WORTHINGTON — During a Wednesday morning work session, Nobles County commissioners were asked to consider the appointment of two members to represent the board in future discussions regarding the proposed W.E.L.L. (Welcome, Education, Livability, Learning) project.

Though formal appointments will be an action item on Tuesday’s board agenda, Commissioner Donald Linssen had cautionary words about the steps moving forward.

“One of the things that needs to be determined early on is who is going to be the owner of this,” Linssen said. “Who’s maintaining? Who’s doing what?

“From my perspective, we’ve got the cart before the horse because we haven’t determined that,” he said.

Linssen told fellow commissioners he could see a lot of pitfalls down the road if those details aren’t worked out.

“Whose building is it — who has to answer for it?” Linssen asked.

Details about ownership versus leases have not been discussed, and the only mention of financial contribution has thus far been the city of Worthington’s $1.5 million contribution, ISD’s commitment of $12.5 million and the county-led effort to seek state bonding to help fund the building.

Meanwhile, Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson said a Minnesota House of Representatives committee is slated to be in Worthington briefly on Oct. 9 to learn about the W.E.L.L. project.

“I think that’s a huge step in getting some bonding money,” Johnson said, adding that he's still trying to coordinate a visit with the Senate committee.

LHB, the architectural firm hired by the county, school and city to develop a design for the W.E.L.L., has asked that four committees be established to work with it during the process.

The first committee would include the county, city and school administrators along with Nobles County Library Director Marjorie Ferguson. An advisory committee would include two members from each board. A user committee would include members representing each entity looking to be included in the project to communicate their needs. The fourth committee would be the full boards, which will be involved in funding decisions.

In other discussion, the board:

  • Talked about the 2020 budget, including reserves, payoff of Prairie Justice Center bonds and two new staff requests.

With new information worked into the budget, the 2020 levy increase is 7.35%, according to Finance Director Jerry Vyskocil. That includes requests made by departments and a 2.75% cost of living adjustment for county employees. The commissioners will discuss the levy increase further and possibly set the not-to-exceed levy during their Sept. 17 meeting.

“This is the year to keep the levy low,” said Commissioner Justin Ahlers.

Vyskocil noted two significant reductions from the county’s reserves — $2 million for PrimeWest, to be paid over two years, and $500,000 to the Nobles County Historical Society — both directed by commissioners. He said if commissioners want to do any future bonding, it would need to be levied for.

“There is no breathing room,” he said.

Also related to the budget, Johnson said the county paid $95,000 for snow removal last winter just at the Prairie Justice Center. He said commissioners may want to consider hiring an employee, rather than having snow removal done on contract.

“The reason it’s so expensive is it’s a 24-7 building,” Linssen said, adding that snow removal is done day and night as conditions warrant, and sometimes multiple times during a snow event.

  • Received an update from Ditch Systems Coordinator Brad Harberts on drainage issues.

Public hearings conducted earlier this month for three ditch systems working through the process toward a redetermination of benefits and petition for improvement were once again continued. The JD 13 hearing is continued to 9:30 a.m. Dec. 2; the JD 9 hearing is continued to 1:30 p.m. Dec. 2; and the JD 24 hearing is continued to 9:30 a.m. Sept. 23, all in the Farmer’s Room of the Nobles County Government Center.

  • Received an update from Brett Lehman on behalf of the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council, who thanked commissioners for the $1,250 county contribution to the agency for 2019, and asked that SMAC be considered for a financial appropriation once again for 2020. SMAC awarded $22,500 in grants to arts projects within the county this year, with benefactors including the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra, the International Festival, the Cultural Awareness Organization and the Worthington Chamber Singers.