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Township meetings are time to talk needs, progress and cast ballot

WORTHINGTON -- They are the men and women who respond to road maintenance issues, address concerns about noxious weeds and encroachments on rights-of-way. They seek opportunities for broadband, and they strive to be responsible stewards of the ta...

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WORTHINGTON - They are the men and women who respond to road maintenance issues, address concerns about noxious weeds and encroachments on rights-of-way. They seek opportunities for broadband, and they strive to be responsible stewards of the tax dollar.

That isn’t to say township officials have a thankless job. They take pride in what they do - in a road well maintained or an old bridge that gets replaced - and they will even accept a compliment.

March 14 is Township Day in Minnesota, a day in which rural residents are invited to attend their township’s annual meeting to discuss the proposed levy, planned projects and address issues - as well as vote for their township officials.

Township government is considered the most grassroots form of government.

“This is the only form of government where the residents actually vote on the levy that they’re going to operate under for the next year,” said Indian Lake Township Treasurer Paul Langseth.

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The proposed township levies for 2018 in Nobles County range from a low of $54,000 in Summit Lake Township to a high of $116,100 in Hersey Township. The difference between the high and low is a story of the haves and the have nots.

In Nobles County, the townships with the lowest levies are typically home to massive energy-producing wind turbines. The wind energy production tax that companies pay gets split between the county and the township where the turbines are located.

That revenue, said Summit Lake Township chairman Paul Rogers, helps keep the levy low. In fact, the proposed 2018 levy for the township was reduced by nearly $5,000.

“We only have one bridge and we just got it replaced,” Rogers said. “With the money we get from the wind towers, we put a lot of gravel on each year.”

In the past, Summit Lake Township has tried to upgrade one mile of gravel road per year, but Rogers said it hasn’t needed to do that for the past year or two.

“We plan on doing it, but the construction companies are so busy and it’s not really a priority - our roads aren’t that bad,” he said.

Still, the township wants to keep them in good shape for its residents - including those who use the roads to haul grain and livestock.

“The roads were made for 150-bushel barge wagons and now they’re hauling 750-bushel wagons and driving semis on the gravel roads,” Rogers said. “If we didn’t have the wind turbines, our levy would be up high.”

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Two townships straight east of Summit Lake, in Hersey Township, board chairman Les Starner has no revenue coming in from wind turbines. At $116,100, Hersey Township has the highest levy, but it hasn’t increased for the past few years - and won’t again this year.

“We have no reason to raise it,” Starner said of the levy. “Several years ago, at an annual meeting, it was voted on to raise it a little and that’s where it’s remained.

“Our roads are in excellent shape and we’ve been cleaning up brush and old groves of trees in the township - I think we’ve done a good job of it,” he added.

Two bridges were replaced with box culverts in Hersey Township last fall. That work allows for wider farm implements to now use the roads.

Hersey Township, like most Nobles County townships, rarely draws a crowd for Township Day - either the election or the annual meeting.

Langseth said that in Indian Lake Township, the five board members attend, perhaps a spouse or two, and maybe one other township resident. Starner, a supervisor since 1986, said it’s the same in Hersey Township.

“If people were upset they would come - that’s how it is,” he said. “I take that as a sign that they’re satisfied with our job.

“It’s nice to tell folks what we’re doing, but on the other hand, they see it happen.”

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Township challenges vary Langseth, a third-generation treasurer for Indian Lake Township - his grandfather served for 20 years and his father for 39 years before he was elected in 1997 - said the issues in township government vary.

Townships with wind turbines dealt with overweight loads during construction and now see increased traffic. Construction of the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System will impact certain townships in the county when it comes through, and rural broadband is a concern for all of the townships that don’t have access to high-speed internet yet.

“If we’re going to get people out here, we can’t drive to town to get our internet,” Langseth said.

Also up for discussion is the potential to go to mail-in ballots for elections - something many counties to the north have already done at a cost savings to townships.

The one constant among Nobles County’s 20 townships is road maintenance. Much of the township transportation system was established in the 1920s and 1930s, Langseth said. They weren’t built to handle the big loads that use them today.

Langseth said there’s been some discussion at the township association meeting about upgrading township roads to 10-ton standards to handle the larger equipment.

“If they’re going to do that, the farmers are going to have to pay an additional levy to upgrade the roads,” he said.

Each township does receive a town road allocation - money that comes, in part, from the gas tax. The town road allocations range from a low of $11,078 for Larkin Township to a high of $40,303 for Worthington Township.

In Indian Lake Township, the road allocation is $19,788 this year, yet Langseth said between $20,000 to $30,000 per year is spent on gravel.

The difference is covered with levy dollars.

Township residents interested in hearing more about their levy, revenues and expenditures are welcome to attend their township’s annual meeting.

Polling and meeting times vary among Nobles County’s townships. The public notice announcing the times was printed in the March 1 edition of the Daily Globe, and can also be found online at dglobe.com by clicking on the “Data” tab.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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