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.

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

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