By Anna Jauhola
The Kittson County Commission approved hiring a new county assessor during its regular meeting on Tuesday, July 16.
Heather Bruley, who currently works for the Polk County assessor’s office, is “highly qualified” and interviewed for the position recently with Eric Christensen, county administrator, and Tim Swenson, assistant assessor. After the meeting, Christensen emailed Bruley with the offer of employment, and she accepted the position, he said.
Christensen distributed a sheet of paper with terms which Bruley, Christensen and Swenson agreed are reasonable and in line with Bruley’s qualifications.
“She is completely agreeable to everything on this paper,” Christensen said. “Her request is to start Sept. 9.”
The offer of employment paper states Bruley’s pay will be $40.28 per hour, which amounts to $83,782.40 per year.
“It is unusual to start someone this high up, but she will have all the qualifications by January,” Christensen said. He added that Bruley is already an Accredited Minnesota Assessor (AMA) and will receive her Senior Accredited Minnesota Assessor (SAMA) qualification in January. To be hired as a county assessor, the person must acquire their SAMA qualification within two years of being hired, Christensen said.
Since Bruley took the job, Kittson County will reimburse Polk County for the remainder of Bruley’s training for her SAMA qualifications, he added, as counties are responsible for paying for an assessor’s training.
She will receive all benefits accorded to county employees per county policy, including health insurance or payment in lieu of insurance, short-term disability and life insurance.
In her interview with the county, Bruley asked for a few concessions. Because her husband still has a job in Crookston, Bruley will not be moving to Kittson County at this time. She asked for the ability to work either four 10-hour days a week or five 8-hour days with the option of working one of them from home. She also asked for flexibility to work from home during inclement weather and if there is no school or daycare. Christensen noted that former assessor Marian Paulson did “quite a lot of work from home.”
She also asked the county pay for relevant work-related continuing education, membership in professional organizations and provide a county vehicle for travel or pay mileage.
At her one-year review, she asked the county consider negotiating a relocation allowance.
Christensen said he and Swenson had no issues with these terms and the commission agreed.
“We’re excited,” Christensen said. “She seems like a super person. She’s very personable. She’s very impressive.”
The commission accepted the formal resignation of Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Porter, who sent a letter to the board earlier in the month. Christensen said the letter stated Porter’s effective date of resignation was Tuesday, July 9. However, he would not read any more of the letter citing HIPAA restrictions.
“Per instructions, the Minnesota PERA letter will be received in accordance with statute 299A.465. I’m going to need a motion to continue to pay health insurance benefits for Steve Porter until he reaches the age of 65,” Christensen said.
He said the statute he cited requires the county to continue paying Porter’s health insurance. However, due to HIPAA regulations, Christensen refused to discuss which section of the statute applied to Porter’s situation.
Porter held the position of sheriff through the end of 2018 and was reinstated as a deputy in early 2019, but did not return to work. He remained on paid, and later unpaid, leave until he put in his resignation in July.
Christensen told the commissioners he would answer questions about the statute, but not in regards to Porter and said, “Read the statute and figure it out.”
The statute, which is available at revisor.mn.gov, has several subdivisions regarding continued health insurance coverage through the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA). The subdivisions deal with an officer or firefighter disabled in the line of duty, an officer or firefighter killed in the line of duty, a volunteer firefighter killed in the line of duty, the coordination of benefits, public employer reimbursement, definitions of each entity within the statute, and the minimum benefits.
Due to heavy rains on Monday, July 8, water flooded a portion of the basement in the courthouse in Hallock. Christensen told the commission he was called in at 7 p.m. and found water had backed into the sheriff’s office area because an external drainage pipe was broken. On top of that, the streets were flooded, so the water had nowhere to go. Personnel on duty along with Christensen and firefighters from Karlstad, Hallock and surrounding departments helped clean up the mess.
“There was minimal damage,” Christensen said. “Some boxes in the vault got wet and we had water into the cells. We were able to keep it out of dispatch, but not out of the office area. And it did come out into the hallway.”
They ran sump pumps in the basement, where water had pooled to the bottom of the stairwell, and got water pumped into sinks. Christensen said they are working to replace the plastic PVC pipe that failed with something that will better withstand winter weather.
In other business, the commission:
• Approved a contract with Knife River Materials for the reconstruction of the curve on County Road 7 near the Red River.
• Approved a revised agreement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad for cost of sand per cubic yard. The original agreement was for 3,000 cubic yards of sand for $1 per cubic yard. “They changed their minds,” said Kelly Bengtson, county engineer. “You signed the agreement, I sent it, then they called the next day and said, ‘We made a mistake. We can’t do that.’” The revised agreement changed the cost to $2.50 per cubic yard for an unlimited amount of sand. Bengtson said this change does not affect the county’s road research project and that the $15,000 grant will still cover the cost.
• Approved Sheriff Mark Wilwant to purchase a printing unit to create ID cards for gun permits, instead of paper permits. The money his department receives from gun permitting can only be used for items related to gun permitting. Wilwant said the machine costs $2,883.20 and the money is in his gun permit fund, which exceeds $20,000. The machine comes with the camera and backdrop to do photos for the ID cards, and the unit can be used to create other ID cards for anyone, such as county employees and fire departments.
• Accepted the resignations of dispatchers Brittany Kraska and Brooke Finney; Approved hiring Shelby Lee as a full-time dispatcher; Approved Wilwant to place an advertisement for a full-time dispatcher and part-time dispatcher.
• Approved Wilwant to place an advertisement for a full-time deputy sheriff.
• Approved Bengtson to acquire right-of-way to replace a 10×6-foot box culvert on County Road 14 north of Karlstad prior to resurfacing the road this summer.
• Approved a bridge priorities resolution update, which includes future bridge bonding requests for structures on County Roads 1, 14 and 6.
• Approved the highway department spending $2,000 for Burgess’s Greenhouse to plant tall prairie grasses and shrubs at the highway department building. Bengtson said the money was budgeted to fix the quonset building, but his employees did that and saved on cost.
• Approved legal ditch spraying maps for cattails and brush.
• Approved an agreement between the Kittson County Licensing Department and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources regarding licensing for recreational vehicles such as ATVs, UTVs and snowmobiles.
• Approved Deputy Registrar Shirley Swenson to apply for the ability to again sell fishing and hunting licenses at the license office in the courthouse. She said they often have people come in to renew licenses on their recreational vehicles and ask if they can purchase hunting or fishing licenses there too. There are only four other locations in the county where the public can buy these licenses – Gullander’s Hardware in Hallock, Bernstrom Oil in Lancaster, Farmers Union Oil Company in Lake Bronson, and Underdahl Hardware Hank in Karlstad. The county will not be taking business away from those locations, but rather offering another location to get those licenses.
• Approved the highway department union’s request to participate in the Central Pension Fund, which is at the employees’ expense.
• Approved a renewed cocktail room license for Far North Spirits at $300, and approved a renewed micro distillery off sale license for Far North at $150.
• Approved the group Medicare insurance plan contracts for 2019.
• Set the first budget committee meeting for 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 6.
The Kittson County Commission will meet again in regular session at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 6 in the commission room in the courthouse.
By Anna Jauhola