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County board approves appointment of auditor-treasurer

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-1 to move from an elected to appointed auditor-treasurer and approved the contract with Pat Martinson for the position.

Second District Commissioner Dan Belshan, who said he thought appointing the position at this time seemed premature and unnecessary, was the sole vote against the measure.

Pat Martinson

“It appears we’re trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist yet,” Belshan said. 

The county has considered moving toward an appointed auditor-treasurer and recorder since last year out of concern that candidates for both positions only need to have $50 and be Freeborn County residents to run for office — despite the numerous requirements the positions hold and the multi-millions that the Auditor-Treasurer’s Office works with. 

Auditor-Treasurer Pat Martinson and Recorder Kelly Callahan were most recently elected in 2018 and had been set to serve elected terms through the first Tuesday in 2023. 

The board voted Tuesday only on the auditor-treasurer position as Callahan had not signed off yet on his proposed recorder contract.

Belshan questioned whether it would cost the county more to switch the positions to appointed positions at this time, with the costs of benefits, vacation and PTO, and asked whether the board could wait to take action until the end of the elected terms. 

He said the public voted to put Martinson and Callahan into their positions, and he didn’t want to take away their vote.

“Let the term run out,” Belshan said. 

First District Commissioner Glen Mathiason said the concern is that there is a possibility that one of the two could retire before the end of their elected term, and then the county would have to take on the cost of a special election if the appointment was not in place. 

Martinson has worked for the Auditor-Treasurer’s Office since 1990 and began as the county’s auditor-treasurer in 2013 after former Auditor-Treasurer Dennis Distad retired. 

Freeborn County Administrator Tom Jensen said Martinson’s contract in the appointed position includes a salary of $92,892, which is about $800 more than what she had made in the elected position for 2020. He said this placed her on the closest step on the county’s salary grid without taking money away, which state statute does not allow. 

For 2021, Martinson will receive a 2% cost of living increase and step increase like all other county employees, which would equate to an about 4.25% salary increase, Jensen said. He noted in the past, elected officials had received anywhere from a zero to 7.4% percent annual increase in salary with the average being 5.2%. 

The administrator said Martinson will receive a bank of 80 hours of PTO. 

Martinson’s contract begins 30 days from Tuesday and expires the first Tuesday of 2023, which is when her elected term would have ended. Jensen said he will ask the board in late 2022 to consider a new contract at that time. 

Jensen said his office had not received any public comments on the issue, and no one spoke in favor or against during the public hearing ahead of the vote. 

Fifth District Commissioner Mike Lee said he had a few people who contacted him who weren’t in favor of the appointments, but once he explained to them the reasoning behind the change, they understood. He said while he did have some reservations about taking away voting rights, he understood why in this case it would need to be done. 

In other action, the county:

  • Approved a resolution to move forward with discussions with Waste Management for the county’s next five-year contract for recycling. 

Jensen said the county put out a request for proposals from Sept. 11 through Oct. 1 for the new recycling services contract and received three requests for proposals. 

The proposals were for about $3.44 million from Waste Management in Mankato, $3.69 million from West Central Sanitation in Willmar and $4.18 million from Thompson Sanitation in Clarks Grove. Jensen said Waste Management and West Central Sanitation offered a rebate formula to reduce their overall cost. 

Jensen said recycling costs are volatile right now and estimated the cost is about 24% higher than the previous contract. 

He said the contract will be for roughly 9,800 households and 15 community receiving sites. 

  • Approved a contract with Next Chapter Technology for Caseworks — Social Services Edition using about $119,000 from the county’s CARES Act funds.

The electronic data management system will work in cooperation with state computer systems and integrates with the existing system already being used by other units within the Freeborn County Department of Human Services. 

Department of Human Services Director Suzi Nerison said in background information to the commissioners that COVID-19 has expedited the department’s goal to become paperless in all program areas, especially when some staff are working remotely because of the pandemic.  

Annual maintenance and support costs associated with the software are about $24,000. 

  • Approved a two-year grant contract with the Minnesota Department of Human Services for about $98,000, that will help cover direct and indirect service costs for adults living with mental illness in the county. 
  • Voted to replace two motor graders in 2021. Highway Engineer Phil Wacholz said the total cost of the units, including trade-in allowance is about $419,000.
  • Voted to extend the county’s current WIC grant agreement with the Minnesota Department of Health for another year due to COVID-19. 
  • Voted to extend a Statewide Health Improvement Project grant contract with the Minnesota Department of Health. 

Freeborn County Public Health Director Sue Yost said because of COVID-19 there are some funds that have not been spent, and this will allow the county to use the SHIP funds through June 30, 2021. The contract previously had been slated to end Oct. 31. 

The county’s SHIP funds for the grant period are about $152,000.

  • Approved the new SHIP grant contract with the Minnesota Department of Health for the grant period from Nov. 1 through Oct. 31, 2021. The funds for this grant period are about $152,000.
  • Approved a contract with the Minnesota Department of Health for COVID-19 contact tracing and case investigation.

Yost said the state will pay the county $50 an hour for work by county personnel on contact tracing and case investigation up to $48,800 through Dec. 31. 

The county staff will investigate not only local cases but others in the region. 

  • Approved a resolution extending the county’s work with other counties to develop a regional solid waste plan. 

Environmental Services Director Mark Goskeson said they are waiting for grant funding for the project.