NEW ULM - Brown and Nicollet County commissioners discussed issues they have in common and some they don't have in common Friday at their bi-annual joint board meeting at the Brown County License Bureau.
Nicollet County Commissioner Dr. Bruce Beatty said the Minnesota River Board will not continue to exist for long as it now does. He said the board seeks to reorganize itself as the Minnesota River Basin Board if it finds a way to secure funding.
The Minnesota River Joint Powers Board with representatives from 12 area watersheds, was created in 1995 with the intention of protecting and improving river basin water quality. The Minnesota Legislature provided $100,000 in ongoing funding and the board collected dues from member counties.
In May 2008, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a bill, sponsored by former Rep. Terry Morrow, St. Peter, and former Sen. Dennis Frederickson, New Ulm, to reorganize the Minnesota River Joint Powers Board as the Minnesota River Board in collaboration with the Minnesota State University, Mankato Water Resources Center and an advisory committee.
State funding fell to $42,000. Just 22 of 37 original county boards were still dues paying members as of last fall, leaving the organization with funding issues.
Beatty said the Minnesota River Board - of which Nicollet County is a paying member and Brown County is a non-paying member - plans to decide on future funding mechanisms at its Sept. 16 meeting (9 a.m. to noon at the Faribault county Ag Service Center, Blue Earth).
"They talked about proposing a 39-county taxing district to the Legislature that would generate more than $8 million a year by assessing landowners $.40 an acre and $10 a household," Beatty said. "Funds would be designated to river basin projects and to help the organization compete for matching funds. To me, it's an all or nothing thing. Either generate a lot of money with all counties joining or close the books and go home."
Brown County Commissioner Jim Berg said there are many other river organizations competing for matching funds.
Commissioners discussed using wheelage and sales taxes to help fund county highway projects. Brown County recently approved a $10 annual wheelage tax for registered vehicles. Nicollet County disapproved a wheelage tax resolution earlier this week by a 3-2 vote.
Berg said the money (about $250,000) would "backfill" recent county road and bridge project cuts.
"We aren't going to sit here and watch our roads go to heck," Berg said. "I got mostly positive feedback from people, mostly farmers, after we passed the tax."
Beatty called transportation "a state responsibility."
"I feel they let us down, passing costs down to us and on top of it, passing levy limits on us," Beatty said.
Brown County Commissioner Andy Lochner said he feels the sales tax issue should be a state issue.
"They should've broadened the (sales tax) base and lowered the rate," said Nicollet County Commissioner Marie Dranttel.
Brown County Commissioner Dennis Potter said the cost of roads won't go down.
Nicollet County Administrator Ryan Krosch said the board plans to begin three ditch benefit re-determinations near Swan Lake this fall.
"Some landowners have asked us to do them," Beatty said.
Beatty said Nicollet and Brown County public health offices are beginning to share medical equipment and supplies including walkers and other items for those that need them.
The board plans to meet again to discuss issues the last week of January 2014.
Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.