The Houston County Township Officers Association 2014 board members. Seated, from left, are Julie Amundson (treasurer for past five years), Richard Markos and Doris Klankowski (newly-elected). Standing are Kermit McRae, Michael Patterson, Eugene Tessmer and Arlyn Pohlman. Not shown are Richard Nelson, Marion Lynch and Burdette Unnasch. PHOTO: JAN LEE BUXENGARD/SPRING GROVE HERALD
The Houston County Township Officers Association 2014 board members. Seated, from left, are Julie Amundson (treasurer for past five years), Richard Markos and Doris Klankowski (newly-elected). Standing are Kermit McRae, Michael Patterson, Eugene Tessmer and Arlyn Pohlman. Not shown are Richard Nelson, Marion Lynch and Burdette Unnasch. PHOTO: JAN LEE BUXENGARD/SPRING GROVE HERALD

The Houston County Township Officers Association (HCTOA) held its annual business meeting on Thursday, March 27, at Good Times in Caledonia. Chairman Richard Markos presided.

Attendance included township officers from nearly all 17 townships in the county, as well as county commissioners and department heads, and district one director from the Minnesota Association of Townships (MAT).

Treasurer Julie Amundson presented the 2013 financial report of the county association, which showed a beginning balance of negative $164.01. Income was $15,025.44, leaving a working balance of $14,861.43. Expenses amounted to $14,695.06, resulting in a year's end balance of $166.37.

Following are some topics of the vast amount of information relayed at the meeting:

MAT report

Nathan Redalen is the district one director with Minnesota Association of Townships (MAT), which is a membership association representing the 1,784 township governments across the state. District one encompasses nine counties in southeastern Minnesota.

The legislative and research committees are a very important element of the association, Redalen relayed. On May 5 last year, 28 people from district one of MAT met and visited with nine legislators at the State Capitol about local government issues. Among what they are working on is a social media bill regarding use of Facebook or Twitter to post meetings.

Redalen stressed the importance of township representatives attending MAT short courses. Attendance figures from 2010 to 2013 show that four to five townships in Houston County did not attend during those years. "That's where you go to learn and get educated," he pointed out, and noted that some of the lawsuits coming through could have been prevented if they had started at the lower level.

Redalen noted an article with the headline "Records here, there - or nowhere" was published on the front page of the Winona Daily News on March 23. "It was a very negative article about townships," Redalen stated, adding. "It wasn't the township's take."

The article was about documents townships keep and provide to the public. Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL - Winona, has a proposal before the Minnesota Legislature to change the laws governing township records. "Pelowski wants to put townships under the Data Privacy Act," Redalen pointed out. "We must get him to back off on this."

Also in Minnesota, the Big-4, which includes the Association of Minnesota Counties, League of Minnesota Cities, Minnesota Association of Townships and Minnesota School Board Association, met in February to work together on local issues. The mission of the Big-4 is to nurture and promote effective and efficient partnerships among local governments.

A new local government aid (LGA) program for townships was enacted in the 2013 legislative session. The original LGA program, enacted in 1971, provided aid to all local governments, but over the years the program became a city aid program only. The last LGA payment made to townships under the old program was in 2001.

Reestablishing the Township Aid program, a general purpose aid that can be used for any lawful expenditure and is intended to provide property tax relief, is in addition to the township levy. The amount of aid each township receives in 2014 is based on township area, population and agricultural property.

For 2014, total Township Aid for the 17 townships in the county would amount to $68,852.

"You will get the first half the end of June and the second half in December," Redalen reported, adding, "We ask that you set it aside in your township Road and Bridge account to be able to prove/account for how you spent that money."

Payment in Lieu of Taxes

The state of Minnesota makes Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) payments from the general fund to offset the costs of maintaining and the loss of tax base from natural resource lands such as forestland, state parks, etc., to cover losses to local government when private land becomes public. State and local governments are faced with budget challenges and struggle to maintain services to their communities.

Today, the PILT payments amount to $26 million per year for the 8,474,871 acres of public land in Minnesota, which includes wildlife management land, tax forfeited land, DNR administered lands and non-hunting acquired land. All 87 counties in Minnesota receive some PILT monies. Last year Houston County received a PILT payment of $352,826.

"We are asking the Legislature to go dollar-for-dollar on the PILT legacy money," Redalen noted.

MAT passed a law effective in 2013 that the PILT money is to be distributed by tax rate to towns, schools and county.

County auditor Char Meiners reported that for townships, the percentage of allocation increased from 4.79 percent in 2012 to 11.53 percent in 2013. For the total 17,166 acres of public land acquired in Houston County, the county received $357,378.89 in 2013, from which the townships received $41,198.14. Meiners pointed out that the townships have more than doubled their share of PILT land.

Roads and bridges

County engineer Brian Pogodzinski provided updates of construction projects. In 2013, a township bridge on Perkins Valley Road was completed, and a bridge replaced on South Prairie Drive.

Township projects scheduled for 2014 include replacing bridges on Daley Creek Road, and on Charlie Drive, and also reconstruction of Christianson Hill Rd.

In the townships, there are 24 deficient bridges and 23 load posted bridges. Current balance for the Town Bridge Account Funding is $762,150, but this amount will be reduced as 2014 projects are constructed, Pogodzinski reported.

Houston County has sent a letter to all townships requesting the amount of chloride that the township wants purchased and applied through the county, and the addresses of where it is to be applied.

Environmental Services report

For the county supervised drop-off sites, Rick Frank, county Environmental Services director, reported 2013 revenues in the amount of $412,434.95, and expenditures of $448,244. "That is a $36,000 shortfall."

Frank explained that last year the $3 per household/month collection fee for cities and townships provided income of $301,020. "It costs to run the sites," Frank pointed out. "The county pays the labor costs. The operations cost amounted to $215,350, which covers labor, gas, phone, snow removal, repairs, etc.

"We've added the pharmaceutical program, which has really taken off well." Frank noted. The county will accept pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter medications during their scheduled Household Hazardous Waste collection events. Those collections will take place on May 21 at the Houston Recycling Center, July 16 at the Caledonia Fairgrounds and Sept. 3 at the Hokah Firebarn.

Recently every resident in the county was mailed The 2014 Recycler, which contains important recycling information for residents of the county. Residents are urged to keep the flier handy for reference on how to reduce, recycle and reuse.

Officers elected

The HCTOA board is made up of representatives from four quadrants, with two people from each quadrant and one at large. Board members reelected were:

•For the northwest (representing Money Creek, Houston, Sheldon and Yucatan townships) - Richard Nelson and Burdette Unnasch.

•For the northeast (representing Mound Prairie, La Crescent, Hokah, Union and Brownsville townships) - Richard Markos and Marion Lynch.

•For the southeast (representing Mayville, Winnebago, Crooked creek and Jefferson townships) - Arlyn Pohlman and Eugene Tessmer.

•For the southwest (representing Black Hammer, Caledonia, Spring Grove and Wilmington townships) - Michael Patterson and newly-elected Doris Klankowski.

•Board member at large - Kermit McRae was reelected.

Julie Amundson was thanked for her five years of service as association treasurer. Since she did not file for reelection in Wilmington Township, she was no longer qualified to serve on the HCTOA board.