By Jan Lee Buxengard
The Houston County Township Officers Association (HCTOA) held its annual business meeting on April 4 at Good Times in Caledonia. Attendance included township officers from the 17 townships in the county, as well as county commissioners and department heads and representatives from the state association of townships (MAT) and MnDOT.
“Nearly 20 percent of Minnesota’s population resides in townships,” Richard Markos, president of HCTOA, reported.
In the absence of the association’s treasurer Julie Amundson, board member Gene Tessmer presented the 2012 financial report, which showed a beginning balance of $1,181.35. Income amounted to $13,580.32 and expenses of $15,105.68, which resulted in a negative balance of $344.01.
By a unanimous vote, township officers approved bylaws for the association. “There was no copy of any bylaws when the association was set up,” Arlyn Pohlman stated before reading through the document the officers had developed. “We want to get this on the books and recorded in the county.”
The bulk of the meeting agenda included several speakers who reported on a variety of timely topics.
Nathan Redalen is the District 1 director with the Minnesota Association of Townships, which is a membership association representing the 1,784 township governments across the state. MAT has a concern about state efforts related to the Clean Water Protection Act. Property located in townships is being bought up for wetland mitigation and prairie restoration efforts. “We are losing townships,” Redalen cautioned about these moves.
There is more undeveloped land in towns than in cities, and as a result townships stand to lose more of their respective tax bases than other entities. On the matter of protecting township sales tax exemption, Redalen stressed that the township treasurer must write and sign the check for any purchases made by the local government.
Payment in Lieu of Taxes
Kermit McRae, HCTOA board member at large, is one of three township representatives of the Minnesota Association of Townships (MAT), along with representatives from the Departments of Revenue, Management and Budget, and the DNR serving on the PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) state advisory committee.
The state of Minnesota makes PILT payments from the general fund to offset the costs of maintaining and the loss of tax base from natural resource lands such as forestland, state parks, etc. Today, the PILT payments amount to $26 million per year for the 8,474,871 acres of public land in Minnesota. All 87 counties in the state receive some PILT monies.
Houston County has 17,106 acres of DNR-administered natural resources land. The county’s PILT payment for 2012 was $352,826.
Roads and bridges
Houston County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski reported there are 450 miles of township roads within the county. The 2013 the town road account payment was $222,274.
The engineer reported that of the 26 deficient township bridges in Houston County, 24 are load posted. The township bridge account fund balance is currently $570,160, but this amount will be reduced as 2013 projects are constructed. Township bridge projects started last year on Swede Bottom Road and Perkins Valley Road will be completed this year.
County projects completed in 2012 included bridge replacements on County Roads 22, 4 and 249, as well as reconstructing a one-mile segment of County Road 26. A seven mile stretch of County Road 26 from TH 76 to Rushford was paved.
“2013 will be a busy construction year,” Pogodzinski pointed out. Scheduled township projects include replacing two bridges on Day Valley Road and a bridge on South Prairie Drive, as well as reconstructing a one-third mile segment of Christianson Hill Road.
County projects include reconstruction of County Road 25 from TH 16 to the Root River bridge, and also on County Road 8 from TH 44 to the Iowa State Line. Mill and overlay work is planned on County Road 4 from TH 76 to County Road 15. And, an overlay pavement will be applied at the county airport.
State highway projects in the county
Mark Anderson, project engineer with MnDOT, presented information about state highway construction projects scheduled for 2013 within the Houston County area. Projects include: •Mill and resurface Highway 26 from the Iowa border to Highway 16; •Reno Springs roadside parking is a preservation project tied to the La Crescent state entry marker restoration and the La Crescent overlook preservation projects; •Mill and resurface Highway 44 from Highway 52 to Spring Grove, and replace five box culverts. At the same time, the City of Spring Grove will be doing a reconstruction project on Hwy 44, which runs through the city.
In 2012 construction cost in Houston County amounted to $8,882,525. In 2013 the amount is expected to be $11,723,687.
Environmental services report
Rick Frank, county environmental services director, reported that 2012 revenues of $408,851 and expenses of $486,978, show the program operated at $78,127 in the red.
The recycling program has been totally supported by the fee of $2.50 per household per month. In 2013, with the increase of household waste brought to drop sites, the fee was raised 50 cents to $3, which townships pay based on its number of households.
“It’s been a trying year for the office with flags flying all over the place,” Frank stated. Regarding the frac sand, he reported, “A moratorium was put into place a year ago to slow the process down to take a look at all the issues on the table. Two ordinances – industrial and construction – are being drafted to address and protect what we have. In the permitting process we have road use agreements with townships to make sure all your issues are addressed.”
In other news
Tom Dybing, county assessor, reminded landowners that May 1 is the final date to convert woods and waste property from Green Acres to Rural Preserve.
Dick Walter, county surveyor, reported that a cooperative resurvey of the state line will be an on/off project that could take a year. It involves the southern edges of Jefferson, Winnebago and Wilmington Townships in Minnesota, and the northern edge of Allamakee County in Iowa. “It’s been 161 years since the original survey,” he stated, adding, “This is the basis for your property corners.”
The HCTOA board is made up of representatives from four quadrants, with two people from each quadrant and one at large. Board members re-elected were:
• For the northwest (representing Money Creek, Houston, Sheldon and Yucatan townships) – Richard Nelson and Burdette Unnasch.
• For the northeast (representing Mound Prairie, La Crescent, Hokah, Union and Brownsville townships) – Richard Markos and Marion Lynch.
• For the southeast (representing Mayville, Winnebago, Crooked Creek and Jefferson townships) – Arlyn Pohlman and Eugene Tessmer.
• For the southwest (representing Black Hammer, Caledonia, Spring Grove and Wilmington townships) – Julie Amundson was re-elected, while Mike Patterson was elected to fill the vacancy of Richard Gulbranson, who decided not to continue serving on the board.
• Board member at large – incumbent Kermit McRae prevailed over John Beckman, who was nominated from the floor.