Letter: 80% tax increase proposed for HLWD property owners
The Heron Lake Watershed District is currently renewing its 10-year Water Management Plan (WMP) to include the creation of a Water Management District funding mechanism to potentially generate $2 million in additional local revenue through tax assessments for projects.
This $200,000 per year amounts to an 80 percent increase in the already approved $250,000 annual tax levy on property owners in the district. This tax increase is limited to only three of the four counties within the HLWD (Jackson, Nobles and Murray).
The HLWD's 10-year budget with maximum levies totals over $6.4 million. This is to be used specifically for administration, education and implementation of projects to improve water quality entering the North and South Heron Lake basins. The HLWD's 40-year track record shows over half of its dollars being spent on administration and education. It is very close to being labeled a non-implementing watershed district and therefore seeks to generate additional local dollars to fund its projects.
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners has sent a letter of nonsupport for the HLWD's 10-year WMP, specifically the new funding mechanism created to tax local property owners. Funding for water management must be born by all citizens and not just those in the watershed district.
The Jackson County board believes the Clean Water Act (State Legacy Funding) was established for that purpose, and we need to continue to pursue those funds to reach our goals. The Jackson County board further states in the letter that:
"With Federal, State and Local Government facing extreme financial difficulties, cuts in programs may be necessary. We believe the Heron Lake Watershed District is a nonessential unit of water management and our county Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Planning and Environmental Services (PES) and Minnesota Extension Service could administer, educate and implement all programs currently being offered by the HLWD. Water quality and quantity is everyone's responsibility. Our SWCD, PES and Minnesota Extension Service are all agencies serving all the residents in Jackson County and funded in part by those residents. In cooperation with Natural Resource Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Board of Water and Soil Resources and other agencies, water and soil conservation best management practices could continue in Jackson County without the HLWD."
It is this writer's belief that dissolving the HLWD would keep $6.4 million in local property owners' pockets that could be redirected toward roads and bridges, health and human services, public safety or the building of much-needed mental health facilities, libraries, county maintenance facilities and others. I believe the HLWD is truly a duplication of government water management services already in place not only in Jackson County but also Nobles, Murray and Cottonwood counties.
The Board of Soil and Water Resources has scheduled a public hearing on the HLWD's 10-year plan for 7 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Heron Lake Community Center. Here is an opportunity for local taxpayers to state their concerns.