Issue of new horse barn, other repairs at fairgrounds raised at county board meeting

Published 5:40 am Thursday, August 19, 2021

Freeborn County’s administrator said Tuesday he is planning a time for county staff, members of the Freeborn County Agricultural Society and representatives from the county’s insurance company to walk through the fairgrounds in September and evaluate the existing structural and infrastructure needs.

The comment by Administrator Tom Jensen came after Gary Richter, who has been a superintendent for the horse barn at the Freeborn County Fair with his wife since 2009, asked the Board of Commissioners if they had discussed whether the east horse barn, which was destroyed under the weight of heavy snow in 2019, would be rebuilt.

Richter also came before the board in June asking about the barn ahead of the fair.

Richter said Tuesday he had collected 205 signatures of people who visited him at the fair during one of the horse shows, and many were asking why the barn wasn’t getting rebuilt.

“These people — probably the horses have the most expensive hobby out there versus cattle, hogs or whatever — and they’re the only ones that are standing in the hot sun getting their horses ready for a show to put on for the public,” he said.

He noted there is also the safety concern if one of the horses were to get loose.

In addition to the week of the fair, the barn and arena is used by the Sunset Saddle Club, which puts on a spring and fall show and five other shows for club members, Richter said at the June meeting. Other groups also have shows and benefits there, including ones from Owatonna and Rochester.

Jensen said he did not think there was a pressing need for a new $200,000 horse facility and noted the existing horse barn was not close to being full at the fair this year.

He said he was afraid that after taking care of the horse owners’ needs, then the owners of the other types of animals at the fair, such as swine or cattle, would also start making requests.

He also brought up concerns after a water main break during the fair and said the infrastructure at the fairgrounds is 80 years old. He estimated costs for replacing that infrastructure at $600,000.

“There are a lot of needs you’re going to have to address as a board if you want to maintain that facility where it’s at,” Jensen said.

He hoped after the walk-through of the grounds, he and staff could bring back a plan on how to move forward with all of the needs, as well as how to fund them.

The county had received over $100,000 in insurance funds after the barn was damaged.

In other action, the board:

• Approved the sale of three blighted tax-forfeited properties to the city of Albert Lea for $1 each.

County Auditor-Treasurer Pat Martinson said the parcels were brought for forfeiture in July, and the city has the first right to purchase if it chooses.

The properties were at 728 S. Newton Ave., 313 E. Eighth St. and 322 Vine Ave.

The city plans to rehab the properties and then put them back on the private market.

• Approved the sale of three public use tax-forfeited properties formerly owned by Merrick’s of Minnesota. The properties will be sold to the city for $1 each. The properties run adjacent to the abandoned Union Pacific rail line that the city and county hope to convert into a shared user path.

• Approved a contract between the county and the Albert Lea school district for election services for the election slated for Nov. 2.

• Approved the final payment to Freeborn County Coop Oil for about $170,000 for furnishing and applying magnesium chloride for base stabilization.

• Approved a 2.5% salary increase for University of Minnesota Extension staffing in the county for 2022, 2023 and 2024 and approved paying for the cost of a summer intern.

• Approved an agreement for library services with Southeastern Libraries Cooperating for another five years. The agreement has not changed since 2011.

• Authorized the Southern Minnesota Housing Network, including Semcac and others, to administer about $1.25 million in funding made available through the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency’s Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program for two years in 12 counties, including Freeborn County.

In the last program year, 15 Freeborn County households received almost $14,000 in aid.

• Amended the site plan for an offsite grain storage facility owned by Don Yost that was conditionally permitted in 2011. The amendment allows for the change in location of a 30,000-gallon liquid propane tank.

• Approved an agreement with the cities of Myrtle and Hollandale for the county to prosecute petty misdemeanors and misdemeanors.

County Attorney David Walker said the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office has already been patrolling those areas, but state statute requires there be a formal arrangement for this to take place.

The cities will not be charged for the prosecution.