County board approves trail action plan for former rail line

Published 9:17 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a joint trail action plan that discusses the development of the former Union Pacific Railroad property owned by the county.

The plan has been in the works for eight months with the city of Albert Lea and a team of others after the city received a grant through the Minnesota Department of Transportation to look at goals for the trail, what the existing conditions are and the next steps in the development process.

Trail advocate groups, city and rural residents, and staff and elected officials from both the city and county were involved in the process and took part in a public mapping workshop and walking and biking audits.

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The trail would start in Albert Lea and continue north to Hartland.

County Engineer Phil Wacholz said the trail action plan will be used as a planning document to guide future trail investment.

The action plan breaks the trail up into possible development segments that could be completed, as well as possible costs. An estimate of almost $5 million was given in the plan for the total project.

Fifth District Commissioner Nicole Eckstrom said the Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Board recommended approval to the Albert Lea City Council, which will vote on the matter at its next meeting, and the Freeborn County Trails Association also recommended approval.

The plan will be able to be used with upcoming grant opportunities.

In other action, the board:

• Heard a presentation from Doug Host, a certified public accountant with CliftonLarsonAllen, about the county’s recent audit.

Host said overall the county’s finances were very stable.

He said the county had a little over six months expenditures in its unrestricted fund balance and that governmental funds had an overall increase in the fund balance by about $4.2 million from things including American Rescue Plan Act funds, grants, the highway user tax increase and the opioid settlement.

• Heard a summary of the recent legislative session from District 23 Sen. Gene Dornink.

He and the board discussed frustrations over having only one party leading both the House, Senate and governor seat, as well as issues including the paid family leave bill, an increase in county aid, legalizing recreational cannabis, among other issues.

The board concluded staff would need to further research the effects of the session for the county and the county may need to establish a committee centered around the cannabis legalization.

• Approved a resolution accepting the pay grade for Assessor Ryan Rasmusson while he is performing his duties as both assessor and interim county administrator.

He will be paid at a Grade 26, Step 6 on the county’s scale, dating back to May 16.

• Approved a resolution for the county to participate in the Minnesota Office of the State Auditor Performance Measurement Program. The program requires the county to adopt at least 10 performance measures in the areas of public safety, public works, public health, property records standards, taxation standards, finance standards and environmental standards.

By participating in the program, the county will see up to $25,000 reimbursement.

• Approved a resolution supporting a Blue Earth River Watershed One Watershed One Plan.

The resolution is for applying for a planning grant.

The Blue Earth River Watershed is the final One Watershed One Plan for the county.

• Approved tax abatement for Dairyland Power Cooperative for $166,540.

Rasmusson said the cooperative was incorrectly taxed at two different rates in 2022, and the issue has since been remedied and will not happen again, he said.
The money was credited to this year’s amount owed.

• Approved Dr. Michael Ulrich as the new Freeborn County Community Health Board medical consultant as the county’s current consultant, Elizabeth Ojukwu, a pediatrician with Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin, was leaving the health system on Tuesday.

• Approved placing Jeremy Peterson with the highway department on regular full-time status.

• Voted to move the meeting scheduled for the Fourth of July to July 11 with a workshop to follow. The Aug. 1 meeting will be at 5 p.m. at the Freeborn County Historical Museum.