By Jan Lee Buxengard
The Houston County Township Officers Association (HCTOA) held its 56th annual business meeting on Tuesday evening, April 4 at Good Times in Caledonia. Chairman Richard Markos presided.
There were 43 of the 83 township officers in attendance. Of the 17 townships in the county, Brownsville and Spring Grove Townships had perfect attendance, while La Crescent Township was not represented at all. Other attendees included the state association’s district one director, as well as county commissioners and department heads, and other guests.
Long-time, and very involved, township officers Norman Oseth and Burdette Unnasch, who passed away in the last year, were memorialized with a moment of silence.
Treasurer Arlyn Pohlman presented the 2016 financial report of the county association, which showed a beginning balance of $2,488.58. Income was $15,696.72 and expenses amounted to $13,515.35, leaving a year’s end balance of $4,669.95.
Nathan Redalen, district one director with Minnesota Association of Townships (MAT) is now president of the state association. District one encompasses nine counties in southeastern Minnesota.
MAT is a nonprofit corporation representing 1,779 of the 1,782 township governments across the state. There are over 9,000 town officers in the state, and approximately 924,158 residents of Minnesota live in a township. Townships 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.
Redalen read a letter of congratulations and thank you letter he received. In part, it read: “Thanks to your efforts, townships scored a major victory in the Minnesota Senate on March 30. Working with colleagues from Association of Minnesota Counties and other entities, MAT helped secure an amendment to SF-1060, the Senate Omnibus Transportation Bill, removing two provisions that would have given milk haulers and special construction materials trucks exemptions to vehicle weight limits. Thank you to all town officers who called about this bill and voiced concerns about the weight limit exemptions. We would not have succeeded without your efforts.”
But, the battle is not over. Similar weight limit provisions exist in the House version of the bill, HF-861. Because of differences between the House and Senate bill, a conference committee will be appointed to work out the differences between the two bills. Keeping the weight limit provisions out of the bill will come down to a vote of conference committee members.
“Keep the calls going to your legislators supporting the Senate position of keeping the weight limit waivers out of the final transportation bill,” Redalen encouraged.
• Town aid monies rely on state auditor’s reports, which were due March 31. In Houston County one township has not yet turned in their report, Redalen noted.
• MAT’s legislative and research committees are a very important element of the association to learn and keep in the loop. He encouraged more township officers to attend these L & R conferences. The next one will be on Sept. 13-14 at St. Cloud. “We would like to have five from each county in attendance,” Redalen encouraged.
• Also it is important for township representatives and new officers to attend the short courses to learn and get educated. The legal short course will be on April 20 at Otsego. A summer short course will be on June 22 at Rochester. Redalen reported that the short courses held in Winona and Rochester were well attended and there was a good number of new attendees, likely due to more accommodating times of afternoon and early evening sessions.
• The district one meeting will be held at St. Charles on August 10 and will include elections.
• The annual conference will be held in Rochester Nov. 16-18. “We will need a very good turnout from southeast Minnesota to guarantee to return it back to Rochester in the future,” Redalen pointed out.
• Next year’s annual Lobby Days trip to the State Capitol, to meet and visit with state legislators about local government issues, will take place on March 7.
• Information on meetings are on the MAT website, and are also published in the Minnesota Township Insider, the official MAT magazine for townships in Minnesota.
County department reports
Jack Miller, county commissioner chairman, reported they have gone from four meetings to three meetings per month. “We have also reinitiated the public comment time at the beginning and end of the meetings to be as open and transparent as possible.”
Tom Dybing, who just retired as county assessor, noted that the 2017 local Board of Appeal and Equalization meetings would begin soon regarding values and sales in the county and state. A number of farm sales have some pretty healthy prices. There’s an uptick in tillable values and an increase of $100 for woods. Green Acres was kept the same. Legislators are calling for property tax relief for farmers.
Regarding the recent elections, County Auditor Char Meiners reported, “the State of Minnesota had the best voter turnout in the country. Houston County did really well with 89 percent turnout.” There were 10,725 ballots cast. Of that number, 1,236 were absentees, which is 11½ percent, up from 7 percent.
In the future we would like to offer early voting for the 46 day period of absentee voting. Ballots would go directly into the counting machine, but we cannot do so at this time because of the capacity of the counting machines.
Our voting equipment, purchased in 2006 is ten years old, and needs to be replaced in the future. We want to try to purchase from the same company before 2018 elections. The estimated cost for new voting equipment is $10,000 per precinct. Township units have been asked to set aside funds for this purchase.
Roads and bridges
County engineer Brian Pogodzinski reported on construction projects completed in 2016, which included township bridge replacements on Rood Road, Wildflower Drive, Bush Valley Road and Daley Creek Road.
Major county projects included paving 12 miles of County Road 14, replacing a bridge on County Road 10, and repairing $541,000 in damage from August through September storm events.
On the tentative schedule for 2017, township projects include replacing a bridge on each of the following roads: Rooster Valley Road, Bush Valley Road, Swede Bottom Road, and Looney Valley Road.
Major county projects tentatively scheduled for 2017 include addition of new bridge structure on County Road 27 east of Spring Grove; repair bridge on County Rd. 6 west of La Crescent; resurface County Rd 26 from TH 76 to Winona County line; resurface County Rd. 15 from CSAH 4 to Fillmore County line; replace bridge on County Rd. 19 northwest of Spring Grove; replace bridge on County Rd. 12 west of Caledonia; repair $117,000 in remaining damage from August through September storm events.
“The county’s five-year plan is all based on funding,” Pogodzinski stated, adding, “We should get state funding from the bonding bill if it gets approved.”
Currently there are 16 structurally deficient and/or functionally obsolete township bridges and three county bridges. There are 16 load-posted township bridges, and two load-posted county bridges. Currently there are 14 township bridges scheduled to be replaced in the five-year capital improvement plan.
The Town Bridge Account fund balance is currently $1,304,226, of which $785,946 is encumbered. This amount will be reduced as 2017 projects are constructed.
Director Rick Frank gave a financial report of the Environmental Services for 2016, which included total income of $33,468.38 and expenses of $31,680.98, leaving a balance of $1,787.40.
The program has added recycling of rechargeable batteries, and mattress recycling.
Also ag-bag plastic recycling will begin in June, when the collection containers are expected to arrive. “There are over 50 feedlot operators who signed up for the program,” Frank reported.
Paint Care is a new program. At no cost to the county, there is a surcharge on the paint that would pay for disposal of the paint.
The county’s “Recycler” publication contains important recycling information, and should be kept for reference throughout the year.
There will be three household and hazardous waste collections from 1 to 6 p.m. as follows: May 18 at the county recycling center in Houston, July 16 at the county highway shop at Spring Grove, and August 22 at the La Crescent drop site.
In the absence of zoning administrator Aaron Lacher, Frank also reported that every ten years the land use plan must be reviewed, and that will be worked on in 2018.
The county board will not make a decision about taking on the state-mandated buffer strip program until funding is available. Looking at every creek bank in the county would take a great deal of hours, which the county doesn’t have sufficient staff to accomplish, Frank pointed out.
Even though it is not required by ordinance, the zoning department is urging residents in townships take their building permits to the township board for signatures so they know what is happening before proceeding with any applications.
Others who were introduced and spoke briefly included: Economic Development director, Courtney Bergey; Area DNR Hydrologist, Nicole Lehmann; Fishing supervisor at Lanesboro, Ron Benjamin; and DNR enforcement officer, James Fogerty.
HCTOA officers distributed a general statement they developed from the perspective of townships, in regard to mining in Houston County and asked for input from township officers in attendance. The statement reads: “The Houston Township Officer’s Association supports the Houston County ordinance, as written, regarding mining in Houston County for construction and agricultural purposes. This ordinance assists township officials in carrying out their duties and responsibilities.”
There was discussion on the matter. Some comments from township officers included: This statement is important for townships. There are 450 miles of township roads in the county, and less than ten percent are paved. Quarries are important to maintain our roads and bridges. It would cost much more for rock and sand if it had to be purchased outside the area for this ongoing maintenance work. Another suggested the statement be more specific of construction and agricultural use.
After a vote, all were in favor of the statement, and there was no opposition.
The HCTOA board is made up of representatives from four quadrants, with two people from each quadrant and one at large. The 2017 board members are:
• For the northwest (representing Money Creek, Houston, Sheldon and Yucatan townships), Richard Nelson and John Beckman.
• For the northeast (representing Mound Prairie, La Crescent, Hokah, Union and Brownsville townships), Richard Markos and Sheldon McElhiney.
• 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), Michael Patterson and Jim Solum (newly elected).
• Board member at large is Larry Gaustad (new on the board).
History of the township
The Minnesota Township Association was founded in 1933, and the Houston County Township Association was founded in 1961, representing the 17 townships in the county.
The objectives and purpose, as defined by the state 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, and holding of elections, and in general all activities that are now enjoyed by such townships.