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.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


The Minnesota Valley Action Council (MVAC) has a summer youth program to give enrichment and teach valuable life skills to youth in need in the nine county area. This year the youth were able to learn how to work and perform the following skills: photo shop work, cleaning, food service, auto body, clerical, horse grooming, shelving videos, assisting day care workers and others. The staff at MVAC was able to develop standards and values for the work that the young people performed and as a result 108 youth got credit to apply towards graduation from high school. The number of credits ranged from one half a credit to three credits. These came to the various school districts at no cost. The program is truly a win/win. end

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


It was an omen. The world watched and was amazed as the plane glided on to the water. We couldn't believe our eyes when we saw the photos of all those people standing on the wings. We couldn't believe our ears when the reporters said that "no one died".

It was an omen. It was a good omen that the media could not ignore. We all know there are others - good ones that is. But we never hear about them. This one was just too big, too newsworthy, too miraculous. It was the omen that set the stage for a new week and a new year.

This omen was the uplifting event that put the country in an even better psychological mood than before. Today we will see countless examples of enthusiasm and energy, and empowerment. These things would be there anyway - but the events of last week make them just that much better.

Today we will witness history and we will be sent on a new journey to make our country better. We must not falter. We must persevere. We must go at it for the long haul and not disappear as fast as the sound bytes. The journey will be long and hard, but if we stay with it, the end will be a better, stronger country than we have dared to hope for in the past. end

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


The Minnesota legislators are looking for ideas to decrease spending. I suggest sunsetting the Clean Water Legacy Act and the funding that goes with it called Clean Water Legacy fund. Read on.

On November 4th 56% of the people of Minnesota voted to increase their taxes with the new money going to wildlife, water, parks and arts. The general reference is that the new money will be used for water projects, waterfowl, and wetlands. This perception is correct, but there is more – in fact there are four pots of money.

This new money is to be collected every time we pay sales tax. The store in which the purchase is made then remits the money to the state of Minnesota. Nothing new here. What is new is that an additional 3/8ths of 1% will be collected starting July 1. This new money is more or less permanent funding (for the next 25 years). No senators or representatives have to discuss or debate the merits of spending this money. The wording of the amendment divides up all money collected into four funds or pots. For clarity, let’s call this new money generated by the tax increase-the (1)Wildlife, (2)Water, (3)Parks, and (4)Arts money. During the campaign, the initiative was referred to as the Natural Resource and Cultural Heritage amendment.

This initiative started out being a conservation effort and in a compromise to get enough votes to have it placed on the ballot, the legislature had to include funding for arts or culture. The wording of the amendment is that 33% of the tax collected will go to Wildlife, 33% will go to Water, 14.25% will go to Parks (or trails), and 19.75% to the Arts (or cultural heritage). For illustrative purposes it is easier to call the pots of money Wildlife, Water, Parks, and Arts.

The Lessard Outdoor Council has gotten some ink in the newspapers lately. This council was created specifically by the legislature in a law passed in 2008. The law (Chapter 368) governs the expenditure of the above referenced funds and creates the Lessard Council. This 12-member council is directed to make recommendations to the legislature on the appropriation of the money collected and placed in the Wildlife pot. The Lessard Council is directed to work closely with the Legislative Commission on Natural Resources (LCMR) and the Clean Water Council, which was created by the Clean Water Legacy Act.

The Clean Water Legacy and the Clean Water Council are not a part of this new sales tax money. This clean water money and clean water council uses money that was allocated by the legislature since 2006 through the Clean Water Legacy Act (CWLA). The act established the Clean Water Council – a 23 member advisory group appointed by the Governor. They are to advise the legislature on how to spend the money allocated. This pot of money was filled with $24.950 million in 2006 and in 2007; the legislature appropriated an additional $53.975 million to be used for the 2008-09 biennium. According to a report the council published in December 2008, they are requesting $97,829 million for fiscal years 20010-11.

Going back to the sales tax and the four pots of money. The water fund – at this time, does not have an advisory group to suggest ways for it to be spent. The amendment indicated that the money deposited in the water fund, the parks fund, and the arts fund will be subject to the recommendations of the Governor when he presents his budget. Since the Clean Water Council is already in place, it would make sense to use them as an advisory group for the use of the water money. And since this new money is more or less permanent, it would make sense to sunset the Clean Water Legacy statute and quit funding it. (Information from Fiscal Analysis Department, Minnesota House of Representatives, October 2008; Biennial Report on Clean Water Legacy Act, December 2008.) end

Friday, January 09, 2009


The rain/sleet/snow that came to the county last week end and left our roads covered with ice were dealt with in fine style by the Nicollet County Public Works employees. The sand/salt spread on the road was very helpful in keeping cars in the correct spots on top of the blacktop roads. The mixture was spread in a continuous manner this time rather than only on the curves. It was needed, but these safety measures come at a price. The board approved a bill of $15,981.27 on Tuesday for sanding salt. We hope Mother Nature will be kind and these costs can be contained. end

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


I am familiar with the little town of Bird Island, Mn. The elementary school located there is where my three grandchildren attend school. It is part of the BOLD district. Bird Island is the only town we drive through on our way to Willmar to visit another offspring. (We make better time by avoiding towns.) I have stopped in Bird Island and visited the quilt store and it is quite an adequate store for such a small town. Today I found out there is more to the town than meets the eye.
The town is home to Sunrise Agra Fuels, a company that makes home-heating pellets out of ag-based biomass. It is the first commercial ag-based biomass pellet company in Minnesota. While the company is headquartered in Bird Island, the facility producing the biomass pellets is located in Kensington, Minnesota. They make the pellets from soybean straw and sunflower hulls and blending in forestry waste. These pellets are an alternative to corn to be used in corn stoves. When the price of corn skyrockets, these pellets are probably a good buy. This is another example of efforts to become self-sufficient and not have to depend on foreign oil to meet our energy needs. end

Monday, January 05, 2009


The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce held conversations during 2007 with the owners and top-level managers of over 700 Minnesota companies in 52 communities. These were one on one visits. What did they find out about the climate for businesses in Minnesota? Note: most of the visits were done before August 1. Here are some of the results.
1. Sales were up.
2. Fewer expansions were on the horizon.
3. Employers were saving on facilities so they can keep more people employed.
4. About one in ten of the companies that are looking at expansion are looking outside of the state of Minnesota. Why? Proximity to customers, rising utility costs, and state tax burden.
5. One in seven of the businesses visited asked for help. The top three items on the list were:
A. Assistance in business expansion
B. Securing permits from state agencies
C. Addressing workforce shortages
Some of these issues were region-specific i.e. housing in southwestern Minnesota, transportation for workers in the Twin Cities, and relief from rising energy prices in the northeast. This information is part of background for the Minnesota Chambers public policy agenda for the 2009 legislative session. Among the initiatives are: aging workforce and disparity in Minnesota in the educational achievement among the advantaged and disadvantaged students. The Chamber is promoting balancing the state budget without a general fund tax increase and they want health care reforms to produce measurable improvements in the quality and affordability of health care. These are noble and reasonable goals. I hope our legislators take note. end

Saturday, January 03, 2009


I wish someone would explain what makes a "wrongly rejected absentee ballot" and what makes a "rightly rejected absentee ballot"? end

The State Gives and The State Takes Away

The unallotment of state aids to Nicollet County occurred Dec. 26 and was in the amount of $253,559. That dollar amount was chopped off the expected $1,326,944 payment. If these dollars were not already spent, this amount will simply deplete our reserves. Our reserves are there for unexpected expenses or to act as a “rainy day fund.” end