The Watonwan County Board of Commissioners met in special session on September 11 at 8:15 a.m. The purpose of the meeting was to set a preliminary levy for 2014. The preliminary tax levy for 2014 is set at $7,893,286, a 5.3 percent increase from the 2013 tax levy. Further budget review will continue as the final budget doesn't have to be set until December.
This week, the Watonwan County Board met Tuesday, during their regularly scheduled meeting time Sept. 17 at 9 a.m. They were joined by more than 35 residents of Watonwan County, who were looking to learn more about ordinance amendments during a public meeting scheduled for eleven, following the regular meeting.
There were two amended ordinances scheduled for public meeting Tuesday afternoon. The first involved the Watonwan County Zoning Ordinance, which was not controversial and approved unanimously. The second proved more difficult, with two hours of open forum before a decision was made.
The plan was a four part plan that would limit the capabilities for non-conforming feedlots to expand. non-conforming feedlots are feedlots that do not meet the current requirements for conditional use permits, as decided in 1995. However, these feedlots were grandfathered in, as they were built prior to 1995 and to different standards.
The proposed amendment would have limited these non-conforming feedlots to expanding only if they had approval from all affected property owners, were not moving their feedlot closer to any neighbors, had received a conditional use permit and made this expansion sometime in the next eight years. Any expansion after eight years would have been impossible.
"This is not an attempt to restrict, stop or condemn feedlot production, it was really an attempt to direct it," said Commissioner Scott Sanders.
Sanders pointed at the boards overwhelming favor for feedlots in the past as evidence of his pro-feedlot stance. The board did, in fact, approve the creation of a feedlot and the expansion of another earlier in the meeting.
Residents did not like most of the proposed changes. Bill Brown, a former member of the planning board said "those neighbors, if they don't like you, that's tough." He believed that receiving the permission from neighbors to expand a feedlot took away the third party objectivity from the process.
As it stands now, the planning commission is made up largely of farmers or past farmers. The ordinance was re-opened to level the playing field for those residents who would like to see the number of feedlots added to Watonwan County limited. This is especially true for residents who have chosen to live in the country, only to have a neighbor build a feedlot. The farmers in the audience said that is a risk you take when you move from the city to the country, and if you don't like the smell you shouldn't have moved there.
Page 2 of 2 - "Our effort was to put some information out there so we could start the process," said Commissioner Sanders. Commissioner Dave Holmgren added, "We are trying to avoid arbitrary and capricious decisions."
Residents also disliked the portion of the changes which would limit the expansion of non-conforming feedlots to the next eight years. They believed this would limit the ability of their children to expand the feedlot when they have retired. Commissioners agreed with this sentiment, saying that much of the ordinance was worded improperly, and didn't reflect what the commissioners were trying to accomplish.
Though some saw the debate as a waste of time, Commissioner Ray Gustafson said during his closing statement that it was not a waste of time.
Audience members had an opportunity for their voices to be heard. The board was trying to strike a balance between neighbors and those people trying to expand.
Then came the difficult task of changing the ordinance. The moratorium that was placed on the expansion of non-conforming feedlots was approved unanimously before commissioners attempted to reword the amended ordinance.
The first suggestion came from Commissioner Sanders, who moved to have those non-conforming feedlots expanding beyond 500 animal units apply for a conditional use permit for expansion. This would allow for the board to review an expansion on a case-to-case basis at an expansion of 500 animal units, rather than the regular 700 animal units. There was no second for this motion.
Commissioner Gustafson moved to dismiss all changes and close the ordinance for amendment, but this too died for lack of a second.
In the third attempt for a change, Commissioner Mark Rentz moved to force non-conforming feedlots looking to expand beyond 300 animal units apply for a conditional use permit for review by the board. This was similar to the motion by Commissioner Sanders, except that it went further, down to 300 from 700. This motion was seconded by Commissioner Holmgren and approved by a vote of 4-1 with Commissioner Gustafson opposing.
Board voted to reappropriate funds for the tourism board in the amount of $587.50, which will be included in next year's budget.
Met with state auditors, who said the standards were set high and the county was doing well, with only two deficiencies.
Approved the payment of the bills and the previous meetings' minutes.
Set a date for the truth in taxation hearing for Dec. 3 at 6 a.m. with the regular board meeting following.
Approved all training requests and the payment of the credit card bills, with a county credit of $790.32 and Sheriff credit of $273.40.
Renewed Commissioner Sanders HRA appointment.
Agreed to pay the coroner $150 a month to review medications at the county jail.
Met with Public Works Director Roger Risser to discuss road projects, including the Highway 60 detour and harvesting road near Grogan.