Townships come to the rescue

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Who said townships could be eliminated?

In Mower County, it is the townships who are helping the county save a valuable program designed, in part, to protect groundwater in townships through well testing that was earmarked for cancellation.

The Mower County Townships Association is rescuing the county's well-testing program.

Email newsletter signup

The service was slated for cancellation due to the anticipated loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in Local Government Aid monies to the county.

Now, it is being funded by the organization, representing all 20 townships in Mower County.

There are two wells per township and each well will be tested by the Mower County environmental services department.

"We believe this is an important and necessary service and that's why we support the continuation of township well testing," said Richard Epley, president of the MCTA.

Bill Buckley, the county's environmental services director, has been a champion of well testing for a long time. He called well-testing a "necessity of country life" and praised the townships for rescuing a program that will only benefit their residents directly.

"This well-testing program includes coliform bacterium, nitrates and possibly atrazine," Buckley said.

The problem and the solution were exposed last Thursday. In the morning, the water management committee met and the county's decision to discontinue township well testing was addressed by Richard P. Cummings, 1st District county commissioner.

Last Thursday afternoon, the MCTA's members met at the Elkton Community Center. Epley, the president, and Keith Vorhees, vice president, proposed having the townships provide funding to continue the well testing.

"Each township will contribute $100 for well testing," Epley said. "The townships' association will pay the county the $2,000 they say they need to perform the tests and then the 20 townships will reimburse the association $100 each to cover our costs."

The new funding formulate for the township well testing takes care of 2003 only. If the biennial program of testing is to continue, it will have to be refunded in 2005.

Also, the Mower County Board of Commissioners must approve the MCTA providing the funds for the well-testing program. Considering the state budget deficit's impact on local government, that approval is expected.

Buckley said the water-testing program begin in earnest 12 years ago and credited former Mower County Extension Service agent Harlan Johnsrud with originating the idea. The same township wells have been tested regularly to give the county a "history" of those wells and how groundwater is impacted in the area.

"Actually one of the things we've learned is that groundwater quality in those wells shows a little-higher content of contaminants than other wells so we can learn from those wells," he said.

Buckley also said, the county's well testing will continue for local municipalities who contract for the service as well as private well-owners who request the service for a fee they pay the county.

"We're all very pleased the Mower County Townships Association is willing to help out in these difficult financial times," said Daryl W. Franklin, the county planning director and zoning administrator.

Before Gov. Tim Pawlenty imposed his unallotment reductions in state spending to balance the state budget this year, Mower County anticipated receiving a total of $182,360 in state monies and county levy monies of $78,164.

Post unallotment figures show the state's share reduced to $6,664.

That means a total of $82,811 in 2003 water planning monies.

With a total of $182,360 in budgeted expenditures this year, the water planning budget was sliced in half, leaving less than half the total expenditures intact for 2003.

A wetlands evaluation will receive $6,100, shoreland work will receive $3,746 and another $7,278 goes to the general levy expenditures.

Meanwhile, the county board's commitment to supporting its aggressive feedlot program continues with $59,040 earmarked for continuation of one of the state's most highly-respected programs.

However, that leaves $82,811 in funds and programs erased.

Only five years ago,

State Rep. Dave Bishop, R-Rochester, proposed doing away with the state's township form of government as a means of increasing efficiency and reducing expenses.

Even Craig Oscarson, county coordinator and a member of the county board's budget committee, preparing for the state budget deficit's local impact was impressed.

"It's great to see the townships helping out the county," Oscarson said.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at