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By Cara L. Dempski
HUDSON — Interim County Administrator Ken Witt was named the county’s new full-time administrator during the January 5 regular meeting of the St. Croix County Board of Supervisors.
The development came after a search involving a consulting firm, that yielded 11 other applicants. Supervisors who took part in the search committee, indicated there was only a small handful of the 11 applications forwarded by the consulting firm that could match Witt’s credentials. The vote to approve Witt as the full-time Administrator came after a section of public comment, and an update on the Public Health Department’s efforts to battle Covid 19.
Public Health worker Kelly Engen explained Public Health has shifted its focus to vaccine planning, and explained a little bit about the State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee and how it is helping counties. Engen said St. Croix County has started vaccine planning internally and has to plan specifically for the Covid 19 vaccine for the chain of safe storage and administration. She said the county is approved as a vaccine enrollment provider and could start requesting vaccines the week of January 4. She also said Public Health has been meeting weekly with hospital CEOs, CNOs (chief nursing officers), and school superintendents and nurses.
Enger also informed the Board, Public Health plans to alert people regarding vaccine availability using the county’s Rave disaster notification system.
Ellie Klassen informed the meeting that the Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (DMAC) posts its meeting notes and minutes on its website. The DMAC wants the first vaccines going to frontline workers as part of phase 1.a.; Klassen explained St. Croix County has started vaccinating healthcare workers. She said a significant portion of Public Health work at the moment goes toward managing public expectations in addition to the logistics of vaccine tracking and administration.
Engen said, “We are not in a place where we can start vaccinating all healthcare workers.” She elaborated and said the plan going forward is to hold weekly clinics where people can call and make an appointment for vaccination. The recommendation for the time commitment for vaccination is that people plan for at least 15 minutes to be observed by medical staff for any potential adverse effects.
Supervisor Berning asked the public health workers if there is a specific timeline for the vaccine. Klassen indicated EMS providers may start receiving vaccines the week starting January 11. She further specified the first EMS workers in line would likely be those unaffiliated with any hospital or clinical group. Berning wanted to know the preferred means for residents to know when to get on the list to get the vaccine. Klassen responded the best way is to contact the Covid-19 email address.
She also reminded everyone there are a lot of “moving parts” to this issue.
District 17 Supervisor Judy Achterhof expressed her hope that when the county gets the covid website going, there will be other ways to contact the public because she knows many people who don’t have access to the Internet who may want to know when their phase for vaccination is open or coming. Achterhof also stated her hope that the public health workers are staying safe and healthy despite the strain they’re under right now.
Achterhof cited the lack of reliable broadband access in the eastern portion of the county as part of her comments.
The county Communications Director indicated he and his staff are working on a mailed newsletter to be sent to the public regarding the vaccine and covid information.
The Public Health Department received a compliment on the changes made to the website regarding the data dashboard, but did hear a request for more in-depth information on the dashboard. Engen gave Klassen all the credit for the changes.
From there the meeting moved on to the administrator’s report. Witt indicated the county is finishing the year financially strong. He said, “We are ahead of where we were last year.
Witt then spoke for a few minutes regarding his emergency authority powers; he explained this is his ability to adjust County policy to adapt to issues caused by the emergencies in the county.
Next, the Board of Supervisors heard an update on the Sheriff’s office from Sheriff Scott Knutson. The board also unanimously approved a slight pay increase for auxiliary deputies.
The next item of business concerned a request for proposal asking for an assessment of the county’s broadband possibilities and capabilities, it was explained the assessment will be a lengthy process that may last most of 2021. The intention of the assessment is to see how the county is set up and what changes need to be made to improve access for everyone.
Judy Achterhof said, “I hope that when they’re selecting someone to do this, that cost is a minor factor.” She expressed her desire for a group that will be thorough in gathering information. Supervisor Ostness suggested a cap on the money spent in order to hold the board accountable for costs. The request for proposal suggestions received unanimous approval.
Lisa Plunkett explained to the board that each county in Wisconsin is expected to present the governor with a way to increase funds and address a drop in performance in child support collection. She said, “An investment in child support is investment in Wisconsin’s children.” This was part of her discussion about how decreased performance and child-support collections in the state has led to a decrease in funding from the federal government. Plunkett explained that, “Every dollar we get from the federal government gets a match.”
Plunkett’s information indicated Wisconsin has lost several million dollars per year. She explained that each county has to reach certain collection percentages each year to receive the federal funding match. Plunkett further explained that St. Croix County will lose $4.2 million in funding.
Judy Achterhof asked, “Has it been more difficult to collect with Covid and people losing their jobs?”
Scottie Ard informed the board that without child support collection work more children would be on the state health insurance and need state aid. She clarified what was being asked regarding the child support resolution, by asking, “this resolution is asking the state to make up for a funding loss?”
The resolution received unanimous approval.
The next item discussed was proposed participation in the formation of a rail corridor from Eau Claire to the Twin Cities.
Discussion on this subject seemed to focus mostly on whether or not participating in the formation of a commission to explore passenger rail possibilities would tie the county to agreeing to participate in forming a rail corridor.
There seems to be some concern over whether or not resolving to participate in the commission would mean St. Croix County was fully supportive of passenger rail lines coming through the county.
Corporate counsel Scott Cox was asked during the meeting if the resolution proposed to participate in the formation of a commission meant the county was fully invested in making such a rail corridor happen. He clarified that it was his belief that the proposed resolution did little more than offer St. Croix County a place in the discussion of the formation of a commission for the rail corridor. He finished his explanation with the statement, “We either have a place at the table, or we don’t.” Supervisor Bob Hall said, “Shatever your view on it, I think it would be wise to have a seat at the table.”
Supervisor Hansen cautioned the board against condemning the entire corridor outright without going and having a say. Supervisor Greg Tellijohn seemed to agree, “Why be ignorant and not see what’s happening?”
Supervisor Tomczak said, “We need to make sure we have as many transportation opportunities available to residents as possible. We need to have a seat at the table.”
There was some discussion about who from the County would be sent to discuss the opportunities and options; one suggestion was the corporate counsel, another was the highway Commissioner.
A motion was made to remove several lines from the resolution. And someone asked what authority was being requested and indicated a desire to see a business plan.
Cox said, “this is not a resolution that commits us to the long service. This is just a resolution to start the process.”
Achterhof then pointed out, “All this is doing is setting up the committee, and setting up bylaws, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
The resolution passed 14 votes to three.
The business moved on to department reports and Sheriff Knutson said his dispatch report indicates call volume was up in 2020. He also said the county will be getting a new mobile command vehicle in the fall of 2021.
Then, Achterhof asked about Covid-19 numbers for inmates and employees of the Sheriff’s office, and Knutson responded he has had 22 staff members test positive and there have been four positive tests in the county jail.
The sheriff was also asked about the availability of ammunition, as ammunition has been in short supply elsewhere Knutson explained the department doesn’t seem to be struggling with its ammunition supply.
Supervisor Keller then brought up the subject of creating a code of conduct for the board. He indicated the topic does not need to be discussed immediately, but said he would like to see it as a future agenda item for the full board or the administrative committee.
There were no announcements from the County Clerk.
The St. Croix County Board of Supervisors will meet again at 8:30 a.m. on February 2, 2021.