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.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


The Nicollet County Board of Commissioners continues deliberations during the budget process as we prepare to set our final levy for 2008. Debate and discussions among the board members, our county auditor/treasurer, and administrator have centered on funding of our local levy. We have set the high benchmark for the levy and can only lower it at this point. However, we can borrow funds for capital projects such as road reconstruction.
Commissioner James Stenson, our county board chair pointed out recently that the Constitution of the State of Minnesota, in addition to setting up the structure of state and local government, has two main duties. They are education and transportation. We all know that the state has fallen behind and is not practicing due diligence in either of these areas.
150 years ago, when this area was settled, roads were the main concern of the citizens. The records of New Sweden Township state the following:

The township was divided into districts, each with an elected road overseer whose job was the building and maintaining of roads. In 1864 the township was divided into two road districts and each man in each district was assessed three days of work on the road. It was the overseer’s job to grade the road, supervise construction and see that assessed labor was done.

What did they mean when they referred to “assessed labor”?

In the 1890’s the township started graveling roads. The town purchased several gravel pits, and the graveling was done by men who had been assessed one or more days of work on the road.

It was not uncommon for the landowners in certain areas to volunteer their time and equipment to help build the roads. Many local roads were built in this manner. Eventually, it was realized that more than just local people used the roads and a system of county roads and state highways was set up and a funding stream was put in place to build and maintain them.

It has worked well for over 100 years. However, the last 20 years have seen that state funding stream run dry. The gas tax we presently have is not doing the job. So counties have resorted to using local tax dollars to maintain our local and our county state aid roads.
To some extent we are doing just as our ancestors did. We are assessing the labor of the local citizens to care for our roads. In effect, all of our roads have become local roads. Since we are getting no help from the state, perhaps we can ease the burden on our tax payers by setting up toll booths at the county borders and assess non-residents for driving on the roads to help to pay for them.end


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