Letter: Diligence of county saved taxpayers millions

Published 9:40 am Thursday, February 9, 2017

We all want clean water.  But is it right to have non-elected people levy taxes to clean it?  Wasn’t the Revolutionary War fought with the cry “No taxation without representation”?  The founders of the USA knew elected officials respond to grievances of the people, work for the people, and are held accountable to the people. In every election they can present their ideas in a public forum to get elected or not.  Sounds like a good system to me.

The Shell Rock River Watershed District (SRRWD) does not follow that system.  Watershed districts have been formed over recent years, and board members chosen by a flawed system of appointments.  There are now 46 watershed districts in Minnesota with nonelected people who can levy taxes. A bureaucracy is born, with the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts Inc. (MAWD) lobbying in 2017, among other things, to loosen the open meeting laws, raise the per diem to $100 a day for watershed board members, and make it easier for non-elected boards to levy more property taxes. Our tax dollars are being used to lobby for things against taxpayers!

Currently SRRWD levies from property taxes $250,000 per year, the maximum allowed by law, just for administration. For 2017, the SRRWD board proposed an extra million-dollar levy on property taxes, over and above the administration maximum.  Our Freeborn County staff and outside legal experts told us that was against state statute.  SRRWD has since lowered the proposal from a million to $192,000. That still doesn’t make it legal.

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Let’s look at how the SRRWD has operated in the past.  According to the state auditor, the SRRWD illegally bought a dredge and equipment for over $726,212, and also illegally gave bonuses to staff totaling $16,500.  According to board minutes they are paying $5,000 per year (over $13,000 so far) to a board member’s son to store, in his shed, the dredge (a machine designed to sit outdoors in water).

In the future I’d like to see the SRRWD board elected. I’d like to see the illegal bonuses returned to the taxpayers. I’d like to see MAWD stop lobbying for more wages for watershed board members. I’d like to see no taxation powers for non-elected boards. And finally, I’d like to see the SRRWD stop threatening litigation against the county when our staff is simply following state statutes and going by the law. 

I think it’s time for the SRRWD to clean up a little more than water.  In my opinion, property owners in the SRRWD were saved a million dollars in taxes by the diligence of Freeborn County Auditor-Treasurer Pat Martinson, County Recorder Kelly Callahan and County Attorney David Walker. By the way, they serve our county in elected positions.

Dan Belshan

District 2 commissioner

Freeborn County