County will oppose watershed district

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 7, 2003

County commissioners confirmed at their board meeting Tuesday that they would oppose the formation of a Shell Rock River Watershed District at next week’s hearing by the Board of Soil and Water Resources (BWSR).

The hearing, scheduled for next Tuesday, will be the final phase for the agency to decide whether it will let the county handle watershed management or approve a petition to establish the new tax authority.

The board maintains that the county has made progress in watershed planning and projects, and has concerns that the watershed district would impose a large tax burden on district residents.

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“I don’t like the idea of creating another layer of government,” Commissioner Glen Mathiason said.

Commiss-ioner Dave Mullenbach agreed, “It’s going to cost a lot more [to the residents] if we have the watershed district.”

Among the groups invited to the hearing to speak are; the county, the City of Albert Lea and Soil and Water Conservation District would oppose the watershed district, according to County Environmental Services Director Randy Tuchtenhagen.

However, a budget crisis due to the state aid cuts has clouded the opponents’ confidence.

Though the exact amounts to be cut are dependent on the Legislature’s decision on the state aid, the watershed is likely to be the largest chunk eliminated from the 2003 budget.

The county’s special budget committee recommended a drastic cut of $275,000

in the watershed budget. Even county department heads have concluded that the budget should be eliminated in their counter-proposal.

The board agreed that the county would not go against the watershed district if BWSR authorized its formation.

As an independent governmental body, the watershed district can levy taxes like a county or city does. It can also assess costs and apply for state and federal grants. The petitioners, as well as the Freeborn County/Albert Lea Chamber of Commerce, assert that the watershed district would be the most accountable way to raise enough funding to implement projects.

Tuchtenhagen said the BWSR has not specified a funding level necessary to satisfy the agency to let the authority stay in the county’s hand. But he said the BWSR cannot neglect the county’s accomplishments in complying with the requirements it imposed as conditions to halt the petition process.