Discussion heats up at annual meeting

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 3/22/00.

Debate at the annual meeting for Paynesville Township last Tuesday, March 14, started with a disagreement over the treasurer's report.

Township resident Eddie Lang objected to the nearly $27,000 paid to the three township supervisors and wanted detailed breakdowns of these expenses. "I guess the taxpayers deserve to know where their money is going," he said.

After being reassured that the money was for reimbursements for meetings, including a state and national conference, as well as for time spent conducting township business, Lang set his sights on Paynesville Septic Service, a company, owned by supervisor Warren Nehring. Lang objected to the nearly $21,000 in business that Paynesville Septic did for the township in the last year.

Several other members of the audience joined Lang in calling this practice a conflict of interest. "I guess he's his own best employer," said Lang. "There's just something wrong in hiring yourself for a job."

Board chairman Johnnie Olson said more bids and quotes for work might be appropriate, but he added that Nehring, as a businessman, has a right to seek work for his business.

Township resident Paul Osborne thought that Nehring probably gave the township a deal when providing services, but, even in such a case, he thought Nehring should want the township to ask for bids to protect himself.

Nehring defended his work and said his charges were fair. "I got all the records," he said. "If you want to see them, stop by my shop. I got nothing to hide."

The treasurer's report was approved by an 8-7 vote.

Later in the meeting, township resident Paul Bugbee thanked the supervisors. "The reality," he said, "is that not many of us could put in the hours these supervisors do. Any way you cut it, it's a volunteer job."

Civic arena
After a report about the four storm water sewer projects completed in the township last fall, Otto Naujokas gave an update on the use of the Koronis Civic Arena. The arena had ice from Oct. 23 to March 5. The ice hosted 130 hours of public skating, one week of physical education classes, 151 hours of outside rental, 17 varsity hockey games, 43 youth hockey games, four district playoff games, three weekend tournaments, and a Sunday night broomball league.

"It's been a busy year," concluded Naujokas. "Our schedule was three or four times busier than the first year we had artificial ice."

John Atwood and Don Torbenson, representing the Paynesville Area Center, asked the township for a $3,000 donation to the center. No action was taken on this request.

New airport
The township's participation with the city in supporting a new airport caused more debate among the nearly two dozen residents at the meeting.

Supervisor Don Pietsch explained how the township had refused to sign a joint powers agreement for the airport last year because of annexation concerns. With the city and township close to resolving the township's concerns over the loss of its tax base to annexation, Pietsch said signing the joint powers agreement would be the next step.

Already, the township is represented on the zoning board for the airport by Steve Braun and Jo Speldrich. Other representatives on the board are from the city of Paynesville, Roseville Township, and Stearns and Kandiyohi counties.

Under a joint powers agreement, both the city of Paynesville and Paynesville Township are expected to provide $200,000. The $400,000 would be the local matching funds needed to receive over $900,000 in state money for the airport construction.

Once 25 planes are based in Paynesville, Braun added, the airport can apply for federal funds.

Lang said that $8,000 per plane sounded like a hefty subsidy, especially with airports in nearby in St. Cloud and Litchfield.

Braun said that the issue is not providing a service to the few local residents, like himself, who have planes. Rather, he said the point is providing better access to the community. "What an airport is is another highway into town," he explained. "No one would want to see Highway 23 or 55 barricaded off."

"The question we have to ask ourselves is 20 years from now will we be better with an airport or not,"ĘBraun added. At best, he said the airport would just support itself with direct revenue, but what value will the indirect benefits have, he asked.

"Who knows if it will enhance my business at all,"Ęsaid Bugbee, who runs a family resort on Lake Koronis. "I think it's a progressive step."

"I probably won't use it at all," said township resident Leo Louis. "Maybe we have to spend money on things we don't always agree with or don't use (personally)." Louis noted that $200,000 over 20 years amounts to only $10,000 per year.

Lang said that a comparison for the benefits of an airport should be done with Brooten. "This should definitely be put to a vote before we jump in with both feet," he added.

Paynesville Area Transit
A recent survey of residents of Paynesville Township did not indicate a need to provide the service of the Paynesville Area Transit in the township.

"At one time, we did provide transportation to the township," explained Pietsch. "It wasn't very feasible. It wasn't very well utilized, and it was dropped."

A random selection of 110 residents was targeted, but only 50 were reached by the phone survey. Twenty-five residents said they understood the service and 19 felt they didn't.

More importantly, 45 said they would not use the service if it included the township and only three said they would. "From the survey, I think there's not enough interest to warrant extending service into the township at this time," said Pietsch.

Ridership of the Paynesville Area Transit (PAT) has reached 100 one-way trips per months. Presently, the service is only offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The city of Paynesville supports the service with $7,000 per year. The Minnesota Department of Transportation pays for 70 percent of the PAT's costs.

Uniform mailbox stands
Olson asked the audience for input on buying standard posts for mailboxes in the township. Some county roads and state highways already have these posts, which overhang enough to be out of the way of a snowplow and turn if hit.

Olson said the project could be done over time and that costs weren't known at present.

Some felt better plowing would limit mailbox damages and others questioned if the cost of a few damaged mailboxes justified the cost of all new posts.

More research may be done on this proposal.

The county also wants to put 911 signs by every residence. Costs would be split by the county and the township. The township's share would be $4 per sign. Paynesville Township has 1,400 parcels.

Emergency services strongly support the signs, which could help fire and ambulance crews find a house. "If an ambulance crew can't find your place," asked Olson, "how much is that worth?"

One objection to the project was the right of privacy for residents who don't want their address prominently displayed.

Police report
Paynesville Deputy Kent Kortlever presented a police report to the township. Through ten and a half months in the current yearly contract, the accidents, arrests, and tickets were comparable to last year's totals.

The main deviation was in complaints, which have dropped from an average of 20 per month last year to 17 per month this year. "They're down dramatically," said Kortlever, "and we're not sure why that is."

It could be the result of less criminal activity, or residents not making complaints. He urged township residents to report matters immediately to the police. "The more you report things," he said, "the more we can check up on it."

Pietsch informed the audience that the township has received a $5,000 grant to support recycling efforts in the township. The township board is still considering its options on how the money can best be spent.

One idea was a collection station at the township maintenance garage, but that has been deemed impractical.

Another possibility would be mandatory garbage pick-up in the densely populated portions of the township. Residents would be charged both for garbage and recycleables. More residents on the route would mean a lower rate for each. Recycling will have a cost. Pietsch said, "You have to believe that if we don't do it now we're going to pay for it down the road."

The next step by the township will be to send a letter to residents to gauge interest in garbage pick-up.

Lake Koronis trail
Several residents had concerns about the timeliness of snowplowing in the township.

Jeff Ampe said that when a commercial company plowed the eastern side of the township, the roads would be clear by 9 a.m. Now it takes until 5:30 p.m. "The last two years we were lucky because there wasn't much snow," Ampe said.

He wondered why the company couldn't be contracted for snowplowing again, especially when its plows drive over some of the roads anyway.

Linus Nistler expressed his opposition to the township acquiring County Road 124 because of snowplowing. "I don't think the township has any business taking over that road," he said. "We can't take over the roads we got now."

Taking over the road is a necessity for the proposed pedestrian trail around Lake Koronis, said Paul Osborne, who has coordinated the trail efforts so far as a member of the Jaycees. The county did not want to build a trail along a county road.

Olson said the township acted proactively in negotiating for ownership of the road, along with money for rebuilding it and maintenance. The township and the county agreed on a lump sum payment of $292,000 for the township to upgrade and maintain the road for a few years.

Other townships have been forced to take over county roads without getting a penny for maintenance, Olson said.

Jeff Bertram, who may spearhead the trail project for the township, said the issue of taking over 124 differed from the service and maintenance of the road.

Osborne said the idea of a trail around the lake grew from the need to get kids safely from town to the lake. With roads around the lake being very narrow, a separate pedestrian lane, located away from traffic, offers more safety.

Bertram said the trail needs to be done right the first time and people need to be patient, else limited funds are invested and lost. He thinks it might be best to wait to rebuild County Road 124 with a trail.

Osborne thought that the best momentum would be to have a first leg of the trail. "I haven't heard any opposition to the trail in two years," he said. "Everybody wants it. Let's get digging."

Osborne compared the trail to the ill-fated swimming pool project of a few years ago. "'Where's the pool?'" he asked. "I hear that already. 'It's never going to happen.' Give them proof."

One concern by a resident was that snowmobilers would use the trail. The trail would be meant for pedestrian traffic like bikers and walkers.

2001 levy
The township will raise its levy slightly for the coming year. The levy for general revenue will be $126,000, up $3,000 from last year. For roads and bridges, $170,000 will be levied, up $5,000. Snow removal remains at $15,000, and the levy for the fire account will be raised $5,000 to a total of $20,000.

Increased property values in the township should keep the mill rate stable.

Hospital district update
Hospital system administrator Willie LaCroix gave the last briefing of the night about events in the hospital district.

The hospital district added two new entities last year in the cities of Richmond and Roscoe.

The hospital system did $19 million in business and recorded a profit of $683,000 in its last fiscal year. In five months so far this year, it has made $256,000.

Clinic visits have gone from 1,000 per month in 1994 to 3,400 in January. The hospital system has recruited three new physicians and another physician's assistant, who will join the system this summer. These additions will bring the medical staff to 10 doctors, two physician's assistants, and two nurse practitioners. "It's quite a staff for a small rural area," said LaCroix.

The system has let bids for a $4.9 million remodeling project. It would expand the clinic, add another surgery room to the hospital, double the size of the outreach clinic, build a new emergency entrance, and address needs in the nursing home like having one tub for 64 residents.

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