Four applications received for the six new pods

The daycare situation in the county was again a topic of discussion for the Stevens County Commissioners at the regular meeting on February 21. County Administrator Rebecca Young reported on the construction progress at the new pods and also presented a request for donations from the Morris Area Child Care Center (MACCC) which is doing a major renovation and expansion of their center. 

Young stated that the county had received a letter from MACCC that had been sent out to the community asking for donations to help with the cost to furnish and finish the new area for the children within West Wind Village. West Wind Village has donated the construction costs of the additional classrooms and renovations of the building through grants and donations of their own funds. MACCC will need to cover all of the costs needed for moving to and licensing the new, expanded space as well as furnishings and playground equipment. 

They estimate the cost for the extras will be $125,000. Therefore they are launching a fundraising campaign and also sending letters to local businesses and entities.  

Young told the commissioners that there are still some American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds that could possibly be used for this purpose.  The board has limited funds they can access to support this project.  The commissioners directed staff to check in with fundraising and see where the MACCC was on fundraising and to bring a recommendation back to the board on March 7th

“I really think we should do something,” stated Jeanne Ennen, District 2. “Our county can support all three projects.”  Young will contact them to see how they are doing with the fundraising.

Commissioner Patricia Lesmeister-Nelson, District 5, asked for some clarification about the ARPA funds. Young stated that the county received $1.9 million. They then designated $1 million for the construction of six daycare pods. Another $54,000 was given to local providers who applied for grant funds. The Nest in Hancock was awarded $250,000 with conditions. Some of the remaining funds have also been used for county projects. She stated that there would be enough funds remaining to make a donation. Her question was to make sure there would be enough funds to finish the pods such as for the parking lot and fencing.

Apollo Development, who is building the pods, submitted a request for an additional $4,500 to cover extra concrete needed for the floors. This extra expense was approved along with an initial payment of $450,000 less a 5% retainage. The work on the pods is about 45% complete. 

Young said that they received four applications from caregivers for the pods and will be conducting interviews of each one. A concern she has is that the licensing requirements may hinder how many children each one can have especially during the first year until they get more hours of experience. She suggested a reduction of rent for the first year to help them get their feet under them and to get a cash flow 

“It is eye opening” Young stated, “when it comes to the licensing requirements.”

She also explained that the committee is working on trying to establish a substitute list for the providers so there is someone to call if they are sick or need to be gone for some reason. This is also difficult to get set up due to state and federal regulations. The daycare committee was made aware of a pilot program in Becker County and will monitor it to see if it is something that can be replicated.

The commissioners also had considerable discussion about a request from the City of Donnelly. The City of Donnelly and the City of Hancock each provides a building for the storage of a county owned grader used for snow plowing and summer grading. The utility expenses are shared by the city and the county. Occasionally the county will also help with some of the repair costs. 

The advantage of this for the two communities will be faster service with the equipment in the community. If it would be stored in Morris, that service would be delayed until other areas are graded or plowed first. 

The City of Donnelly is now requesting a $5 per day rent for the building along with the shared utility expenses. This would amount to about $150 per month plus utilities.

“It is hard for me to support paying this when we are also paying a big bond debt for a brand new facility where the equipment can be stored,” Young stated. 

“The City of Donnelly is not asking any more than the pods,” stated Ennen. “They need to update and maintain the building. I don’t think the request is out of line.” She added that she would feel the same way if Hancock made the request. 

It was decided to send a letter back to the City of Donnelly stating that they are not willing to pay the rent and if that city continues to request it, the grader will be relocated to the County Highway garage. In the vote that followed, Ennen voted against. 

The commissioners learned from Jacob Rischmiller, Civil Engineer, that the bids for the County Ditch 16 work were recently opened and came in much higher than expected. In fact they were 44% higher than the engineering estimate. He stated that a major part of the increase came through the estimated cost to bore under the railroad tracks and county highway. That area alone was 67% higher than expected.

He presented three options and the commissioners chose the second option which was to make some changes to the bid request and then put it out for a second bid process. Therefore all bids received were rejected. 

In personnel matters, the Commissioners accepted the resignation of Stevens County Deputy Tyler Christianson and approved the advertising to fill the position. The county commissioners approved hiring a temporary Highway Accountant to fill in during a Family Medical Leave Request this summer. They were introduced to new Stevens County Human Services Eligibility Worker Crystal Ervin. Victim Witness Coordinator Susie Hanson gave an update on her grant applications and budget adjustments.