Right now, the township charges property owners $500 for fire calls. On Monday, Nov. 13, the township board approved raising that charge to $1,000 for fires that were started without a burning permit or without calling before burning.
Fire charges are based on the expenses of the fire department shared by the number of calls. Typically, the township ends up paying two or three thousand dollars per call.
They set a $500 fee for property owners because that is a typical insurance payment. That allows the township to recoup some costs without out-of-pocket expense for homeowners.
The problem, as the township board saw it, was fires that are started illegally, without a burning permit, for instance. "If you start a fire and it gets out of hand we're paying $2,500 or $3,000 of taxpayer's money for your carelessness," said Don Pietsch, board chairman.
"We have to get a strong message out there that you have to have a permit to burn," he added.
Before burning, residents are required to call 320-243-3434 to notify the dispatcher that you are burning legally by permit. This call informs the dispatcher of the existence of a controlled fire, and prevents the fire department from being dispatched unnecessarily.
People failing to call before they burn would also be subject to the doubled fine if the fire trucks are dispatched.
The board agreed to plow snow on two private roads this year and give residents a year to petition for the township to take over the road.
The decision indicates a loosening of the board's requirements for acquiring a road.
In the past, the board has maintained a strict stance that all roads must have a 66-foot right of way before the township accepts the road.
That standard will still be applied to new platted developments, which will need to have a sealed road up to township specifications before the township takes over the road and provides services.
But the board eased these requirements on existing private roads.
Pietsch said his rationale was that more of these roads serve year-round residences that need services like snowplowing. Since they pay township taxes, Pietsch felt they deserve township services. If he lived on a private road, he would want township services, he said.
While the previous stance was meant to get township roads to uniform standards, the reality is that the township has many roads that aren't 66 feet wide, noted supervisor Warren Nehring. "We have a lot of roads that aren't up to specs, like Don said, and we service those," said Nehring.
The township will be plowing Conita Circle and Crowncrest Road this winter, with the understanding that residents will petition the township to take over the road within a year, or services will stop.
Conita Circle is located off of Highway 23 west of town. Residents widened the roadway last spring to make it more accessible. It has two accesses to the highway so turning around is not an issue.
It still needs to be sealed, and the township will continue its policy of splitting that cost with property owners on existing roads. (In new plats, that cost will be left solely to the developer.)
Crowncrest Road serves a dozen homes and cabins on the northeastern shore of Lake Koronis. At least three year-round residents live there, and some of the cabins are used periodically throughout the winter, too.
State law gives ownership of a road to a township if it provides services for six years, said Pietsch, who researched the issue. The township doesn't want to get in the habit of plowing private roads, but decided to give these roads a year to organize a petition.
This decision comes on the heels of a township effort to clear up ownership on some roads. The township found that it actually held title to some roads that were previously considered private. Several of these roads do not meet township specifications, either.
On one of these, Briarhill Road, the board approved going ahead with some improvements, including a culvert.
Crowncrest Road was one of the roads in question, but it was determined to be a private road.
Stearns County Road 123
Residents along Stearns County Road 123 presented a petition to the township asking for the township to acquire the road from the county.
Almost a mile of the road runs in the northeast corner of the township. It is still a gravel road, and residents want it tarred and turned into a rustic road.
According to the petition, the road has local farm traffic as well as lake traffic from Rice and Pirz lakes. The petitioners expressed hope that the township could service the road better than the county and that local law enforcement would be able to patrol it more closely.
The township board accepted the petition and stated its intent to pursue a takeover with the county.
The township approved a final plat for the Gary Olson Addition. This plat just creates a roughly three-acre commercial lot on County Road 130 northwest of town.
The board heard a pedestrian trail update from Jeff Bertram. He is preparing to pursue grants to help fund the trail and needs financial information from the township to present to potential donors.
The township will set up a designated fund for the trail project.
The township is continuing to work on a seven-year road plan to prioritize maintenance and road improvements in the township.
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