By Jan Lee Buxengard
The Houston County Township Officers Association (HCTOA) held its annual banquet on Sept. 5 at the Four Seasons Community Center, Caledonia. Hosted by the nine-member township association board, this social and informational event had an attendance of 101, namely representatives of 15 of the 17 townships, county commissioners and department heads, as well as a state legislator, representatives from the state township association and the Fillmore and Olmsted County township associations.
A roast beef meal was catered by Good Times, and entertainment was provided by the Highland Voices, a 13 member female singing group from the Caledonia area. Area businesses contributed cash and/or door prizes for the annual event.
Township Association history
The Minnesota Association of Townships (MAT), representing grassroots government, was founded in 1933. This nonprofit corporation, representing 1,779 of Minnesota’s 1,783 townships, is a voluntary membership organization with membership generally coordinated through a town’s participation in a local county township association. The county township associations provide a forum for disseminating information and for resolving local problems.
Each county township association has its own board of directors. There are over 9,000 town officers in the state. Minnesota is one of 12 states organized with township associations.
HCTOA was formed in 1961. Current board members are: Richard Markos, president; Kermit McRae, vice president; Richard Nelson, secretary; Julie Amundson, treasurer; and directors Burdette Unnasch, Marion Lynch, Mike Patterson, Gene Tessmer and Arlyn Pohlman.
MAT and HCTOA’s mission is: “To secure for township officers and office holders full recognition and enjoyment of their rights to administer their responsibilities in a just and professional manner; to secure the tools necessary for them to fulfill their obligations as public servants and to strengthen and extend our form of township government in such a way as to provide to the citizens the services they are entitled.”
Master of Ceremonies and HCTOA’s president Markos explained that the objective and purpose of the association is to organize the officers of the townships into a county educational association for the exchange of ideas pertaining to local government. The duties and responsibilities are to secure cooperation among them, to aid and assist them in preserving the township as a municipal entity in the affairs of government, to maintain the jurisdiction of such townships and its officers in the construction and maintenance of highways, the levying of taxes, the holding of elections and in general all activities that are now enjoyed by such townships.
Approximately 924,158 residents of Minnesota live in a township, which provide a variety of services to these residents including being responsible for the maintenance of approximately 55,000 miles of roads, more than any other single level of road authority in the state.
Nathan Redalen, director on the MAT board, represents District 1, which includes 159 townships in nine counties of Southeast Minnesota. He encouraged township officers to participate in the bus trip in March 2014 to meet with legislators at the State Capitol about important issues to grassroots government.
He also noted that what was formerly called local government aid (LGA) is now called Town Aid. In 2014, the certified money will come to townships in two payments – in the spring and fall.
Along with Redalen, Gary Pedersen, MAT executive director, also expressed the need for township government representation in the upcoming legislative session.
“This session is huge for us,” Pedersen emphasized. “Our work is not done. We have to keep battling for an increase in the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) on natural resources land. Our top priority is to seek a one-to-one ratio, a one dollar per acre increase.”
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., to cover losses to local government when private land becomes public.
The 2013 Minnesota Legislature amended the laws that govern PILTs, which resulted in a statewide PILT increase of over $4.76 million dollars. All 87 counties in the state receive some PILT dollars.
Houston County has 17,296 acres of DNR-administered natural resources land. For 2013, the total PILT for Houston County is $357,378.
State Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, addressed township and county officials, “I want to thank you for all you did in June, July and August after the flooding damage.
“We are putting flood relief legislation together for the 18 counties given federal disaster declaration,” Davids continued. “The federal government (FEMA) pays 75 percent, and we hope to get state support to pick up the 25 percent, which amounts to $4.5 million. My goal is $2 million for Fillmore County and $6.2 million for Houston County.”
The governor and legislative leaders want a one-day special legislative session to approve storm damage relief for those areas hit hard, Davids said, and stressed, “We want to keep the session limited to this matter and not include the repealing of the sales tax on farm equipment repairs or any other new taxes approved by legislators last spring.”