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Will Freeborn County Fair go on as usual?

County board begins discussions about area’s largest summer event

Freeborn County Administrator Tom Jensen advised county commissioners Tuesday they may soon have to make a difficult decision about whether the Freeborn County Fair will be possible this summer amid concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fair, which this year is slated to take place Aug. 4 through Aug. 9, typically brings over 100,000 people into the gates of the county fairgrounds, Jensen said.

“When people gather, that’s when the virus spreads, and it spreads dramatically,” he said.

He noted the decision would have to be made at the county level, though he has been in discussions with fair manager Mike Woitas, as well.

Jensen said people can’t follow social distancing guidelines at the fair and asked the commissioners to think of the elbow-to-elbow people in the beer garden on any given night during the fair.

“It’s just not the right thing to do,” he said.

He noted the unofficial advice he has received is that events scheduled for June will not be able to happen, while there is a 5% chance an event in July can take place and a one-in-three chance at best that an event will be able to take place in August.

He said he recognizes it will be a difficult decision but noted the quicker the board can decide what it will do will allow people to make alternative plans.

The discussion comes as Jensen said Freeborn County has the sixth-highest rate of the virus per capita in the state. At the top is Nobles County, which had 101 cases, according to the Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday.

“It’s here, and it’s moving around pretty good, but we’re doing our best to contain it,” he said.

Jensen said the county has implemented a hiring freeze across all departments at this time unless deemed essential.

He said he and Freeborn County Auditor-Treasurer Pat Martinson plan to present a plan at the May 5 meeting regarding possible relief for property tax penalties, and there is also some discussion regarding property taxes on the state level.

He also noted he and staff are working on a soft opening plan for the county buildings when the county is allowed to reopen. He advised the county would not simply open the doors and let people come through as they could before the pandemic, but noted there will be changes such as screenings and other adjustments, such as separators installed in the auditor-treasurer’s office to separate staff from people who come in to pay taxes or get questions answered.

The commissioners voted to continue the closure of all Freeborn County buildings until further notice due to COVID-19.

In other action, the county:

• Approved providing a letter of support for air ambulance services by MercyOne, after it is reviewed by the county attorney. The health organization is applying for a state permit to do so.

Freeborn County Attorney David Walker questioned whether there were any legal ramifications in doing so and asked what implications there would be for the county to provide the letter.

Second District Commissioner Dan Belshan said he didn’t see how it could hurt the county and thought of it as “the more, the merrier.”

Walker will review the letter after it is written.

• Accepted the resignation of Freeborn County Highway Engineer Sue Miller.

Jensen said Miller had accepted a new position that has not been made public yet.

She will likely work for the county through the end of May or beginning of June.

The board voted to refill her position, and Belshan asked Jensen to look into the possibility of a shared position with another entity.

• Approved the order for the two-stage ditch repair of County Ditch J9.

• Approved 3.2 beer and wine on-sale licenses for Freeborn Lake Golf Course and Harmony Park. The board also approved a 2 a.m. closing time for Harmony Park, which is the same as in recent years.

• Appointed Steve Kraushaar to a three-year term on the Cedar River Watershed District

• Placed Marissa Thompson and Christian Carlson, detention deputies, on regular full-time status.

• Placed Amanda Vaith, dispatcher, on regular full-time status.

• Approved hiring two additional full-time LTC nurses or social workers in the Public Health Department.

• Accepted the resignation of Corey Youngberg, a detention deputy.

• Accepted a $200 donation for the Crime Victims Crisis center.