County Commission

Commission deals with unique times

Infections mean balancing notifications with privacy

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Because the first Tuesday of the month, Nov. 3, was Election Day, the Kingsbury County Commission met on Nov. 5 with commissioners Roger Walls, Delmer Wolkow and Joe Jensen and some county employees present at the courthouse. Commissioners Shelley Nelson and Steve Spilde attended via Zoom as well as some courthouse employees and other interested citizens.

Commission meetings are open to the public and can be attended in person or through the Zoom link on the Kingsbury County website. Masks and social distancing are required. At this time, meetings are being held in the second-floor courtroom to allow for better social distancing. A high-quality video camera and microphones make it easier for people attending virtually to see and hear what is going on.

One of the main agenda items was an open discussion with county department heads regarding how to handle compensation time and overtime pay with the added issue of COVID. Commission Chair Roger Walls said he asked for this agenda item a month ago because employees sometimes have compensation time at the end of the year that needs to be used. He added that there was nothing wrong, he just thought the commission should be aware of where everyone was at on this.

However, between the time Walls asked for this agenda item and the meeting, several changes took place at the courthouse that might necessitate paying more overtime or paying out accrued compensation time, rather than asking people to take time off. The Treasurer’s office is closed to the public until Nov. 11 because a deputy treasurer was recently diagnosed with COVID, and Elaine Blachford, the treasurer, was exposed. Both employees are in quarantine with Blachford doing as much work as she can from home. Another deputy in the office was potentially exposed but is asymptomatic. She has taken on more of a workload. The office windows are closed, and she does not interact directly with customers.

Commissioner Delmer Wolkow noted that door monitors’ records show which office people go to and what the usual traffic flow is in the courthouse. These records show that the Treasurer’s office has, at least recently, had the most traffic.

Blachford, via Zoom, said, “It just stands to reason that when we are busiest, we are going to have more compensation time.”

She noted that the end of October is a busy time of year anyway with people coming in to pay taxes, and if one person is out sick it leaves two people to do the work of three.

“These are very different circumstances,” Shelley Nelson said. “I’m okay with paying it (comp time) out.”

“It’s one of those situations where we have to do it,” Joe Jensen agreed, “not in general practice, but these are critical times.”

Nelson asked whether they should have been more transparent when the Treasurer’s office closed. Instead of advertising that they were closed because of “unforeseen circumstances,” she wondered if they should have let people know it was because of a COVID situation. Calls are being directed to Blachford’s cell phone, and she is answering them at home. She replied that they informed people who called of the situation, but said they also wanted to abide by HIPAA, or privacy, laws.

“I don’t think it’s a big surprise (someone having COVID),” Jensen stated. “It’s not a rare thing anymore.”

Walls reiterated that when he asked for this agenda item a month ago, he was simply asking people to get their compensation time taken before the end of the year, but now they are dealing with unusual circumstances.

There was also discussion on whether an employee who contracts or comes in contact with someone who has COVID would qualify for administrative leave, or if they would have to use sick leave. Currently, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to provide up to 80 hours of leave for someone who is sick with COVID or caring for a child whose daycare has closed because of COVID.

Director of Equalization Tammy Anderson pointed out that two weeks is not enough time off for some people who get COVID. Nelson agreed they should allow administrative leave and not make people use up their regular sick pay. There was concern that some people might come to work sick when they shouldn’t if they have to use their sick leave.

Walls stated that they are still learning how the virus can affect different people in different ways. Nelson agreed that they have to fine tune plans with the different offices about what they will do if illness breaks out including a written plan with every office which would include sending out alerts.

Walls pointed out that they need to balance privacy with notifying people. He said when two deputy sheriffs were diagnosed recently, he didn’t hear about it officially.

“I should have heard about it here rather than at the coffee shop,” said Walls.

Sheriff Steve Strande apologized, stating that at the time they were busy shuffling shifts, and that the situation was new to them. With confidentiality concerns, they were not sure what to do.

Highway Superintendent Dave Sorenson said that if anyone on his crew is not feeling well, they are sent to be tested, and they must quarantine until they get results. If results are negative, they can come back to work. He added that, of course, if someone would test positive, they have to stay home at least two weeks.

Sorenson said they have been lucky so far and also noted that most of the time his guys are each in a separate truck and able to distance from each other. He said they use hand sanitizer frequently, and he has asked the employees to slip on a mask whenever they are out in the public around other people.

In other business, Sorenson reported he had received a check from the city of Iroquois for work done there, as well as a FEMA check, and they will be working on riprap on the Oldham grade and the Whitewood Road north of Lake Preston.

Canvassing of votes

Commissioners officially canvassed votes from the Nov. 3 election.

“Voting went smoothly; all precincts had their ballot boxes back by 8:30,” County Auditor Jennifer Barnard said. “If you include inactive voters, we had about 73 percent voter turnout.” She said it showed a higher percentage on the Secretary of State’s webpage because they were only counting active voters (those who had voted in the last election) in the bigger number.

Barnard reported no serious issues. She said there was some confusion because on the Secretary of State’s voter information portal, when people checked to find out where they should vote, it showed the courthouse rather than the 4-H building. However, they were able to direct people to the correct location. (People who voted early went to the courthouse annex, but on Election Day, people in the De Smet precinct went to the usual location, the Kingsbury County 4-H Building.)

Barnard said about 26 percent of the registered voters cast their ballots early and noted they had to toss out 13 absentee votes because of signatures not matching.

New farmer

Director of Equalization Tammy Anderson requested a Beginning Farmer status for Karie A. Rottluff, who will be farming her late father’s land in the Oldham area. Anderson said Rottluff qualifies for this program, which will freeze her taxes for five years. This means taxes will stay the same and not increase. The freeze would not apply to any new buildings or structures. The motion for the Beginning Farmer status was approved unanimously.

Window project delayed

Kevin Brick, a representative of House of Glass in Aberdeen, spoke in person to the commissioners. The House of Glass was supposed to install new windows in the courthouse earlier this year, but they have asked for several extensions. At an earlier meeting, the company and commissioners had decided on a December start date, but on Nov. 5, Brick said that with the holiday season coming up, it might now get bumped to next January.

Brick stated that they do a lot of work in the winter, and it works out fine because everything is sealed up while they are working. A tuckpointing project is planned for spring, but the new windows have to be installed before that project can happen.

Wolkow said his biggest concern was whether materials seal like they are supposed to with very cold temperatures. Brick said he had not had a problem with that.

“To be honest, let’s address the elephant in room,” Lonny Palmlund said. “How are we to know that when January, February and March come along, you guys are still not going to have the product? Do you have any now? You have asked for extensions before.”

Brick stated that they do not have the product because a lot of companies are behind. Because of COVID, he said, some factories have had to shut down and send their workforce home.

“What we’ve seen is the trickle effect,” added Brick.

Walls pointed out that another project (the tuckpointing) had to be put on hold a year because of the delay.

“Your competitor has reached out and said we would have gotten it done by now,” Palmlund said, while reminding everyone that the company who does the tuckpointing can’t put the courthouse on their schedule unless they know the window project will be completed.

Walls agreed that they require clearer communication. Council consensus was they need to have a firm date from the company in writing, and that they would stay in touch.

“It sounds like they are doing the best they can,” Nelson commented. “It’s been a tough year.”

Homeland Security Grant Program funds computers

Commissioners agreed to pay for new computers for the sheriff’s office using a Homeland Security Grant. The county pays for them but will be reimbursed through the grant. Walls reminded everyone that this type of transaction needs to be approved first. The five computers totaled $13,995.99, which is considered a capital purchase.

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