Monday, January 17, 2022
Public health worker Karen Fountaine works at a drive-thru vaccination clinic on Jan. 19 at the Steele County Public Works Building in Owatonna. During the clinic, she utilized the sheriff’s new emergency operations trailer.

A wise use of public tax dollars

Public officials are often criticized, sometimes justifiably and other times not, for spending excessively and not using public tax dollars wisely. But that’s far from the case with a recent situation in Steele County.

Back in December, Sheriff Lon Thiele unveiled a new emergency trailer to replace an old and antiquated one that had been around since the late 1990s. Despite a price tag of $75,000 for a truck and trailer, the newest additions did not come out of the county’s budget. It was paid through the $4.5 million the county received from the federal CARES Act.

Asked this week where he came up with the idea to tie the trailer replacement to a grant related to the pandemic, Thiele said a sergeant with the Mower County Sheriff’s Office tipped him off. “Through our networking system in law enforcement, I was able to receive information from Mower County that they applied for a similar type situation,” Thiele said. “I tried for Steele and succeeded. Very good deal for taxpayers.”

The beauty of Thiele’s idea is how he laid it out in the grant application that the new trailer could possibly be utilized in pandemic needs. The first such need arose last week during Steele County’s drive-thru vaccination clinic at the Steele County Public Works Building in Owatonna.

In a joint effort with Steele County Public Health, Thiele made the sheriff’s emergency trailer available to assist with the clinic during the inclement weather. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Karen Fountaine, a public health worker, utilized the trailer as she was stationed outside the building to direct drivers to where they needed to get their COVID-19 shots.

“This enabled Karen to be sheltered to stay warm in between checking people in for their shots,” said Thiele. “It’s nice to see it kept her warm as she performed her duties for Public Health.”

Thiele said he stopped by to make sure the trailer was functioning properly as it runs on a generator. Though they weren’t needed for this particular event, the trailer also comes equipped with a work area for computer and emergency radio transmissions, refrigerator, cot, storage and a de-contamination shower.

Public Health Director Amy Caron said they were excited and fortunate to be able to utilize the emergency trailer. She is already thinking about how it may be used in the future when they offer expanded clinics with more hours.

“It was a nice partnership,” Caron said. “It’s definitely a great asset for our county.”

Besides pandemic needs, the trailer will also be used for training exercises, search and rescue missions, the county fair and the occasional natural disasters that hit the county.

Pointing back to the original grant he wrote, Sheriff Thiele said, “This is a great example of how it assisted Public Health during the pandemic.”

The emergency trailer is a great example of federal money being used wisely on the local level. Based on my experience with the sheriff, he is always conscientious about how he spends taxpayer money and coming up with unique ways of fulfilling needs of the residents he represents. This situation certainly bears it out.

Other public officials can take a lesson from Thiele in how he goes in hot pursuit of not only catching criminals, but also being fiscally responsible to the public.




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