Lyon County goes with engineer instead of public works director position

MARSHALL – The question of whether to hire a public works director was a main topic of discussion at the Lyon County Board’s regular meeting Tuesday. Commissioners decided not to keep the position in the county but were not ready to move forward with hiring a highway engineer instead.

Former Lyon County Public Works Director Suhail Kanwar had resigned his position this spring in order to take a new job in North Dakota. Since then, Aaron VanMoer has served as interim county engineer, coordinating county road and bridge construction projects.

At past meetings, commissioners had discussed the subject of how, or if, the county should permanently replace Kanwar but had not reached a decision. On Tuesday, Lyon County Administrator Loren Stomberg presented the board with two major options. One option would be to hire a new public works director. The county could also adopt a “more traditional” organizational plan, with the county highway, parks and environmental departments falling under the county administrator’s authority.

Stomberg said the county has already been working under the latter option for the past few months.

“I think it’s working out well,” Stomberg said.

“It puts more on you,” said Commissioner Rodney Stensrud. Stomberg would need to meet and work closely with county department heads, he said.

“I like that public works structure,” said Commissioner Steve Ritter. However, commissioners noted that county departments have been working fine under the new system this summer.

Commissioners voted in favor of hiring a county highway engineer instead of a public works director. However, after further discussion, the board decided it couldn’t yet act on hiring that engineer. Commissioners questioned whether they should hire from within, or open the position for applications. Commissioner Mark Goodenow said the board also needed more specific terms before making a hire.

“We don’t even have a job description to do an inside hire,” Goodenow said.

The board instructed Stomberg to come back with more information on an engineer job description and salary range by Sept. 26.

Board members also spent some time discussing a possible change in the county’s employee health insurance program. Stomberg said representatives from Lyon, Redwood and Murray counties, as well as Southwest Health and Human Services, have been discussing going to a self-insurance program instead of contracting with the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative to provide insurance.

Commissioners heard a presentation on the proposal from Amy Dietrich of RJF, a Marsh & McLennan Agency. Dietrich said the self-insurance program could reduce costs for the counties and help weather the highs and lows of changing insurance costs.

Goodenow noted that the proposal wouldn’t change employee health benefits, just the source they came from.

Commissioners had some positive responses to the proposal but weren’t fully ready to commit on Tuesday. They didn’t know if the other counties and SHHS would also accept the proposal, they said.

The board voted to notify SW/WC Service Cooperative of the possibility Lyon County may not renew its employee insurance contract.

Commissioners considered a request for leave for Lyon County Veterans Services Officer Terry Wing. Wing had requested leave for military service, effective Oct. 14. At Tuesday’s meeting, Wing also introduced commissioners to Luke Johnson, who will serve as an interim VSO while Wing is gone. Wing said Johnson served as a U.S. Marine from 1999 to 2007, and is currently a VSO with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, serving southwest Minnesota.

“He’s well-suited for what he’s doing,” Wing said. Johnson has also worked with the Lyon County VSO in the past.

Wing and county commissioners also discussed county VSO staffing in more depth. Wing cautioned that it is harder to provide continuity and follow up with area veterans without a full-time VSO. In addition to Johnson, Wing said Lyon County would also have support from VSOs in surrounding counties.

Commissioners approved Wing’s request for military leave.

“I enjoy working with veterans in this county,” Wing said. While he is away, he said, “I ask that the county honor the sacred trust we have with veterans.”

Commissioners approved a quote to replace the roof of the Lyon County Historical Museum. A leak in the building’s rooftop air conditioning system had damaged the roof, and the roof itself was aging, said Lyon County Facilities Manager Ron Krause.

Krause said he requested quotes to replace the roof from four vendors, and received quotes back from two. He recommended the county accept a low quote of $44,350 from Laraway Roofing, Inc., of New Ulm, to replace the roof membrane and install insulation in the roof. Commissioners voted to accept the quote.