Wadena courthouse annex bids okayed

Turnover in Social Services attributed to burnout, heavy caseloads

At the Nov. 16 county board meeting, Wadena commissioners approved the bids gathered by Vercon, Inc., the county’s construction manager, for the new Courthouse Annex building.

Construction was scheduled to begin the next day, Nov. 17, according to County Engineer Ryan Odden and Vercon representative Justin Maaninga. Both men wanted to get the excavation underway before the ground freezes.

Construction could begin because the City of Wadena approved a variance that the county applied for, relating to the number of parking spaces provided for customers. With the new parking lot the county has planned, the county will have 60 parking spaces, instead of the 74 spaces required by City Code.

At present, the county has about $800,000 on hand for the new building. Another $800,000 will be needed. This money will come from reserve monies held by the county’s General Fund and Social Services Fund. Other possible funding sources include the annual dividend from MCIT, which in 2016 will be $83,849, and reimbursement from FEMA for building replacement resulting from the 2010 tornado. (Not, all the reimbursements have not been received, even six years later.)

In any event, the county will not increase taxes or sell bonds to complete the Annex. It will be paid for out of current funds over the next 18 months.

The vote on the Annex was 3-0. Commissioners Jim Hofer, Bill Stearns, and Sheldon Monson voted “yea”, Commissioner Dave Hillukka abstained, and Commissioner Rodney Bounds was absent.


Also at the Nov. 16 meeting, commissioners learned of increased turnover in the Social Services Department. The resignations of four social workers were announced by department representative Amie Gendron. 

Exit interviews of the four employees had not been completed by the time of the board meeting, but Gendron indicated that the resignations were mostly due to the low salaries paid by Wadena County. 

These resignations are not the first this year. At least five other employees of the Social Services Department have resigned in recent months.

Stearns said that the county paid Social Services Department workers from $2 to $5 per hour less than adjacent counties like Otter Tail, Hubbard, Cass and Becker.

He also said, “Burnout among social workers is tremendous,” referencing the high caseloads assigned to each social worker, the difficulties social workers face in carrying out their jobs; assisting people who are poor, disabled, mentally and physically ill, addicted to drugs, violent, elderly, unemployed, victimized by other people and/or under the protection of the state, as children or vulnerable adults.

Monson said, “This high turnover greatly concerns me. We need to understand the overall theme of why.”

The board accepted the four resignations with regret, and called upon the Human Resources Department staff to carry out the exit interviews as soon as possible. 

Also at the Nov. 16 board meeting, County Attorney Kyra Ladd told the board that the continuing issues with telephones not working at the Courthouse could lead to liability issues for the county. She said that several department heads were upset about the problems. 

In other business, the board

o Approved paying $75 per tree to move the trees on the Courthouse grounds that are in the construction zone for the Annex project. Odden told the board that the trees may not survive being moved. 

o Learned that county-owned land in the city of Wadena will be assessed more than $67,000 for utility, sidewalk and road work being done by the city.

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