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Otter Tail County board sets salaries, budgets

Some details were murky, particularly around the levy the county set for the county's housing agency.

Otter Tail County commissioners closed out their final meeting of 2021 by setting budgets, levies and raises for next year.

That included voting to raise their own salaries by 3%, starting Jan. 1, similar to raises other county employees are receiving.

Commissioners' annual salary for 2021, $40,426, will go to $41,639. The amount they receive for expenses, called a per diem, will also rise, from $75 in 2021 to $90 in 2022.

Commissioners receive per diems for expenses involved in doing their work. They also increased the per diem to $90 for members of the Otter Tail County Board of Adjustment, Otter Tail County Planning Commission and Otter Tail County Extension Committee.

They also adopted the county's annual budget — which is about $150 million — and annual levy, which will raise to $44.9 million in 2022, up from $42.8 million in 2021.

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Commissioner Wayne Johnson, the chair of the commission's Finance Committee, said he had received very little feedback from the public about the proposed budget or levy.

"That tells me that, in my opinion, we've done a good job in being thoughtful with their tax dollars and yet doing the things that we need to do," Johnson said.

The Otter Tail County Housing and Redevelopment Special Taxing District and the Community Development Association will be getting property tax funding also, although how much is unclear. The county approved the levy, but did not include those figures in documents made available to the public prior to the meeting, nor did they mention them during the meeting.

Johnson said the levy would help those two agencies put in place a long-range plan to increase housing to increase the tax base as well as bring workers in for the county's businesses.

"We have a huge need in Otter Tail County for housing and this will help us," he said.

Troubled waters for Phelps Mill fish project

A proposal to remove part of the Phelps Mill dam to help lake sturgeon ran into turbulent waters when two commissioners — Dan Bucholz of Perham and Betty Murphy of Parkers Prairie — objected to paying for an artist rendering of what the project would look like.

"What they're looking at doing is taking two-thirds of that water fall away for that fish passage," Murphy said. "The waterfall would turn into more of a trickle."

The waterfall is part of the historic nature of Phelps Mill, she said, and would detract from one of the county's most popular parks.

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Commissioner Kurt Mortenson said the rendering would only provide the county with more information.

"More information can lead us to be better informed," he said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had sought information about the potential affect of the project on historic properties.

Three commissioners — Lee Rogness, Wayne Johnson and Mortenson — voted to proceed with the artist rendering, while Bucholz and Murphy voted against it.

Some solid waste fees rising

Otter Tail County residents will still be able to bring a 30-gallon bag of garbage to the landfill for $5 and a 13-gallon bag for $3.

However, those who dispose of garbage by the ton will see their rates go up from $141 to $145 per ton for the contracted rate and from $157.96 to $161.96 per ton for the non-contracted rate.

Microwaves and computer disposal will still cost $5, and it will still cost $10 to get rid of a refrigerator.

However, it will cost more to get rid of demolition debris, $16 per yard, up from $14 in 2021.

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The cost to dispose of many tires will remain the same. However, it will cost more to dispose of bulk passenger tires ($250 per ton, up from $225), bulk tractor tires (375 per ton from $350) and solid tires and tracks ($425 per ton, up from $400.

Organics recycling project has room for more participants

The Organics Recycling Pilot program still has room for a few schools, healthcare facilities or restaurants to join their effort to collect organic material to turn into compost.

The new program was offered to all schools, but not all opted to take it, said county educator Cedar Walters. The schools in Henning, Parkers Prairie, Underwood and Fergus Falls have signed on, but those in Perham and Pelican Rapids have not, she said. She is awaiting confirmation from the Battle Lake school.

"There's a few spots left in our list of 20 that we're looking to fill," she told commissioners. "If somebody came forward in the next few weeks and wanted to opt in we could probably make that happen."

The county hired Steve's Sanitation for $102,060 to haul the organic material to a commercial composting facility in Hoffman for 18 months starting in early 2022.

COVID relief funds to benefit housing, workforce and internet

Housing will be getting a $2 million boost, workforce training more than $500,000, and better internet access $2.8 million when Otter Tail County receives the rest of its $11.4 million of federal COVID relief money. It has already received half of its allocation through the American Rescue Plan Act and will receive the other half in May 2022, Community Development Director Amy Baldwin told commissioners.

The money must be spent by 2026, and her agency put together a spending plan for the county. Examples include $150,000 to support a jobs portal through the Otter Tail Lakes Country Association for employers and job seekers, an undetermined amount to help townships develop sewer and water service necessary for housing growth, and $100,000 to support child care providers.

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