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SWMHC presents plan

WORTHINGTON -- It has been six years since Southwestern Mental Health Center (SWMHC) was asked to vacate its leased office space from the former Worthington Regional Hospital, and the agency isn't any closer to moving into a new facility today than it was then.

In the past six years, SWMHC executive director Scott Johnson has made one request after another to Nobles County to help the agency relocate its offices. Progress has been made -- the agency owns the former Central Elementary property in downtown Worthington, and the doors to its new residential treatment facility opened in January on that site. Still, nothing has been done to address its office needs.

On Tuesday, Johnson brought forth a new plan to Nobles County commissioners that calls for construction of a 14,000-square-foot facility, with a total project cost of $2.5 million, at the corner of 12th Street and Fifth Avenue. The agency is working with Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership on a modular-type building.

"We're trying to solve our building and office problems," Johnson said, adding that the agency will need financial assistance from "a lot of different folks."

At this point, he said the agency has about $100,000 to contribute to the project. It will ask the city of Worthington for $200,000 and can obtain financing of approximately $1 million. The remaining $1.2 million is what Johnson hopes can be financed with low-interest loans provided by the five counties served by the agency -- Cottonwood, Jackson, Nobles, Pipestone and Rock.

Johnson said Rock County has already offered to finance $150,000 at a 2 percent interest rate.

"For it to cash flow, we need to get loans under 5 percent (interest rate)," he said.

Because Nobles County has a higher percentage of residents utilizing the mental health programming, Johnson said the county also needs to commit more funding toward the project -- an estimated $500,000.

"A lot of patients come in from outside of the county, too," said Commissioner Diane Thier. "It just seems to me that Nobles County is paying a proportionately larger share."

"This is where the activity is," responded Commissioner David Benson. "It's hard to argue with that."

No decision on financing was made during Tuesday's meeting, and Benson said the issue "deserves some serious consideration."

In other action, the board:

* Tabled for discussion at a later date a proposal presented by Brad Chapulis, director of community and economic development for the city of Worthington, regarding the Worthington Economic Development Strategic Plan.

Three steps in the plan were identified as possible collaborations with Nobles County, including housing. Chapulis said the committee is considering a potential tax abatement proposal in which newly constructed homes valued at greater than $200,000 would be given a five-year tax abatement.

Chapulis said this would stimulate housing construction in the community.

"You're making an investment," added Lynn Olson, committee chair. "Five years from now you're going to get more taxes back than you have now. The bet is you're going to get more built than what you had. Like any new idea, it's a bet -- it's not a guarantee. It's a bet to make more money in year six."

Thier said if people didn't have to pay taxes, they would be willing to "do anything."

"I'm not sure I want to give up county taxes when we are struggling right now," she said.

Commissioner Vern Leistico, who serves on the committee, said he thought it was something that should at least be tried.

"In easy numbers, it would be about $4,500 (per property) that we would give up over five years," Leistico said. "It might be on two or three houses that we're not going to have otherwise."

* On recommendation from the Nobles County Planning Commission, approved conditional use permits for the city of Worthington to construct approximately 2.7 miles of new overhead 115 kilovolt transmission line and rebuild nearly one mile of existing 69 kilovolt transmission line to 115 kV standards in Sections 13 and 14 of Worthington Township; for Weg's Blue and White Dairy to construct a 110 feet by 244 feet livestock barn in the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 24, Ransom Township; and for Whitetail Run of Pipestone to construct a 61 feet by 272 feet gilt development barn in the northeast quarter of Section 32, Leota Township. Also following a recommendation from the planning commission, the board denied a conditional use permit to Tru Shine Truck Wash to operate a waste disposal site in the northeast quarter of Section 1, Ransom Township.

* Directed Nobles County Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder to agree to a settlement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation for reconstruction and maintenance of a section of the former Minnesota 60 highway in Bigelow.

By agreeing to the settlement, the county would receive the money in its state aid account sooner and could then spend it on more pressing needs, such as overlay projects on county roads. Future money identified for those road projects would then be used to reconstruct the former highway in Bigelow.

* Amended the county's administrative policy as it refers to use of facilities and grounds. The change will require non-profit organizations to carry a minimum of $1.5 million and $3 million in insurance, identifying Nobles County as additional insured, if they intend to use the property.

* Approved payment to ESG for its energy assessment of county buildings and moved to proceed on a contract with Vetter-Johnson to begin working on projects identified in the county's capital improvement plan.

* Received the 2012 budget from Rock-Nobles Community Corrections, in which the agency seeks an additional $64 in funding. Director Jon Ramlo said his office will see a 2.5 percent reduction in state funding for 2012.

* Set Nov. 8 as the date to classify three tax-forfeited properties as conservation or non-conservation so that the county could move forward in the process of selling the parcels. The properties include a parcel in Lot 8, Block 3 in Adrian (the former Mike's Place); a bare lot in the city of Lismore; and a parcel in the city of Worthington (former Gateway gas station).

* Received an annual report from the Southwest Initiative Foundation and the work being done in Nobles County. A request was also made to keep the foundation in mind for a financial contribution for 2012.

* Was informed of a Nobles County Environmental Services tire recycling day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 21, in both Worthington and Adrian.

* Appointed Benson and Leistico to the Southern Prairie Health Purchasing Alliance, appointed Commissioner Marv Zylstra to the Joint Dispatch board in place of Benson, appointed Commissioner Robert Demuth Jr. to the Southwest Regional Radio Board in place of Benson, and appointed Leistico and Zylstra to serve on the county's Capital Improvement Plan committee.

* Was introduced to Janet Howard, the new public health supervisor for Nobles County Family Services. Howard spent the past 35 years in the Twin Cities and has a background in community and public health as well as Planned Parenthood.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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