• Charlene Sims, Journal staff

Planning board member asks commission to consider hiring engineer, expand to five-member board

Updated: Aug 10

Planning board member Davie Berglund, far left, talks to Linn County Commissioners about hiring a county engineer. (Screen capture, Linn County)

MOUND CITY – Long-time planning and zoning board member and resident of Linn County Dave Berglund approached the Linn County Commissioners on Monday, July 25, about hiring a county engineer and expanding the commission to a five-person board.

After complimenting several county employees, including county planning and codes administrator Darin Wilson, Bergland told commissioners that he knew the county was spending funds outside of the county for engineering services, and suggested that federal stimulus money for instructor could be used to hire an engineer.

Commissioner Rick James said there were advantages to contracting with a company rather than hiring a full-time employee.

Berglund said that Wilson was great guy and had a lot of knowledge but did not have the engineering degree to sign off on some building projects. The same thing with the road foremen, he added.

He said the county had an engineer in the past, and he inquired why they chose not replace him.

County Counselor Gary Thompson said that the county had a hard time finding a qualified person who would work for what the county could pay. The previous engineer had been doing other jobs also including supervising the road department.

He explained that there were three kind of services they were talking about here. The first is the everyday management services, and you don’t need a qualified engineer for that.

Another is the engineering questions part about specific project with questions like do we need to replace this bridge or how can we change this low water crossing, Thompson said.

And the third, the actual designing is not often done by county engineers it still will be bid out. So it is the mid-level stuff that a county engineer would handle, he added.

James said that the county was required by law to have the state do the bridge inspections anyhow.

Thompson said the thinking at the time was that the commissioner were only going to hire someone to do those mid-level questions. In some years there would not be much expense just hiring a firm as compared to hiring a full-time engineer and paying benefits.

Berglund said that in the past the engineer handled the road crews and projects. An engineer could take some of the work load off of the current employees like Shaun West, county public works administrator, and Jessica Hightower, economic development director and county airport manager.

Berglund warned the commissioners that Linn County was going to grow and additional services would be needed. It would be interesting to see what the county was spending to hire an engineer from out of the county for projects.

Pfefferkorn Engineering and Environmental, the Olathe-based engineering company that the county uses, received $4,725 in 2021 and so far has been paid $38,790 in 2022, according to County Clerk David Lamb in an email response to the Journal.

Next, Berglund brought up expanding the commission to five commissioners. He said that commissioners never came to planning and zoning meetings to better understand the issues there. And with just three commissioners, only one could come to any meeting like that without it being an official meeting.

If there were five commissioners, two would be able to attend meetings together. Berglund said with five commissioners on the board, there would be more input of ideas.

“Right now, I can see where a strong-willed commissioner can dominate a weaker one and the third guy’s vote doesn’t count. Don’t take it personal Rick,” Berglund said to James, “I’m not picking on you.”

What procedure would it take to make the commission a five-member board, Berglund asked Thompson. Thompson said the commissioners would have to make a resolution to put it on the ballot.

Lamb said in an email that it would require a petition with 5 percent of the registered county voters to force the commission to put it on the ballot if they did not want to do it.

The county really needs to look at this. The commissioners need to be attending more meetings, said Berglund.

Berglund said that renewable energy was knocking on Linn County’s door and they needed to be prepared.

Commissioner Danny McCullough said that the commission needed to be more proactive in their actions.

James told Berglund that all three of them, the commissioners, were interested to see what the planning board came up with in the comprehensive plan to make the county better. After the plan was in place the commission could then look at what the county needed in terms of an engineer and regulations.

The Comprehensive Plan final draft, along with a companion appendix, has been available for anyone to read on the county’s website since last week.

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