Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dear Governor Pawlenty:

Why should property taxes, paid by all property owners in the county (some who do little driving) be used to pay for road construction and maintenance? We have a user fee called the gas tax. It is pretty simple: he who uses – pays. Why? Why? Why?

The snowstorm this weekend had some unexpected benefits. It is not very often that one gets a call on a Sunday afternoon from a legislator, but I got one from Rep. Kathy Brynaert. She even apologized for calling on a Sunday! Brynaert was detained in St. Paul because of the storm and decided it would be best to stay put and be “ready for work on Monday morning.” I assured her that she need not apologize and I thanked her for calling. She called to inform me she was a co-author, along with my Representative Terry Morrow of a bill to appropriate funds to the Minnesota River Board. This was good news to me also. While we were chatting, the issue of transportation funding came up.

She, like I, had seen today’s editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that graphically illustrated how local units of government are being forced to use property tax dollars to fund road construction. Nicollet County has resorted to issuing bonds to pay for projects. In fact a good portion of our levy increase for the year 2007 was to make bond payments. We both lamented the stubborn stance of Governor Pawlenty in his refusal to support an increase in the gas tax. “He has come out so strong and painted himself into such a corner on this issue,” I said. “Do you see any angle that could be used so he could save face and everyone could come away a winner on this?” I asked.

Rep. Brynaert responded that she felt it would be helpful if citizens would simply write the Governor a letter and state why they feel he should support a gas tax increase. She also indicated that she felt that GOP Rep.Ron Erhart who is vice chair of the transportation committee might be able to negotiate with the Governor on this issue. I watched Rep. Erhart spearhead the gas tax increase through the Minnesota House two years ago. (Which was then vetoed by the Governor). If anyone can get it done, he can. As to writing letters, several years ago, during the Ventura Administration, I wrote a letter to the governor every week, indicating why we need money for roads. I think I still have copies. Get ready Governor Pawlenty – the computer rides again! end

Thursday, February 22, 2007

MEALS ON WHEELS and other stuff

The Nicollet County Committee on Aging met Feb. 21. Information was presented on the Meals on Wheels and Congregate Dining services available to folks in the Nine County Area. These services are now being provided by Lutheran Social Services. The Nicollet County services include congregate meals at Johnson Plaza in North Mankato and at the Senior Center in St. Peter. Home delivery is also available in the cities and in the rural area. Call Nicollet County Public Health at 931-6800 or 1-800-247-5044 and ask for Sylvia Perron. In other counties, contact your public health offices for access to this service.

Senior citizens and others are also being offered free tax preparation. People from the Region 9 area can get the service from the Minnesota Valley Action Council offices at 464 Raintree Road in Mankato. This service is limited to persons with a low income i.e. $28,000 for individuals or $38,000 for a family; senior citizens; people with disabilities; or people who speak limited or no English. The times are Feb. 6- April 14 on Tuesdays 5:30 to 9:00 and Saturdays 12 – 4:00. Call 507-345-6822 or 800-767-7139.

Other sites for folks to get help with taxes are: Summit Center, 518 S 5th Street, Mankato. Call 507-345-5262 for an appointment. And at the St. Peter Community Center, 600 S 5th Street, St. Peter. Call 507-934-3048 for an appointment. All of these sites are handicap accessible. End

Saturday, February 17, 2007

News From the County Board of Commissioners

Here are several tidbits of information which came to the attention of the board of commissioners during the week of Feb. 12, 2007.

· It has been five or six years since the county installed rural address signs. It is estimated that we have around 2,800 to 3,000 address signs in the rural area. We have found that we need to make a small change in our 911 Sign ordinance. The change will make it clear that the land owner is responsible for the cost of replacing missing and/or damaged signs. Tom Kennedy, our public works employee who deals with this indicates that since we installed the signs less than ten have had to be replaced. The cause of the damage is vandalism.

· Moms Off Meth Kim, the facilitator for Moms Off Meth visited the board meeting on Tuesday. She knows about addictions because she stated that she had been addicted to many things in the past. She has been clean for 5 years and during her troubled times lost her children several times. She is a graduate of the Work Wise class and she has all of her children with her at this time. She told us that the pull on women to keep their children is a strong one and it is a good incentive to help them become free of addictions. MOMS is entirely voluntary and is not court ordered. The women who attend the group take “ownership” by setting their own rules. Kim is the facilitator and she has one helper. She has the ability to match women with resources that will help them keep going in the right direction. The group is confidential and there are no county people present at their meetings. The women learn the importance of helping each other and supporting new women. They work on empowerment, improving self-esteem, and they are advocates for each other at court. The women also learn the importance of helping each other and supporting new women that join the group.
· Department of Corrections Resolution Steve Kley of our Court Services Department submitted a resolution which all members of the board were happy to endorse. The resolution is basically asking the legislature to provide funding to the Department of Corrections and then direct them to pay their share of probation officer salaries. The agreement is for the state to pay half and the counties to pay half and in reality the state has “stuck it to us” 15 out of the last 30 years. The counties have had to pay our half and up to as much as 12% of the state’s half of the costs. And you wonder why property taxes go up?
· Resolution regarding vehicles of animal husbandry Vehicles of animal husbandry today and have in the past been exempt from weight limits on roads and bridges. It is no doubt that his ruling has been a concession to rural lawmakers who have agricultural interest in their districts. That was then – this is now. Farm implements today look like they are on steroids and have become humongous machines. Once they get onto roads or bridges there is the potential for damage. There is an effort this year to repeal the exemption for implements of animal husbandry from Mn. Statute 169.801 as it applies to bridges. This resolution was also passed by the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners. I know that some ag organizations are leery of repealing this part of the law. The argument is that there may be many overweight vehicles passing over a bridge before it becomes impassable and how will proof be established as to which implement actually did the damage. That may sound kind of lame and if this provision is repealed, I guess it will be up to the courts to decide. In the meantime, farmers who are violating, better check on their liability insurance coverage.end

Conference on Lake Pepin TMDL

Lake Pepin Watershed TMDL
What is a tmdl? The acronym stands for total maximum daily load. And it refers to the total amount of a pollutant that a water body can carry without violating water quality standards. I recently attended a conference on the Lake Pepin tmdl and appeared on a panel representing counties and the Minnesota River Board. In accordance with the Clean Water Act, states are required to submit a list of impaired waters to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency every two years. More than that, the states must evaluate the waters to determine the pollutant sources and make progress toward cleaning up or restoring the listed waters. The Lake Pepin project is a big one because the area that drains into Lake Pepin involves more than half of the state of Minnesota.
The researchers say that sediment is being deposited in Lake Pepin at a rate of one million metric tons of sediment per year. To visualize this amount of dirt, just visualize the size of a city block in a cube form. A city block – cubed would hold one million metric tons. The scientists at the conference indicated that the present rate of the sediment deposit is a bit higher than it was in the 1990’s. Furthermore, a majority of that sediment is coming from the Minnesota River and hence the Minnesota River watershed.
The next question posed was, if the sediment is coming from the Minnesota River watershed, where in the watershed does it originate? Does it come from stream banks or from fields? Through use of geochemical finger printing they can determine where the sediment comes from. They have been tracking this for many years and in the past 30 years they are seeing an increase in streambank erosion. They estimate that today 50% of the sediment is coming from streambank erosion whereas in 1967 about 29% was from that source. At the conference, several speakers were challenged because it appeared they were not including increased development, increased population, and the increase in the amount of impervious surfaces in their calculations. This writer is of the opinion that a study without these issues considered is flawed-to say the least. Several speakers alluded to the climatic events we have experienced in the last 50 years. The intensity of our rain events certainly has a lot to do with increase erosion from fields, ravines, streets, and residential areas. When water starts to move and when it picks up momentum, the force it exerts is great. It is logical to expect more erosion under this scenario. End.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Local Government: It’s Here For You

I have presented my curriculum on local units of government twice. Attendance has been less than stupendous, but the folks who chose to spend an hour with me to talk about local government were appreciative of the information presented. My curriculum covers township, school district, city, and county governmental forms. There have been a few “aha” moments during my presentations. For instance:

* Yes, the federal government mandates reach down to lowly townships – example: American’s with Disabilities Act.
* A use tax is a tax that a city can levy on a specific use – example: motel tax that funds tourism activities.
* The term debt service means simply paying off debt.
* School board members are elected at large as opposed to representing a certain segment of population or geographic area.
* Townships are the best example of grassroots government. The board members typically hire themselves or volunteer their time and equipment to do many jobs like minor repairs and brush removal.
* There is a classification of “urban township”. An urban township has many of the same powers as cities with some exceptions such as annexing land and operating utilities.
* Maintaining roads and providing fire protection are the largest parts of township budgets.
* Minnesota counties were established after President Jefferson ordered the survey of the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson believed that the size of a county should cover no area larger than what would allow a citizen to travel on horseback to and from the county seat in one day.
* Minnesota counties are responsible for providing social services to persons in need. This is not true for many states where this responsibility lies with state government.
* The powers of counties as compared to the powers of cities. The powers of counties are limited to those designated in state statutes. If a statute contains the word “shall”; it means a mandate for a county (or any unit of government). If the statute reads “may”; it means that the unit of government can choose to or not choose to follow the statute. The power of cities is such that they have the ability to do whatever they want, unless there is a specific statute that prohibits them from doing so.

An informed citizenry is important in a democratic society. Many people do not understand local government. My presentation can be done in a one-hour session and I would be pleased to make presentations to any audience in the area. End