SGH/Jan Lee Buxengard
The Houston County Township Officer’s Association 2017 board members, in front, are: Arlyn Pohlman – treasurer, Richard Markos – president, Eugene Tessmer – vice president and Richard Nelson – secretary. In the back are: Larry Gaustad – board member at large, John Beckman, Jim Solum and Michael Patterson – board members. Not shown is Sheldon McElhiney.
SGH/Jan Lee Buxengard The Houston County Township Officer’s Association 2017 board members, in front, are: Arlyn Pohlman – treasurer, Richard Markos – president, Eugene Tessmer – vice president and Richard Nelson – secretary. In the back are: Larry Gaustad – board member at large, John Beckman, Jim Solum and Michael Patterson – board members. Not shown is Sheldon McElhiney.
The Houston County Township Officers Association (HCTOA) held its 56th annual business meeting on Tuesday evening, April 4, at Good Times in Caledonia. Chairman Richard Markos presided.

There were 43 of the 83 township officers in attendance. Of the 17 townships in the county, Brownsville and Spring Grove Townships had perfect attendance, while La Crescent Township was not represented at all.

Other attendees included the state association’s District One director as well as county commissioners and department heads and other guests.

Longtime township officers Norman Oseth and Burdette Unnasch, who passed away in the last year, were memorialized with a moment of silence.

Roads and bridges

County engineer Brian Pogodzinski reported on construction projects completed in 2016, which included township bridge replacements on Rood Road, Wildflower Drive, Bush Valley Road and Daley Creek Road.

Major county projects included paving 12 miles of County Road 14, replacing a bridge on County Road 10 and repairing $541,000 in damage from August through September storm events.

On the tentative schedule for 2017, township projects include replacing a bridge on each of the following roads: Rooster Valley Road, Bush Valley Road, Swede Bottom Road and Looney Valley Road.

Major county projects tentatively scheduled for 2017 include addition of a new bridge structure on County Road 27 east of Spring Grove; repair a bridge on County Rd. 6 west of La Crescent; resurface County Rd. 26 from TH 76 to Winona County line; resurface County Rd. 15 from CSAH 4 to Fillmore County line; replace a bridge on County Rd. 19 northwest of Spring Grove; replace a bridge on County Rd. 12 west of Caledonia; and repair $117,000 in remaining damage from August through September storm events.

“The county’s five-year plan is all based on funding,” Pogodzinski stated, adding “We should get state funding from the bonding bill if it gets approved.”

Currently there are 16 structurally deficient and/or functionally obsolete township bridges and three county bridges.

There are 16 load-posted township bridges and two load-posted county bridges. Currently, there are 14 township bridges scheduled fore replacement in the five-year capital improvement plan.

The Town Bridge Account fund balance is currently $1,304,226, of which $785,946 is encumbered. This amount will be reduced as 2017 projects are constructed.

Environmental Services

Director Rick Frank gave a financial report of the Environmental Services for 2016, which included total income of $33,468.38 and expenses of $31,680.98, leaving a balance of $1,787.40.

The program has added recycling of rechargeable batteries, and mattress recycling.

Also ag-bag plastic recycling will begin in June when the collection containers are expected to arrive.

“There are over 50 feedlot operators who signed up for the program,” Frank reported.

Paint Care is a new program. At no cost to the county, there is a surcharge on the paint that would pay for disposal of the paint.

Zoning updates given

In the absence of zoning administrator Aaron Lacher, Frank also reported that every 10 years the land use plan must be reviewed, and that will be worked on in 2018.

The County Board will not make a decision about taking on the state-mandated buffer strip program until funding is available.

Looking at every creek bank in the county would take a great deal of hours, which the county doesn’t have sufficient staff to accomplish, Frank pointed out.

Even though it is not required by ordinance, the zoning department is urging residents in townships to take their building permits to the township board for signatures so they know what is happening before proceeding with any applications.

Mining statement approved

HCTOA officers distributed a general statement they developed from the perspective of townships, in regard to mining in Houston County and asked for input from township officers in attendance.

The statement reads: “The Houston Township Officer’s Association supports the Houston County ordinance, as written, regarding mining in Houston County for construction and agricultural purposes. This ordinance assists township officials in carrying out their duties and responsibilities.”

There was discussion on the matter. Some comments from township officers included: This statement is important for townships. There are 450 miles of township roads in the county, and less than 10 percent are paved. Quarries are important to maintain our roads and bridges. It would cost much more for rock and sand if it had to be purchased outside the area for this ongoing maintenance work. Another suggested the statement be more specific of construction and agricultural use.

After a vote, all were in favor of the statement, and there was no opposition.

Election equipment replacement

Regarding the recent elections, county auditor Char Meiners reported, “The State of Minnesota had the best voter turnout in the country. Houston County did really well with 89 percent turnout.” There were 10,725 ballots cast. Of that number, 1,236 were absentees, which are at 11-1/2 percent, up from 7 percent.

“In the future, we would like to offer early voting for the 46-day period of absentee voting,” Meiners added. “Ballots would go directly into the counting machine, but we cannot do so at this time because of the capacity of the counting machines.

“Our voting equipment was purchased in 2006 and is 10 years old; it needs to be replaced in the future. We want to try to purchase from the same company before 2018 elections.

“The estimated cost for new voting equipment is $10,000 per precinct. Township units have been asked to set aside funds for this purchase.”

Other county reports

Jack Miller, Houston County Board chair, reported they have gone from four meetings to three meetings per month. “We have also reinitiated the public comment time at the beginning and end of the meetings to be as open and transparent as possible.”

Tom Dybing, who just retired as county assessor, noted that the 2017 local Board of Appeal and Equalization meetings would begin soon regarding values and sales in the county and state.

A number of farm sales have some pretty healthy prices. There’s an uptick in tillable values and an increase of $100/acre for woods. Green Acres was kept the same. Legislators are calling for property tax relief for farmers.

Election of officers

The HCTOA board is made up of representatives from four quadrants, with two people from each quadrant and one at large. The 2017 board members are:

• For the northwest (representing Money Creek, Houston, Sheldon and Yucatan townships) – Richard Nelson and John Beckman.

• For the northeast (representing Mound Prairie, La Crescent, Hokah, Union and Brownsville townships) – Richard Markos and Sheldon McElhiney.

• 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 Jim Solum (newly elected).

• Board member at large is Larry Gaustad (new on the board).

The Minnesota Township Association was founded in 1933, and the Houston County Township Association was founded in 1961, representing the 17 townships in the county.

Treasurer Arlyn Pohlman presented the 2016 financial report of the county association, which showed a beginning balance of $2,488.58. Income was $15,696.72 and expenses amounted to $13,515.35, leaving a year’s end balance of $4,669.95.