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Granite Falls Advocate Tribune - Granite Falls, MN
  • Yellow Medicine courthouse swamped with rain

  • YMC Board receives news that several inches of water have flooded the basement of the courthouse building.
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    An extra inch of rain Saturday night was just enough to cause major flooding in the basement of the courthouse building, County Administrator Peg Heglund announced at the Tuesday afternoon County Board meeting.
    The Public Health and Veteran’s Affairs offices had several inches of standing water on top of the carpet, causing damage and a foul emanating smell.
    “If you went in there right now you would gag,” County Administrator Peg Heglund said. “It is just awful.”
    The water came from groundwater seepage and not backed-up sewage, although there are still health risks involved. Mold has already started to grow on some of the sheetrock, and with an interconnected air and cooling system that runs through the entire courthouse building, mold prevention becomes the priority.
    Although removing the carpets and cleanup was deemed essential, despite the $5,000 to $8,000 quoted price, how much restoration to do in the midst of a new courthouse project was up in the air.
    “It doesn’t make sense to pour a bunch of money into it if we are moving everything so soon,” County Commissioner John Berends said.
     The affected office workers have been moved temporarily, but a long-term solution was not decided. Heglund will be looking into renting space in empty buildings downtown as a possible measure until the new courthouse is built.
    Clarkfield Legal Contract
    The board was in favor of contracting with the City of Clarkfield for legal services.
    In a contract similar to that of that to the City of Echo, the county attorney’s office will cover just the criminal cases for Clarkfield. Dave Gilbertson, Clarkfield’s city attorney, will still be covering his same job duties with the exception of misdemeanors and city ordinances. The county attorneys are already legally obligated to be involved in cases of gross misdemeanors or felonies.
    “We looked at the case load, and we think we can manage,” County Attorney Keith Helgeson said.
    Helgeson noted that if other cities in the county start contracting for the same service, they may have to say no if the work load becomes undoable for the county office.
    Pending lawsuits
    Peg Heglund notified the board that the county is involved in five potential lawsuits based on allegations of misuse of driver’s license information.
    Five individuals have been able to track their misused information back to a Yellow Medicine County office after county employees allegedly violated the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act.
    “Unfortunately, we’ve gotten involved in it,” Heglund said. “It should never, ever happen again – but we got caught.” 
    Page 2 of 2 - YMC is one of 36 counties that is currently under investigation for similar breaches of trust. Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust (MCIT) is defending the county.
    More than 50 similar lawsuits have been brought against law enforcement agencies statewide including over 1,200 claims against 229 Minnesota cities, according to  the League of Minnesota Cities.
    In other news
    • County Commissioner John Berends reported that the county would no longer be paying for the Westlaw law library service, offered in the county jail and other such terminals, due to the high price of subscription.
    “I can’t see paying $48,000 for a subscription used only three to four times a year,” Berends said.
    The Westlaw terminals became even more of a hassle when the State of Minnesota dropped terminal support, leading those who wished to use them to have to figure them out on their own.
    $10 from every ticket goes toward the reserves that pay for the Westlaw subscription fee, which is a service utilized for legal advice. Currently Yellow Medicine County has roughly $70,000 in reserves, which would normally have just continued to go toward the rarely-used subscription only.
    Other counties in the past have used physical law libraries or law book sharing systems
    Instead, it was proposed that the Westlaw terminals get hooked up to the internet where other free resources are available online.
    The $10 fee legally must continue for the next six months before it is abolished.
    • Peg Heglund recommended that the board instate the wheelage tax authorized by the State of Minnesota. The Transportation Appropriations bill passed into law in 2013 allowed all 87 Minnesota counties the ability to tax each vehicle $10.
    The county rejected a wheelage tax in 2013, but the calculated lost tax revenue was $114,420. Heglund recommended not only taxing each vehicle the cap of $10 and applying to highway department projects only, but also reducing the property taxes by the same amount.
    Although the board made no decision, they must notify the state by August 1 if they wish to collect for 2014.
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