offered a friendly amendment to remove the 50/50 split, and insert “by negotiation.” Each project would be judged by its own merit, Daleiden said.

Borrell suggested adding “by negotiation not to exceed 50 percent county share.”

Sawatzke made a motion to amend to change concrete curb and gutter to zero percent county, and 100 percent city. The amendment was not accepted by the motion maker (Potter).

Sawatzke made a motion to amend to keep the one item the way it is (the county paying nothing for concrete curb and gutter). The motion failed 3-2, with Sawatzke and Borrell in favor.

The original motion with the amendment by negotiation not to exceed 50 percent county share was still under discussion.

Borrell said the board needs to give more direction to the highway department.

Hawkins said it would be cleaner to have percentage set in the policy.

Hawkins noted “contributing flow” is a way to apportion costs for urban drainage system (which includes curb and gutter).

The proposed resolution was amended to state cost split would be based on percentage of county contributing flow, not to exceed 50 percent. The resolution passed unanimously.

Odds and ends

In other business, the board:

• scheduled a committee of whole meeting with 10th Judicial District Tuesday, May 27 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

• approved seasonal bids for the highway department including plant mixed materials, pavement marking, sealcoating, and pavement preservation.

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