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County board approves resolutions to move renovation project forward

By Anna Jauhola
The Kittson County Commissioners approved two resolutions on Wednesday, Feb. 21 to move forward with a renovation project. Five members of the public attended a public hearing regarding the county’s proposed bonding measure to renovate the courthouse and update county highway buildings.
During the hearing, the Kittson County Commis-sion, along with Johnson Controls, gave a brief introduction of the need for the project, which is estimated to cost nearly $8 million – most of which is for the courthouse at $6.427 million.
The nearly 60-year-old courthouse still has its original two-pipe heating and cooling system. Travis Pawloski, project manager from Johnson Controls, said there are leaks in the tunnels because the piping is deteriorated and scaled up.
“The piping is deteriorated to the point that it needs to be replaced,” he said. “Some of the induction units, the piping up to them, is leaking so they cannot be used at this point for their capabilities, which is causing issues at the courthouse.”
Pawloski and Nick Thomes, account representative, went through the rest of the issues:
• The induction units will also be replaced due to leaking and not working correctly. The whole building’s HVAC system is controlled through one computer that is operating on Windows XP and Windows 7. “Currently, it’s tethered to one PC. If that went down, it would be in tough shape,” Thomes said. A new system would allow for remote access as well as through computers at the courthouse.
• The project calls for better cooling units in the courthouse’s three server rooms to ensure optimal temperature control.
• Johnson Controls would test and balance all the registers to ensure proper airflow and improve comfort and efficiency within individual spaces.
• The fire alarm system is antiquated and there are no parts available to service it; same goes for the highway department shop’s system.
• When they remove the ceilings to place piping, Johnson Controls also proposes to upgrade the lighting to LED throughout the courthouse. Pawloski said they will work with Otter Tail Power Company for rebates, which are not factored into the overall cost yet. The upgrades will save on energy costs and provide better lighting.
• Most of the courthouse’s electrical services are original, which means replacement parts are not readily available. If the electrical system went down, Pawloski said it would be at least a year before they could get a replacement panel board control center. Johnson Controls recommends replacing the main panel along with all other panels throughout the building.
• Johnson Controls would also remove the boilers and other components in the former boiler room to make it a usable space.
• The windows are original and also on the list for replacement as they are showing their age. New windows will help with energy efficiency.
• At the Hallock highway department main office, Johnson Controls proposed replacing the roofing, soffit and fascia, heating upgrades in the shop area, and new overhead doors.
• In Northcote, Johnson Controls proposed new siding, roofing and framing in an overhead door, along with lighting and electrical, in the tax-forfeit building the county has for cold storage. Also, they plan to build a new highway shop in the same vicinity to replace the aging Humboldt shop.
• Finally, the project calls for upgrades to the Kennedy highway shop, which is in terrible condition – new siding, windows, adding gutters, exhaust fan, occupancy sensor, new LED exterior lighting, Mouseguard and wainscot, and replacing the overhead doors. This is the one project suggestion that is tabled with the possibility that the county may instead build a new shop in Kennedy.
Joel Muir, of Hallock, asked whether it’s fiscally feasible to build a highway shop at Northcote when it’s only 6 miles from Hallock’s main shop. Commissioner Ryan Swenson said the shop will house the Humboldt motor grader and another motor grader from the Hallock shop.
“The routes worked out for those two graders – they’re on the edge of their routes,” Swenson said. “It worked out better for the machine parked in the wash bay to run along with him out of that same shop.”
Previously, the highway department noted the three overhead garage doors at the main shop in Hallock had been replaced in 2021. Commissioner Loren Younggren acknowledged there are items in the highway department portion of the project that will be reviewed, including the shop doors and the Kennedy shop.
Also, the commission plans to bond for the highway department projects, but are not committed to Johnson Controls to handle them. They are still working on gathering other bids for those projects.
George Eilertson of Northland Securities appeared virtually to answer questions about bonding and present the two resolutions needed to move the project forward. He said the county plans to bond for no more than $8 million, which will have a 3.34 percent interest rate. Eilertson presented estimated numbers. Here are a few examples. The annual debt service will be $680,047. Taxes on a $100,000 home will be $27.02 annually. Taxes on a $250,000 commercial-industrial property would be $160.04. Homesteaded agricultural property with a value of $2,000 will be taxed 38 cents per acre. Non-homesteaded agricultural property with a value of $2,000 will be taxed 75 cents per acre. The full tax impact analysis is available at the county administrator’s office. The bond would be paid back over 15 years.
He also mentioned the county could receive a better bond rating once the county’s 2021 and 2022 financial statement audits are complete.
Hallock resident Terry Ogorek asked why the 2021 and 2022 financial audits aren’t complete.
Chief Financial Officer Shirley Swenson said the switchover a few years ago to a different tax system has caused complications.
“We’re trying to catch up. The auditors are here today and we hope to have an answer today and get 2021 and 2022 completed relatively soon,” she said. Brady Martz is the county’s audit firm.
Hallock resident Jim Johnson asked whether the bond interest rate would lower if the audits came back clean. Eilertson said the rate would likely stay pretty similar.
Johnson also asked whether Johnson Controls currently has a standing relationship with Kittson County and if someone checks on the fire system. Pawloski said they manage the HVAC system and work with the fire department.
It was brought up, should the county not spend all of the $8 million bonded, what happens to the extra funds. Younggren said the county will only pay back how much it actually borrows.
“If we borrow $7 million of that $8 million, then we pay back on $7 million,” he said.
Ogorek asked if the total project cost might change after bidding. Pawloski said Johnson Controls guarantees its pricing presented as they work with SourceWell and have worked out the pricing with them. The project doesn’t include contingency costs yet, so that may have to be considered. But Pawloski said he doesn’t like change orders, so he will work to mitigate those.
Once the commission voted to close the public hearing, they voted to pass the two resolutions. First, they approved Resolution 2024-06 which gives preliminary approval to issue general obligation capital improvement bonds no more than $8 million, and adopts the capital improvement plan for the county.
Second they approved Resolution 2024-07, which establishes a reimbursement bond. This allows the county to start the project prior to receiving bonding money by paying for one or two months of costs out of reserves. Once they receive bonds, they can repay themselves for the amount spent.

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