Working together: City, county discuss trail system maintenance, IT staffing

WORTHINGTON -- Collaboration was the buzzword among Worthington City councilmen and Nobles County commissioners during a joint meeting of the two entities Wednesday afternoon.

WORTHINGTON - Collaboration was the buzzword among Worthington City councilmen and Nobles County commissioners during a joint meeting of the two entities Wednesday afternoon.

While acknowledging that several city and county departments are already working together, the basis of the meeting was to address any issues, provide updates on city and county projects and explore potential new collaborations.
Nobles County Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder provided an update on where the county and city collaborate on street maintenance, and said supervisors from the two departments still need to work out plans for the Minnesota 60 turnback, which stretches from Flower Lane to the new Minnesota 60 highway connection east of Shine Brothers.
Worthington City Administrator Steve Robinson said a maintenance agreement is stalled because the Minnesota Department of Transportation has yet to complete the turnback. The hope is that the final documents will be signed before the end of the year.
As for the remainder of items in the city-county maintenance agreement, Schnieder said he doesn’t foresee a lot of changes.
Meanwhile, maintenance of the recently completed trail system along Crailsheim Drive and Oxford Street in Worthington - a joint city-county project - has never been sorted out. Schnieder said county policy is not to provide mowing within city limits. He also said the county incurred more costs to get the trail system completed, and he hoped the city would take over maintenance of the whole trail.
“We have the personnel and the equipment to maintain it,” added Robinson. “It’s much easier for us to maintain it.”
Robinson also shared that 15 new benches have been purchased from a local company with money from the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP). They will soon be installed along the walking/bicycle trail along Oxford Street and Crailsheim Drive.
In other businesses, the group:

  • Discussed staff collaboration in information technology (IT) and creation of a shared facilities manager position.

Currently, Nobles County’s IT staff provides assistance to the city, but Robinson said there is more work than can be completed by the county’s already overworked IT director. The county is currently short-staffed in the IT department. “Once the county has two (employees), we’ll hopefully be able to get more of their time and expertise,” Robinson said.
“We’ve neglected our whole network and infrastructure for a lot of years,” added Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle. “I’m concerned the county (can’t) get us to where we need to be.”
As for the potential creation of a facilities manager position to be shared between the two entities - the YMCA would also be interested in the collaboration - Robinson said the city owns $36 million in facilities without “any real plan for managing” them. Having a manager to oversee the facilities would provide better coverage.
County administrator Tom Johnson said he spends a lot of time on facilities management - time that could better be used elsewhere, he shared.

Discussion will continue between city and county administration on the position.

  • As for facilities collaboration, Johnson said discussion continues on the potential garage expansion at Prairie Justice Center. The estimated cost for the expansion is $750,000 to create 12 parking stalls, and Johnson said the county will discuss the project again during its budgeting process. The thought is that there is equal need between the city and the county for the expansion. 

Robinson suggested an architect create some conceptual plans so that a budget can be developed. “We need to justify the number of stalls,” Robinson said. “As the population grows, the Worthington force may increase.”
There is also continued discussion on the potential to collaborate on a multi-agency public works facility. The city, county and now the Minnesota Department of Transportation have expressed interest in working together on a facility within the next five to 10 years.


  • Discussed housing initiatives, including the use of the Nobles Home Initiative, which offers a five-year tax abatement on new home construction within the county, and the soon-to-be completed market-rate complex of Rising Sun Estates.

Thus far, 18 of the 48 units at Rising Sun Estates have been rented, and work continues to get all of the units completed and ready for occupancy. Meanwhile, the Southwest Minnesota House Partnership is hoping to get funding to construct a 64-unit, low-income housing project north of Hardee’s on an extension of Grand Avenue. Now, the city is focused on determining what type of housing is still needed in Worthington. The community has more than 30 buildable lots available for construction. Of those, all but six are shovel-ready, said Worthington Director of Community and Economic Development Brad Chapulis.
Representatives from both the city and the county said there is a need for smaller homes, including ramblers and twin homes.
“I’d like to work on a program and get something started instead of just talking about it,” said Worthington Councilman Rod Sankey. “I think it’s time we start doing something.”

  • Was updated on a recent meeting on multi-county dispatch, precipitated by Rock County’s need to update its systems. There may be opportunities for Rock County to collaborate with Nobles County, which already operates joint dispatch with the city of Worthington.
  • Was notified of concerns of potential major incidences overwhelming the law enforcement department. Robinson said there have been some instances already this year in which the police department didn’t have enough people to respond.

“The state doesn’t have a plan to provide assistance,” Robinson said. “We have 23 uniformed officers. Of that you could maybe gather 15 in an emergency. The county has even fewer officers. “If something happens, we might have an issue with having enough personnel,” he added. “We’re in the process of putting together an emergency operations plan and looking at resources we might be able to call upon if we need to.”

  • Received an update on the broadband initiative of the Nobles Economic Opportunities Network (NEON) to get fiber to every home and create hotspots at nine locations across the county to provide free Internet access to the public.
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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