WORTHINGTON — Nobles County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to deny a request made by Sheriff Kent Wilkening to provide post-retirement benefits to elected officials.

Wilkening had requested consideration for the benefits during a board work session last Thursday during which he said some counties provide the extended benefits while others do not.

On Tuesday, Wilkening said he thought there was some misunderstanding by the public after a story appeared in The Globe.

“It’s important that everybody understands that what I’m asking for the electeds is nothing more than what all of the other employees are getting,” he said during Tuesday's meeting.

County employees have the opportunity to bank or roll over accumulated dollars into a health savings account for post-retirement use, Wilkening said. He noted that one of his employees has rolled $21,000 into a health care savings plan during the past four years.

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“Once this (news) got out, staff and people who may have been interested in running said, ‘Why would we do that?’” Wilkening added. “Why would they want to run and not get that benefit?”

Commissioner Bob Demuth responded that he has a hard time supporting real-time tax dollars going toward people who are no longer public servants.

“Employees can choose to put money away — whatever they choose,” Demuth said.

Commissioner Bob Paplow, sworn into office prior to the start of the meeting, said when people seek public office as an elected county official, they know what they’re going to receive for compensation. He moved to deny the request, which was supported by Demuth.

During discussion, however, Wilkening told the board, “There are counties in the state that value their elected officials. If this doesn’t go through, I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that you don’t value your elected officials.”

Wilkening stated he will mark 24 years with the Nobles County Sheriff’s Office this year, again adding, “At this time, I don’t feel the board appreciates the service of any elected.”

His statement led to additional comments from commissioners.

“I don’t believe I made any reference to valuing elected officials in my statement,” shared Demuth, expressing his disappointment in Wilkening’s comment.

“I take offense to the statement we don’t appreciate our elected officials, but you have an opinion like I have,” said Commissioner Donald Linssen. “I have received more phone calls on this issue than I have on a multitude of other things, and not one supported this. They think you are being well compensated for what you are doing and you should be saving money.”

Paplow acknowledged that he also received calls on the issue, and noted his disappointment in Wilkening’s statement prior to the unanimous vote to deny post-retirement benefits for elected officials.

Remodel approved at Government Center

On a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Justin Ahlers opposed, the board awarded Tri-State General Contracting the bid for renovations to the Government Center’s second floor suite of departments including the license center, auditor-treasurer’s office and recorder’s office. The work includes extensive security upgrades, new cabinetry, some new flooring and electrical work.

Tri-State was the lowest of three bidders, submitting a bid of $152,874. The work is estimated to take up to 140 days to complete.

“Is this the time to be spending $152,874?” questioned Ahlers. “This was not budgeted and would have to come out of building reserves.”

Linssen said he didn’t disagree, but discussions about security upgrades — particularly for the license center — have been ongoing for some time.

“I think we need to move forward with this,” he added.

“I don’t think there’s going to be an opportune time to do it,” added Demuth prior to the 4-1 vote.

In other action the board:

  • Elected Commissioner Gene Metz as board chairman and Linssen as vice chairman for 2021. Prior to the start of the meeting, commissioners Paplow, Ahlers and Demuth were sworn into office.

  • Recognized Jackie Van Horsen, Children’s Librarian at the Nobles County Library in Worthington, as the December Excellence in Performance award recipient.

  • Approved a 60-day extension to a professional services agreement with Hunter Heitkamp to continue to assist the Nobles County Recorder’s office in improving the county plat map.

  • Appointed H2Over Viewers staff Bryan Murphy, Shantel Hecht and Larry Murphy to conduct a redetermination of benefits on Judicial Ditch 10. The ditch was established in 1918 and a redetermination of benefits is in order, according to Zach Reker, Drainage Systems Coordinator.

  • Approved a purchase of service agreement with Southwest Health and Human Services for its public health nuisance investigator to work on a case in Nobles County. The agreement was necessitated by a vacancy in the public health specialist position in Nobles County. The county will be charged $65 per hour, plus mileage, for the work. The case is anticipated to take approximately 40 hours.

  • Accepted a joint bid from The Globe, Nobles County Review, Fulda Free Press, Tri-County News and Murray County Advantage to publish legal notices for the county at a rate of $14.44 per column inch for 2021.

  • Approved the following citizen appointments: Delores Ella, Worthington, to the Developmental Achievement Center board; Tom Johnson, Worthington, to the Emergency Management Planning Advisory Committee; Megan Prins, Worthington, to the Extension Committee; Mike Harmon, Worthington, and David Benson, Bigelow, to Rock-Nobles Community Corrections; John Penning and Brent Feikema to the Zoning Board of Appeals; Gary Hibma to the Park Board; and Dave Vander Kooi, Richard Schlichte and David Thier to the Planning Advisory Commission. In addition, with three applicants seeking one open seat on the Heron Lake Watershed District, the board appointed Randy Lubben, Reading.