New board chair: Capital projects take center stage
This year’s Steele County Board of Commissioners chair Greg Krueger said four capital improvement projects will take center stage this year–and likely with little or no impact on property taxes.
“We put a plan together where we shouldn’t have to bond or levy,” Krueger said. “These are projects that will set up us for the next 25 years.”
Three of the four projects are tied to law enforcement and the courts, with the goal of consolidation:
The Community Corrections department will move next to the county attorney’s office, Krueger said, getting the county out from under the $80,000-per-year cost for renting space. The $2.4 million building addition will be paid for using federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds, distributed to state and local governments to mitigate impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officials recently finalized the purchase of a building on Alexander Street SW, across from the Detention Center. It will be renovated to provide room for a facilities shop, evidence storage for the Sheriff’s Department, and a base for emergency management.
Total cost for the property was $859,900; renovation is expected to cost around $195,000.
“We made a really good purchase on that building,” Krueger said, adding it was about half the cost of building new. “It was a good buy for the county.”
Another project will eventually move the Sheriff’s office from the Law Enforcement Center (LEC) on Pearl Street in Owatonna–a facility shared with the Owatonna Police Department and 911 dispatch–into an addition to the county’s underutilized Detention Center.
Krueger said officials recently approved schematic drawings that would use about 3,000 square feet of the existing building, with an addition. The move would also leave more space at the LEC for the remaining two departments–but would also require more discussion, he added.
The last of the four projects–also paid for with ARPA funds–will include major repairs on the County Annex building, located across from the Administration Center on Florence Street. Work will include a roof replacement, improved security, and parking lot improvements, Krueger said.
The Annex houses both Public Health and University of Minnesota Extension offices.
Krueger said he’s told department heads, “Tell me what you need, then tell me what you want, then tell me what you’d like.”
“The needs, we can get. The wants, we’ll put on the list, and what you’d like may take a while,” he said. “And they’ve all been really good about that.”
Commissioners have had multiple discussions about all of the projects, Krueger added.
“We’ve got a lot of the background work done, now it’s just a matter of putting some programs together and making some of them happen.”
Those discussions–and most recent county meetings–have been civil and with little conflict, but that wasn’t always the case. Krueger said the board experienced a “radical change” starting in 2014, as the entire commission changed over in the span of two years.
“We had a few issues when some of us were newbies,” he said. “Everybody has a voice, and it’s our job to let them voice their opinions.”
Now, only a handful of folks come to every commission meeting, including Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism’s policy committee members.
“I wish more people would come,” Krueger admitted. “It helps more people get informed.”
Commissioners have worked on being as transparent as possible, he said, and all commission meetings are now televised through OwatonnaLive.
“That was our goal all along, to let the taxpayers have a major voice in what happens,” he said. “It’s their money, they’ve entrusted us with it.”
Looking down the road, Krueger points out a couple of concerns. The first is inflation, a double-edged sword. While the county pays more for goods and to borrow money, it also earns more on its investments.
The county’s relationship with Minnesota Prairie County Alliance, a human services provider collaborative that also includes Dodge and Waseca counties, is also up in the air.
“It’s a great program, it’s just some of the counties are questioning whether it’s the right program for them,” he said, adding the alliance was initially built as a 10-county program. “It struggles because the costs are greater… and so we’re working through that. That should come to a head sometime this year.”
Part of the problem is making sure the program works for three counties with varied populations. Without it, each county would go back to having their own human services programs.
“I think MN Prairie is a good program, it’s just got to be more accountable to the counties,” he said.
About the Chair Greg Krueger
• Steele County Board: Elected in 2016 and re-elected in 2020; became chair at Jan. 3 meeting
• Other committees: Land Use/Records, Board of Equalization, Criminal Justice, Cultural Diversity Network, Children’s Mental Health, Community Health Board, Law Enforcement Center, SMART Transit, MN Prairie, South Country Health Alliance, Steele County Historical Society, Intergovernmental and alternate for others
• Represents: District 5, which covers a large swath of Owatonna
• Background: Former owner of St. Clair’s for Men in Owatonna
• Contact Info: 507-413-0692 or firstname.lastname@example.org