GRAETTINGER Once in a while, you need to sit down and just talk about things.
With that thought in mind, the Palo Alto and Emmet County Boards of Supervisors sat down in the board room of the River Valley Telecommunications Coop Office in Graettinger on Tuesday afternoon to talk. With no set agenda of items to discuss, the idea of the meeting was to allow the two governing bodies to bounce ideas off each other, ask questions, and brainstorm.
"I think we need to meet like this, at least semi-annually," noted Emmet County Supervisor Ron Smith.
Emmet County Board Chair Al Madden agreed, noting one of his thoughts was about the idea of looking into the future possibility of an Information Technology person who could possibly work with both counties on their technology. "No one can predict what will happen in a year from now with technology," Madden said. "It's the same thing with Human Resources, benefits, dealing with insurance, that type of thing. That's getting to the point where a county won't be able to handle those issues in-house as easily in the future. Maybe that's something to think about, too."
"Would a combined IT person be good?" asked Tim Schumacher, Emmet County Supervisor. "We use R&D Industries in Milford."
Emmet County Auditor Mikki Erickson thought such an idea would work.
"This IT is not going to get smaller, its only going to get bigger and bigger," Madden said. "Whether we need one today or not, we do need to keep the idea in mind, along with HR for the insurance, retirement benefits and such."
Schumacher noted that a key to future thought on such a position would be for both counties to keep a handle on their outsourced technology support costs. "Maybe if those costs continue to rise, it will become more economical to hire someone."
Erickson projected the salary and benefits for a full-time IT person would be in the $80-90,000 range yearly. "We spend $32,000 yearly for our IT support," the auditor noted.
"Our costs are very similar," agreed Palo Alto County Auditor Carmen Moser.
Palo Alto County Board Chair Ron Graettinger asked about Emmet County's Conservation operations, and learned that Emmet County operates with two full-time employees and four seasonal employees. Emmet County owns 300 acres of land with three campgrounds that generate $60-$70,000 in revenue for the county annually.
"We have five full-time people, two seasonal guys and 2,500 acres with one campground," Graettinger observed.
"It seems we're a little excessive in Palo Alto County," Palo Alto County Supervisor Keith Wirtz commented.
"I was told that your conservation program and our conservation program were like comparing apples to oranges," Palo Alto County Supervisor Ed Noonan told Emmet County Conservation Director Eric Anderson. "We have a budget of nearly $400,000 a year, and double that for grants to almost $800,000."
"Five people running one campground and two of you run three campgrounds," Wirtz said, shaking his head. "We also have a lot of land with no taxes being paid on it, too."
The discussion shifted to public safety communications, a topic that had been raised at a similar meeting a year ago by Emmet County Supervisor Jon Martyr, who was not present on Tuesday.
"It seems like we're duplicating the efforts with the Comm. Centers," Ed Noonan said. "Has it ever been discussed about perhaps combining them together?"
"It probably should have been done when we had to go with the new radio systems," Palo Alto County Supervisor Jerry Hofstad.
"It might cut costs," Tim Schumacher said. "You could man one or the other instead of both."
The supervisors talked about the idea, agreeing that it merited further study, and decided to have Jon Martyr and Ron Graettinger talk with their respective sheriff's to learn more about the idea.
"Something like this would all come down to numbers, and that's why we're sitting here," Smith observed.
"I think if it looks promising, we need to talk to someone with some experience to learn more," agreed Madden.
As the meeting came to a close, the two boards agreed that a joint meeting at the start of each year should become a regular event, along with meetings if situations arose or opportunities became available that might be beneficial to the counties.