Townships in excellent fiscal shape

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 22, 2004

State Auditor Pat Anderson released a report late last week on the finances of Minnesota’s townships. The report, Minnesota Township Finances, includes information on the revenues, expenditures, and debt of townships for the year ended Dec. 31, 2003.

“According to our report, Minnesota’s townships are in excellent fiscal health,” stated Anderson. “Furthermore, almost every township in Minnesota submitted the required financial information. This is important because the reporting of financial information to the State Auditor’s office is an important element in providing public accountability for taxpayers’ dollars.”

Of the 1,789 townships in Minnesota, only four failed to report their 2003 financial information to the State Auditor as required by law. This represents an all-time record low for towns not in compliance. In the last reporting period, 41 townships failed to report. As recently as 1999, 116 townships failed to report.

Email newsletter signup

The record low number of non-compliant townships is a testament to the responsiveness of townships and an aggressive effort on the part of the Office of the State Auditor to ensure that all local governments are reporting their required financial data in a timely manner.

Only Dale Township of Cottonwood County, Blue Hill Township of Sherburne County and Beaver and Dewey Townships of Roseau County failed to report the information as of the date of this report.

Findings of report

Townships are the most common form of local government in Minnesota. In 2003, there were 1,789 townships in Minnesota compared to 853 cities and 87 counties. Population estimates from the State Demographer show that 949,649 individuals or 17.5 percent of the total state population resided in townships in 2003. Town populations ranged from 11,664 in White Bear Lake Township to 8 in Hangaard Township.

The primary function of townships is the maintenance of roads and bridges. There are approximately 56,000 miles of township roads and 6,000 townships bridges in Minnesota. Township roads make up about 43 percent of the state’s total roadways.

In 2003, Minnesota’s towns collected total revenues of $213.7 million, an increase of 3.7 percent over the total revenues collected i 2002, and a 21.9 percent increase since 1999.

While total revenues among townships continue to increase, intergovernmental revenues continue to decrease. Intergovernmental revenues decreased by 16.1 percent from 2002 to 2003; they decreased by 25.8 percent from 2001 to 2002. The decrease reflects the elimination of Local Government Aid (LGA) to townships. The decreases in intergovernmental revenue were offset by increases in revenue from taxes (12.3 percent) and charges for service (16.8 percent). Intergovernmental revenue, taxes, and charges for service combined to account for over 90 percent of total townships revenue.

Minnesota towns spent a total of $205.4 million in 2003, an increase of 1.0 percent from 2002 and an increase of 15.0 percent since 1999. Of the total expenditures, $153.7 was for current expenditures, $39.0 million was for capital outlay, and $12.7 million was for debt service payments.

The amount spent on road and bridge activities was double the amount of any other current expenditure category and represents 36.4 percent of current expenditures.

“Through their unique system of grassroots government, townships continue to serve their citizens well. They perform an important function for all Minnesotans-maintaining rural roads and bridges. Townships remain the most self-sufficient form of local government in Minnesota,” said Anderson.

Townships in Southeast Minnesota

There are 194 towns in the Southeast economic development region, with all towns reporting. The region includes Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha and Winona counties.

Total revenues in this region totaled $27.7 million, accounting for 13 percent of total town revenues. Total expenditures in this region were $25.4 million, accounting for 13 percent of total town expenditures. Debt service in this region totaled $460,616, accounting for 4 percent of total town debt service.

Online Tool

Thanks to a new tool developed by the Office of the State Auditor, citizens can now easily look up the finances of their township. The tool allows users to access financial information for any township in the state. Users can also compare the financial information of individual townships. This new feature is in addition to the financial information for counties, cities and school districts that is also available for review by citizens on the State Auditor’s website.

The online tool and a PDF version of the report available for download

are at