Vacation Home Rental Ordinance tabled to June

Contributed photo
Leland (Lee) Rogness, District 5 Commissioner, officially announced he will not seek reelection to the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners having served on the board since 2009.

By Robert Williams


District 5 Commissioner Lee Rogness discussed his coming retirement during the general discussion time of the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, May 21.

“I really appreciated my time with the county,” Rogness said. “I came on here at the extreme encouragement by my so-called business friends and I thought, well, I’ll give it a run for one term and here we are well over one term and many terms later.”

Rogness has been a county commissioner since 2009. He officially announced that he will not seek reelection in 2024 to the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners in a May press release. 

First elected in 2008, Rogness has successfully balanced his public service with managing a family farm equipment business. He attributes his ability to serve to the unwavering support of his wife, Lavonne, their three daughters, and their families.

Throughout his tenure, Rogness has represented Fergus Falls, maintaining close contact with his constituents. After 16 years of service, Rogness said he has fulfilled his mission and believes it is “time to make room for others to contribute to the county board.”

Rogness emphasized that the successful day-to-day operations of the county result from the foundational work of former county administration and department heads and the strong leadership of the current county administration. 

“I am convinced that all our county employees work to the best of their abilities while serving their fellow residents here in Otter Tail County,” said Rogness. “As a result, Otter Tail County has gained statewide recognition for addressing the needs of its residents effectively.”

One notable achievement during Rogness’s tenure is the county’s successful housing initiatives. The Big Build rebate program, approved by the county board five years ago, has spurred new investment in single and two-family homes. As a member of the Community Development Agency (CDA), Rogness has overseen the increased housing opportunities in the county while addressing workforce and childcare needs and expanding broadband access.

Looking back, Rogness recalled that in 2016, he and fellow county board members held public meetings throughout the county to garner support for a half-cent sales tax to fund roads and bridges. The initiative received over 90 percent approval, raising over $5 million annually. 

“County residents have expressed their desire for their roadways to be maintained at the highest level,” Rogness noted, commending the dedicated county employees who ensure the roads and bridges are well-maintained. He also highlighted the recent addition of two new modern county garages.

Rogness praised Otter Tail County’s willingness to collaborate with neighboring counties, citing the waste-to-energy center in Perham and the county’s ability to leverage state and federal grants. He also recognized the county board’s dedication to preserving the rich history of Otter Tail County. He specifically lauded the attention given to the historic county courthouse and maintaining its beauty. He also expressed pride in the preservation efforts of Phelps Mill, the dam, and the expanded adjoining park.

“I have been blessed for the opportunity to serve the residents of Otter Tail County and enjoy such great support. Despite its many challenges, Otter Tail County is on the right track in remaining a good place to live and work,” said Rogness reflecting on his career.

Land & Resource 


After a public hearing in April, the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners were set to approve a new Vacation Home Rental Ordinance on Tuesday, but the vote was pushed due to recent changes made.

During April’s meeting, Land & Resource Management Director Chris LeClair stated he wanted the ordinance fast-tracked and approved prior to Memorial Day.

The ordinance establishes a licensing program for vacation home rentals.

Revisions were made to the ordinance a day prior to the meeting and questions about liability were raised pushing back the vote.

County Attorney Michelle Eldien has been on vacation and her absence also led to the vote’s delay.

“I would be remiss to say that I understand what the language in there says and I would like her opinion to be given to us regarding that the language is appropriate as far as ordinance and state law,” said Wayne D. Johnson, District 2 Commissioner.

Johnson also related comments he has received from the public on day-time capacity versus night-time occupancy.

In April, LeClair highlighted a hypothetical instance in explaining the maximum occupancy allowed portion of the ordinance including both overnight guests and daytime guests.

“If you have a vacation rental and you’re allowed to have five people sleep there overnight, you can’t throw a graduation party there during the day,” he said. “You’re only allowed five people at all times during the day. We’re basically trying to make sure we’re not disturbing the peace with the neighbors.”

Johnson likened the capacity rulings to a fire marshal’s maximum number of occupants of a room and also made a specific statement. 

“Our charge is to protect the environment and the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s not to allow more people than what is licensed by our properties. I want to make that statement that I’ve thought about and had a number of conversations with people.”

Johnson then moved to table the ordinance vote until Tuesday, June 11, so that the board can have clean versions of the ordinance, provisions and enforcement that has been approved by Eldien.

District 1 Commissioner Dan Bucholz proposed the ordinance be pushed to 2025.

The board has the option to select an effective date if and when voting to approve. 

“The county is responding to input from the community. Our goal here is to achieve the best final outcome,” Board Chair Kurt Mortenson said.

Subdivision Ordinance

A public hearing was scheduled for Monday, June 24 at 7 p.m., on updates to the Subdivision Controls Ordinance. The subdivision ordinance has been in effect with no changes since 1997.

Highway Department

County Engineer Krysten Foster had no action items, but discussed current road projects underway, along with future plans.

The predominant project of the season is currently underway in downtown Perham.

“We have been busy on Main Street in Perham; that is our largest project this year,” said Foster.

All of the sidewalk work that can be done has been completed with scheduled paving on the first section of road to be determined by weather. 

Foster also announced the reopening of County Highway 35 North of Underwood to all-through traffic, but advised drivers to remain cautious, as lane closures may occur during the contractor’s final cleanup and striping to complete the project.

Foster was on a one-year contract upon hire. Personnel rules state her contract becomes a three-year appointment after the first year is completed. That was approved by the board unanimously.



Emergency Manager Patrick Waletzko discussed the 2022 Emergency Management Performance Grant, which was delayed by a federal audit and staffing vacancies at the state. The grant agreement is a reimbursement for activities conducted in 2022. 

“We use this grant on an annual basis to support our Smart911 emergency notification system as well as do all of our public education initiatives,” said Waletzko.

The 2022 grant was $41,727 with a 100 percent match. Waletzko also announced that a reimbursement of $17,521.57 will be brought back to the county budget as a whole due to previously unrealized reimbursements.

The 2023 grant is expected to be received later this year and the 2024 grant will be available the following fiscal year.

Human Resources

The commissioners approved the request of Assistant HR Director Stephanie Retzlaff to add two new Communications Sergeants. The two employees will oversee Communications Officers in the 911 Dispatch Office along with other duties. The position is a promotional opportunity for current county employees. The current Dispatch Supervisor position will be reclassified as an IT Position.

The change is in alignment with the supervisory structure of the Sheriff’s Department, according to Sheriff Barry Fizgibbons.

Humans Services

The board approved the resolution of May 2024 of Foster Care Month.

Assistant Human Services Director Jess Steinbrenner, along with Children and Families Unit Supervisor Steph Olson, Child Foster Care Licensor Jody Dahlen and Krista Fix, Child and Family Services Supervisor spoke on the important role that foster families play in Otter Tail County.

There are 45-50 foster care providers in the county and 35 foster homes that provide services to older adults with developmental disabilities, serious and persistent illness, along with elderly adults.

Human Services Director, Deb Sjostrom, Deputy Administrator, Lynne Penke Valdes and MAHUBE-OTWA Executive Director Liz Kouppela and MAHUBE-OTWA Family Development Director Maegan Hernandez presented a proclamation regarding Local Homeless Prevention Aid (LHPA). 

LHPA was created by the 2021 Minnesota Legislature to help local governments ensure no child is homeless within a local jurisdiction by keeping families from losing housing and helping those experiencing homelessness find housing.

LHPA is paid in two installments in the year after it is certified, the first half paid on July 20 and the second half paid on December 26 through December 2028.

There was $41,000 allocated to OTC in 2023 and $71,000 this year.

The money must be spent by two years after it was released. The county is working with Mahube-Otwa to decide how to best use those funds.

The group is partnering with area schools to combat homelessness at the family level, which is who predominantly makes up the homeless population in OTC.

According to Hernandez, the program has helped 408 households with housing stability in the county over the past year.