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Garage logic questioned, steak dinner offered

A steak dinner is the prize in a controversy over the financial benefits of Wadena County's decision to sell the Verndale highway department garage.

County Highway Engineer Joel Ulring expressed some confusion over why last year's decision to close the 50-year-old Verndale shop suddenly became a controversy during last fall's election.

"To date I have not received a single phone call over this and I'm not aware of what the major concerns are," Ulring told commissioners last Thursday.

Commissioner Ralph Miller said he's gotten a lot of input and people in Verndale and Aldrich don't like that the shop was closed. They are concerned about service in their area, he said.

Commissioner Rodney Bounds raised questions about the cost of gas and labor to have a worker travel to the garage in Staples where the highway department rents space during the winter months to house equipment.

"And you come back and you show me where you saved the county money by closing the Verndale garage and I'll buy you a steak dinner," he challenged Ulring.

In preparation for the discussion Ulring said he pulled some numbers from last winter. There wasn't a lot of snow last year, but those are the numbers he has to work with, he said.

The vehicle was parked in Staples for 27 weeks last year, which amounted to 129 actual working days, he said. Based on the time records there were 40 trips over to Staples out of 129 days. He allotted one hour for the round trip. Of those 40 trips, 11 were to wash up and maintain the truck and 29 of the trips were for an actual snow event. That left 89 days where a worker did not report to Staples and stayed in Wadena.

Ulring put a cost of $750 for 40 hours of pay for the 40 trips. The vehicle cost for the 40 trips totalled 160 miles at 70 cents a mile for a little over $100, including all maintenance costs, oil changes and fuel. The total cost was a little more than $850, he said.

If the Verndale shop was open the worker would travel from Verndale to Wadena, Ulring said. Workers typically worked at the Wadena shop during the winter months when there wasn't work in Verndale.

Bounds asked if the worker would have driven his own vehicle from Verndale to Wadena or a county vehicle.

Ulring said workers used county vehicles when they were stationed in Verndale.

"Now if he's in Wadena we don't have that expense," he said.

It cost the county $3,000 a year to keep the Verndale shop open, and that would have been quite a bit higher this year with increased utility costs, Ulring said. That does not include lawn mowing and that kind of maintenance.

Rent in Staples costs $2,400.

The Verndale Economic Development Authority made an offer to purchase the Verndale shop and property at market value for $15,000 an offer that, as far as he knows, still stands, Ulring said.

Miller said there are plenty of empty buildings in Verndale and the EDA can take its pick of those.

Ulring also surveyed how many shops neighboring counties operated compared to road mileage and density. According to that research Wadena County should only have two shops rather than the five it operated before the closing of the Verndale garage, he said.

Bounds said the county couldn't really say it had decreased a shop since it was renting a shop in Staples.

Commissioner Waldahl said he has also heard some complaints, with the biggest complaint being that the Staples shop is located in Todd County.

Part of Staples is in Wadena County, Ulring said.

"It just so happens that their maintenance garage is in Todd County not Wadena County," he said.

The opportunity for intergovernmental cooperation was another one of the reasons for moving the equipment to Staples in addition to the financial reasons, Ulring said. Staples has been very accommodating to them and he thinks it's a great thing when government agencies work together.

He thinks the county is also offering better service by having the garage located there, Ulring said.

Bounds disagreed.

Chairman Dave Schermerhorn urged an end to the discussion since it had lasted nearly half an hour and the board had other business to attend to before Commissioner Bill Stearns had to leave at 3 p.m. that afternoon.

Bounds said he would continue his conversation with Ulring later.

The steak dinner was not awarded.