Otter Tail County ends state of emergency

Although COVID continues to sicken residents, the case load has fallen significantly.

Starting Thursday, July 1, Otter Tail County will no longer be a state of emergency.

It's been more than 15 months since the county declared a state of emergency on March 17, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was one of the first Minnesota counties to do so.

The declaration allowed the county administrator to take steps to limit the spread of the disease, which has killed 84 county residents. Where possible, county employees began working from home, meetings were conducted virtually and the county required masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing.

While COVID-19 remains active, with one resident being hospitalized and two more lives claimed in the past two weeks, its impact has dwindled in Otter Tail County as well as statewide. More than half of those age 12 and up have received at least one dose of the vaccine, public health director Jody Lien told commissioners.

“It’s great to be at this point,” said Otter Tail County Commission Chairman Lee Rogness, after Emergency Manager Patrick Waletzko introduced a resolution to rescind the March 17 declaration of a state of emergency. Commissioners unanimously approved the resolution at their June 22 board meeting.


Health and emergency workers will now analyze the county's response to the emergency, both for things that worked well and areas that need improvement.

Also in Otter Tail County, parents whose children are removed from their homes by Otter Tail County will have to start paying fees after July 1.

“It came to my attention that parental fees were not being collected at the current time,” said Probation Director Michael Schommer. “No parental fees or reimbursement for out of home placement have been collected since 2017.”

Based on policy in Wright County, the county will charge parents based on their ability to pay. A household of one to two people earning at least $17,501 a year would have to pay a flat monthly fee of $25, the lowest rate, while the highest earners would pay $75 per month.

“We’re not trying to turn a profit here for the county," Schommer said. "What we’re trying to do is making sure that parents still have some responsibility when their child is removed from the home.”

The fees would not apply if children are removed after a domestic violence incident.

Schommer said the fees would help the county recoup some of what it spends on removing children from situations of neglect or abuse. In 2021, for instance, it would receive about $27,000. He said that money funds programs that help children, such as teaching cognitive behavior skills.

“This encourages parental involvement in the process,” said Commissioner Kurt Mortenson. “That involvement by parents is probably the biggest plus in having a fee like this. ... In my opinion, the amounts are very reasonable and appropriate. “


Commissioners unanimously passed the measure.

In other action:

  • Commissioners approved a Lake Improvement District for Eagle Lake, although landowners have 30 days to seek a referendum.
  • Set a July 13 public hearing to consider establishing a housing trust fund that could help finance affordable housing, assist with down payments or rehabbing homes.
  • Adopted a new shoreland ordinance, with one major change. At Commissioner Betty Murphy's behest, commissioners stripped out a provision that would likely have led to more development of backlots in lakefront neighborhoods. That provision would have allowed the presence of lots that provide lakeshore access to up to six nearby homes that are not on the lake.
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