Townships take care of business

Published 10:13 am Thursday, September 25, 2008

Richard Epley and Keith Voorhees arrive first at the Elkton Community Center Sept. 18.

The door is open and they walk inside.

Delos Frank arrives next and soon afterwards, Alice Jensen.

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The president, vice president, secretary and hired food-and-refreshment-server (Epley, Voorhees, Frank and Jensen, in that order) have come to prepare for the fall meeting of the Mower County Townships Association.

There are tables and chairs to arrange for the meeting of representatives from 20 townships in Mower County.

The American flag has to be position on the right side of the head table. One township officer scolded the MCTA leaders for not adhering to flag protocol at the spring meeting.

Frank, the secretary, prepares to register attendees and hold a prize drawing after the meting.

Epley and Voorhees go over the meeting agenda and list of special guests.

Jensen is busy in the kitchen preparing the lunch that will follow the discussions.

Bryant Hokeness, MCTA treasurer, arrives next and starts distributing copies of his financial report.

Tom Mullenbach, Adams Township supervisor, arrives and takes a seat.

Bill Sweetser, chairman of the Bennington Township Board, shows up and pretty soon, others file in and the Elkton Community Center echoes with voices and laughter.

Richard Peterson, Mower County assessor, hands out information sheets listing land values.

Mower County Auditor-Treasurer Doug Groh hands out information about the upcoming Nov. 4 State General Election and training sessions for election judges and tests for the new electronic voting equipment used by the townships.

Audrey Oehlke, MCTA secretary, takes her seat and the meeting begins.

Representatives from all 20 townships in Mower County and a dozen county officials and staff have come to Elkton to listen and learn.

Epley reads a letter from the Mower County chapter of the American Red Cross, thanking the MCTA for a $2,000 donation to flood relief efforts in southeast Minnesota and introduces Gary Peterson, the state township association’s district representative.

Peterson reminds the guests the state township association will be observing its 75th anniversary soon and encourages the townships to participate.

Peterson also has a list of legislative issues townships must follow when the 2009 Minnesota Legislature convenes.

At the top of the list is annexation reform.

Transpiration funding for roads and bridges comes next followed by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

Bridge bonding and the Help America Vote Act are also on the list. So are initiatives (four in Mower County) to move their annual elections from March to November, funding for dealing with noxious weeds along township roads and fire service contracts.

When Peterson finishes, it’s Jim Gehbardt’s turn.

The chairman of the Cedar River Watershed District Board of Managers discussed the agency’s mission to deal with water quality and flooding issues.

Gebhardt tells the MCTA members, the agency’s new 10-year plan is the beginning of a long process in achieving CRWD goals.

The official business meeting is interrupted when two Mower County Chapter of the American Red Cross representatives, Penny Bartesch and Aaron Stewart, arrive with a surprise for a township officer.

The Red Cross pair are there to honor Rita Hanegraaf, Windom Township treasurer, who is credited with saving the life of an election judge at the Rose Creek voting precinct on Sept. 9, when the State Primary Election was held.

Hanegraaf applied CPR to the victim with the help of Wayne Robinson and, witnesses including the Red Cross said, saved the woman’s life.

Hanegraaf, a popular township official, is greeted with loud applause from her MCTA peers.

The next guest speaker is state Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-District 27B.

Poppe reminds the MCTA, “The most important thing we can do is communicate.”

“The state faces a budget deficit of between $2 and $4 billion dollars,” Poppe reminds the township officials. “We have to remember we’re all in this together.”

“It’s going to be painful for everyone when more cost-shifts and unfunded mandates are ahead of us,” she said.

Angie Knish, the new environmental services director, introduces herself to the MCTA.

Mower County Commissioner Ray Tucker (2nd District) speaks briefly on the proliferation of more windmills in the Elkton, Grand Meadow and Dexter area and predicts there are more to come.

The only news he has to relay about the proposed new Mower County Jail and Justice Center is bids will be taken by the end of the year and are due in February 2009.

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi is the next county official to speak. She observes the county’s new emergency radio communications system is operational and an improvement to officer safety and that of citizens, too.

Amazi also talks about a protest at the State Capitol that same day, when county sheriff’s and other officials and staff complained to the governor about the negative impact the short term offender program is having on counties.

Amazi blames the Minnesota Department of Corrections for the county’s own woes, including reducing the jail to a 90-day lockup and forcing Mower County to board out more prisoners.

Tom Verdoorn, a Windom Township supervisor, inquires how the townships can help and Amazi encourages the townships to adopt a resolution to attract state legislators’ attention to the problem.

Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen also encourages the township officials to communicate with county officials on problems of mutual concern.

Mower County Assessor Richard Peterson shares a report of new land values with the MCTA members.

According to Peterson, the average sale price of a tillable acre of Mower County ag land has risen to $4,031.

A year ago, the average price per acre was $3,597.

Peterson also announces due to more legislative changes, some landowners could lose their agricultural homestead exemption this year.

He advises all landowners to read over carefully information letters mailed from his office.

Mower County Coordinator Craig Oscarson discusses the possible tax impact of the new jail and justice center project on real estate taxes.

He said the question uppermost in taxpayers’ minds is “What is it going to cost me in taxes and what am I going to get out of it?”

Sixty percent of the proposed $36 million project will be jail costs, according to Oscarson, who points out the proposed levy increase approved by the Mower County Board is because of the jail and justice center project.

Oscarson also agrees with Amazi the state’s short term offender program is creating financial havoc in the county.

Waltham Township Board Chairman Eugene Anderson questions plans for the existing jail and justice center.

Barb Lewis, president of the Mower County Historical Society board of directors, expresses her appreciation to those townships who financially support the work of the MCHS.

In MCTA official action, Richard Epley and Bryant Hokeness, president and treasurer, respectively, are re-elected to their positions.

The business meeting concludes and Jensen serves lunch from the Elkton Community Center kitchen. The township officials and guests enjoy their lunch and fellowship before trickling out of the hall to return to their farms.

For one fall afternoon in September, every township in Mower County has been represented at the meeting and information shared with representatives from all corners of the county in the nation’s oldest form of government: The township.