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, December 30, 2009


The headlines in an area newspaper indicated that Minnesota’s agriculture economy is healthy and strong. As a general statement, I would agree. However, there are segments of our industry i.e. dairy and hogs that have struggled this past year. Some of these struggles are due to too much product on the market or too little purchases because of the recession in the rest of the economy. Foods like dairy and meat tend to be of higher cost over the counter and hence suffer when dollars in consumer’s wallets are tight.
The pork industry was also hit hard by the H1N1 flu scare. Things are slowly turning around and we are hopeful that 2010 will allow us to recoup some of the losses experienced in 2009.
Looming in the background is the issue of animal rights activists and their efforts to mobilize citizens to legislate farming methods. Various propositions regarding gestation crates and the size of pens used for poultry have been passed by voters in some states. California seems to be a hotbed for efforts by animal rights advocates. The California Milk Advisory Board has taken the offense regarding attacks on dairy animals in that state. They have produced 15-minute mini documentaries that feature farm families who are owners and operators of many of the large dairies in the state. The videos are meant to dispel of idea that the California farms are run by cold, uncaring, corporations. These push back strategies are important and needed. Minnesota farmers should take heed. Why now?
The simple answer is that traditionally, the Humane Society of the United States has employed five attorneys. In the last five years that number has increased to 30! Farmers beware. Court fights cost lots of money and stop or stagnate your businesses as these cases move through the system. These threats - to our businesses; to the well being of our families; and to the state’s economy must be stopped. The agriculture industry will serve ourselves better by entering into conversations with the “other side” with the goal being to educate these folks on the hows and whys of various farming methods and the outcomes of changing those methods. The goal should be to find some common ground and work together. end

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I have often observed that our county employee family runs like a well-oiled machine. With that in mind, it seems appropriate to offer an an analogy that is easily understood in a rural county like ours. Like the combines that harvested our crops recently, our county machine is awesome, intricate, efficient, and marvelous.

A combine is a machine that can perform many tasks.
-The same can be said for you - our employees.

A combine is a machine that can be adjusted to meet various field conditions ----the goal always being maximum performance.
The same can be said for you – our employees.

A combine has many working parts. When one part falters, it drags down the rest of the machine. The parts depend on each other to perform at their maximum.
The same can be said of you – our employees.

A combine is needed to harvest the planted seeds. Likewise, our county employees are needed to “finish the job” so our citizens can get on with their lives.

When a combine is performing as it should; it is a wondrous, glorious, sight to behold. The end product is a valuable product worthy of pride and the satisfaction of a “job well done.”
The same can be said of you – our employees.

Lastly, some combines are red and some combines are green. I think that is most fitting as we celebrate this time of the year.
The Nicollet County Commissioners think our Nicollet County Combine is “pretty darn good”! Thanks for keeping it running for another year!(This was presented orally at the annual Employee Recognition Event and is printed here by request.) end


Recently I received an inquiry about Nicollet County. Amy Stroh, a student at St. Cloud State University needed information for a paper about St. Peter and Nicollet County. Her request is below, followed by the answers I provided.

Hello Judy,
My name is Amy Stroh and I am a student at Saint Cloud State University. I am currently writing a paper about Saint Pete and Nicollet County. I was wondering, if you had time, if you could just answer a few question to make my paper more precise.
1) Who, within Nicollet County, has the power and control to in terms of making decisions for the city of Saint Peter, or Nicollet County in general?
2) If any, dose Nicollet County or Saint Peter have a reputation for anything?
3) Are there any issues that Nicollet County or Saint Peter dealing with now?
Thank you for your time
Amy Stroh

1. Nicollet County is one of 87 counties petitioned for and set up by the state of Minnesota. The county was formed in 1853. Counties are an arm of state government. We perform the duties of the state of Minnesota on the local level. Our powers are limited to ONLY THOSE ALLOWED BY THE STATE OF MINNESOTA. In other words, we need a state statute in place to do the work we do.
The county board makes decisions to allow the workings and operations of the county. However about 65% of those decisions are mandated by state statutes and rules. (i.e. doing the work of the state government at the local level).

Cities are a completely separate unit of government and set up under separate statutes and follow completely different rules and guidelines.

2. Does Nicollet County have a reputation for anything? My answer to this is three fold.
a. Agriculture. In September 2005, Farm Futures Magazine ranked Nicollet County 75th on a list of the 100 most profitable farming counties in the nation. Nicollet County was the ONLY Minnesota county to make the list.
b. Education. Nicollet County and St. Peter are the home of Gustavus Adolphus College, a highly reputable four year liberal arts college. North Mankato is the home of South Central Technical College
c. Business and Industry. Taylor Corporation is headquartered in North Mankato.
d. Natural Resources-Swan Lake is North America's largest "Prairie Pothole". Nicollet County has more miles of the Minnesota River than any other county.

3. Issues: Because counties have such a close relationship with state government, the major issue at this time is the state budget deficit.
Judy Hanson, Nicollet County Commissioner

Monday, December 14, 2009

Residential Property Values going down

At the last board meeting of November, Nicollet County Assessor, Doreen Pehrson addressed the board of commissioners and recommended property values for 2010 in various taxing districts. These assessments were done this year and will be used for taxes payable in 2011. This is the first time since the “recession” started that the County has reduced property values because our recent sales had left our sales ratios out of whack with state requirements.

The following changes were adopted. Reductions in value were seen in all residential properties in the cities of North Mankato, St. Peter, Courtland, Lafayette, and Nicollet. Rural residential properties experienced no change in values.

Yes, these home values may have been decreasing for a couple of years, but our county staff cannot go out and do appraisals of all homes in the county in short periods of time. These changes were made after revaluations were completed in these taxing districts. end

Friday, December 11, 2009


The first big snowfall/snow storm of the year has come and the cities, counties, and townships have met the challenge. We are a mobile society and we are used to traveling (in fact we are expected by our employers) to travel and “get things done” no matter what the weather.

This puts great expectations on our governmental units to have the manpower, equipment, and abilities to keep the roads open. These capacities of governmental units do not come cheap. Equipment is costly, manpower is costly, and the chemicals or sand/salt mixture used on some of the roads is costly.

Why do governmental units spend taxpayer dollars in these ways? Number one is that citizens expect timely service. Can the citizens get along without these services? Yes, they can, but there is a down side to decreasing these services. For instance, answers to a survey of businesses by the Mankato Area Greater Growth organization found that half of those businesses surveyed indicated ice and snow removal as the
BIGGEST FACTOR affecting their business success.
If businesses cannot be successful, we all suffer. end

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Harvest from Hell

The fall from hell is how some folks have described this past harvest season. Lots of corn is still in the fields in the western and north central part of the state. Also the southeast has had problems. Some farmers are using a new term, "weatherizing the corn fields." It is meant to describe a procedure where corn will be left on certain sides of the fields and hope it becomes a snow catch which will leave the center part of the field free to harvest once the ground freezes.
Unfortunately, some others are going to have to prepare the fields to be burned off as the corn has become moldy and the stalks too. The mold in the stalks reduces its stand ability. Yes, it has been a "harvest from hell". end

Friday, December 04, 2009


Is it possible to organize community partners and make a plan to change people’s behavior in order to achieve these four strategies? The Minnesota Department of Health has issued such a challenge in the form of grant dollars made available to local community health boards. The plan is known as SHIP or Statewide Health Improvement Program.
The Brown-Nicollet Community Health Board is the recipient of grant dollars to implement a local plan which has been developed by a team of community leaders. The Brown-Nicollet group has identified the four strategies listed above. This is all about changing behaviors – perhaps one of the hardest tasks to be accomplished. However, the community teams in each of the counties are determined to give it their best shot.
Proposed interventions include the following.
· Incorporate brief periods of physical activity in the school day as part of the academic learning lesson. Fact: physical education can increase test scores.
· Adopt a walking school bus i.e. students walk to school in groups.
· Focus efforts to encourage increased physical activity in home-based day care settings.
· Expand concept of community gardens and encourage backyard gardening.
· Implement work site policies for tobacco free grounds including parking lots.
· Increase public awareness of community resources in place to help prevent heart disease and diabetes. One model that could be used in the Communities Acting Now to Prevent Diabetes (I CAN PD) program being used in Willmar, Mn.
This grant work will continue through the years 2010 and 2011. A coordinator has been hired by the Brown-Nicollet Health Board to administer this grant. end

Thursday, December 03, 2009


The news was released yesterday about the dire state of Minnesota’s economic situation. It appears that there is a $1.2 billion shortfall in the current biennium! Wow, there goes our second half program aid allocation. Then we look at the future and it is even worse. Estimates put the next shortfall at $5.4 billion and that does not factor in inflation. Those in the know estimate that we need to add at least $1.5 billion to this sum to allow for inflationary increases. (Don’t mention this to Social Security recipients who received no increase because those in charge said that inflation is at zero right now.)
So, I guess now is not a good time to remind the state that since 1976 there have been 18 years that they have shorted Nicollet County on their agreement to pay half of the salaries for county probation officers. Yes, now would not be a good time to remind them of that. However, a valid question would be “When is it a good time?” We have been asking for our fair share since 1980. We have asked in the “good” financial years. We have asked in the “better” financial years. We have asked in the “so-so” financial years. We have asked nicely and the result is that we have nicely been dumped on. Asking does not seem to work, maybe we should quit acting like civil minded county officials and use the coffee shop logic which spouts the idea that we start acting like businesses. Citizens really want governments to act more like businesses. I guess we should quit asking and on behalf of our taxpaying citizens take the state to court and demand payment. What a sorry state. We would have to use taxpayer dollars to fund a lawsuit in order to demand payment to reimburse previously spent taxpayer dollars! end