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County approves initial funding for WELL facility

WORTHINGTON — On a 4-1 vote, Nobles County commissioners on Tuesday authorized $2 million as an initial contribution toward a multi-purpose facility that includes a new library in Worthington. The funding is contingent on bond funds being received from the state of Minnesota by June 1, 2020.

In making the motion, Commissioner Matt Widboom said the county will also prepare to bond for the needed funds with an agreement from all occupants to a fair payment plan. Commissioner Justin Ahlers cast the lone vote in opposition to the motion.

Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson said if the state authorizes $15 million for the project in a bonding bill — and the city, county and school each contribute $2 million up front — about $10 million would still be needed.

“The county would be the likely one to do the bond,” Johnson said, adding that the bond repayment could be a 60-40 split between ISD 518 and the county, respectively. The school district proposes including its community education and adult basic education classrooms in a collaborative facility dubbed the WELL.

“If we get some state funding, there will be a lot of work to do to define all the details,” Johnson said.

Nobles County Finance Director Jerry Vyskocil explained the county’s fund balance, and said taking $2 million from reserves would still leave the county with a reserve balance to cover six months. The state auditor’s recommendation is that counties keep a reserve balance large enough to fund government for five months.

Prior to the vote, Ahlers said he was “very uncomfortable” committing $2 million to a project that is contingent on so many other things (the state, the school district and the city).

“Is this really the route we want to go?” he asked. “Would we not be better off moving our historical society into the armory, maybe giving them some funding to get them into there and then we would have the entire War Memorial Building for our library?”

Ahlers, a member of the Nobles County Historical Society board, said the county could then do an addition onto the War Memorial Building and renovate the existing structure.

“The city of Worthington has committed $2 million for a library,” Ahlers said. “I would assume that would be good for an addition … as well as a remodel of our current library. That is what I would support.”

Commissioner Donald Linssen said renovation and additions to the War Memorial Building have been discussed in the past.

“I think that’s been visited quite heavily,” he said. “I just don’t see that as a viable option.”

Widboom also responded to Ahlers’ comments, saying all kinds of studies and surveys have been done since 2009.

“The citizens … have consistently came back and said, ‘Why don’t you partner with the city of Worthington? Why don’t you partner with the school district?’” Widboom said. “Now both of those entities are at the table. We’ve had the table set since 2009, and now we’re ready to step back and chase them away? The citizens have said, ‘Maybe we can support it if you spread debts and truly collaborate.’ Collaboration comes with compromise and the ability to work for the betterment of the entire community.

“To me, the opportunity we’ve been waiting for since 2009 is here. For us to not support it today is dashing the collaboration we’ve insisted upon,” Widboom added.

After the vote on the WELL, commissioners approved support for the Nobles County Historical Society to apply for a legacy grant. The money, if received, would help fund an engineered design for the remodel of the Armory Business Center.

“I feel the armory project is very worthwhile to the community. I would love to see us commit some funding to that project as well,” Ahlers said. “The vision they have down there is a good vision.”

In other action, the board:

  • Accepted several bids for work in and around the Nobles County Government Center in Worthington. The bids awarded include $159,950 for Bisbee Plumbing & Heating, Marshall, to replace the air handler unit; $227,584 for Split Rock Nursery of Brandon, S.D., for landscaping and site improvements; and $45,500 for Zahl Equipment Service Inc., Mankato, to replace an underground fuel tank. All of the projects were awarded to the low bidder.
  • Approved the purchase of $3,970 in trees to replace some of the 20 trees lost on the government center campus through its recent landscaping and construction projects, as well as trees lost in the 2013 ice storm. The county also plans, in conjunction with the city of Worthington, an Arbor Day event on the government center lawn.
  • Approved the creation of a public health nurse supervisor position in Nobles County Community Services after an unsuccessful 10-month-long search to fill a vacant Community Health Services administrator position. The hope is that a nurse supervisor could be hired and then gain the knowledge and experience to eventually become an administrator.
  • Approved the creation of a full-time deputy auditor-treasurer Motor Vehicle I position in the Auditor-Treasurer’s office. This will take the place of a current part-time position being vacated on Friday. The increased hours are needed to meet demand for services, particularly because of the failed MnLARS system.
  • Approved, subject to the county sheriff’s approval, an application from the Lao Buddhist Temple for four one-day temporary liquor licenses to sell 3.2 beer during special events on June 30, Aug. 4, Sept. 8 and Oct. 13.
  • Presented the March Excellence in Performance award to Melanie Barritt, legal assistant in the Nobles County Attorney’s Office.
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 The Farm Bleat

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