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Kandiyohi County, Minn., pledges collaboration with city divisions

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Kandiyohi County, Minn., pledges collaboration with city divisions
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR - Cooperating and collaborating with other units of government isn't the "wave of the future," said Kandiyohi County Chairman Harlan Madsen. "It is the future."


It's also the past and the present for Kandiyohi County, which Madsen said has established multi-jurisdictional programs that have benefitted all entities and was one of the first counties in the state to hold regular meetings with city and school officials.

Madsen made the comments Tuesday during the board meeting when he reiterated the county's commitment to working with other local units of government.

But, said Madsen, proposals to cooperate must be "feasible" and all of the parties must be "engaged" in the discussion.

Although he did not say it publicly, the comments were in response to a recent proposal from Willmar Mayor Frank Yanish to merge the city, county and Willmar Municipal Utilities' human resources functions under one department. Yanish made the proposal in a "white paper" published recently on the city's website.

The proposal had never been discussed with county officials.

Madsen said when there's a broad range of stakeholders, it doesn't work for one entity to "promote" a project without engaging the others.

He also said projects need to be based on "good solid data" and discussion, and they should not be an attempt to fit "square pegs in round holes."

County Administrator Larry Kleindl, who heard about the mayor's proposal by reading it on the website, said in an earlier interview that merging the HR functions would not be feasible.

On Tuesday, Kleindl told the commissioners that he would never initiate a collaborative project without first discussing it with the board. "You won't find out through other sources," he said. "I'd never do anything to catch you off guard."

Madsen said it's important to avoid issues that could "derail" the process of cooperation.

Commissioner Jim Butterfield said it's important for the county and city to "keep our eyes open" for new ways to cooperate. He said sometimes a little patience is needed to get to the end result of cost-savings for both entities and taxpayers.

The county and city are currently working to merge their Housing and Redevelopment Authority programs. The process has lasted 1½ years and could take another year to complete, in part because of data privacy issues, said Madsen.

Part of the county's project to remodel its downtown office building is being done with the hopes the city and county assessors' offices can be combined as well.

In another nod to intergovernmental cooperation, the commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding with the Minnesota Department of Transportation for a process to determine section line corners on property along state Highway 23 from New London to Paynesville.

The project, which will include digging up and patching existing road surfaces, is being done to ensure the property is properly identified prior to drawing up construction plans.

With the priority given to finishing the four-lane gap between New London and Paynesville, Madsen said it's important to get the necessary ground work done. There's been no timeline given for when that stretch of road will be developed into four lanes, but Madsen said the agreement between the county and state will ensure there are no roadblocks to future plans.

Meanwhile, the commissioners set a road and bridge meeting for 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. July 1 at the Highway Department to evaluate long-range construction plans and discuss transportation funding options approved this year by the Legislature, including a county-imposed wheelage tax.

Counties have the option to impose a $10 annual tax on vehicles kept in the county as a way to raise funds for road construction.

Kleindl said material costs for road construction continue to increase and the county may want to consider using some of the state's new "tools in our chest" to fund highway projects.

In other action:

*A bid of $414,612 from Swenson & Sons of New London was approved to construct a final cover at the landfill. The bid was nearly $190,000 below the engineer's estimate.

*A conditional use permit was approved for Jared and Amanda Groebner for a home extended business in Gennessee Township to make furniture out of reclaimed wood. Sales will be primarily Internet-based.

*The commissioners were informed that a team of employees who help public assistance recipients obtain jobs received the statewide award for exceptional performance. The team, which includes employees that work with the Minnesota Family Investment Program and the Willmar Workforce Center, was praised for meeting goals that resulted in more than $200,000 in bonus funding for the county.

Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750