Farmers question ditch assessments

BROWN COUNTY — After an hour of discussion that included a number of questions from two farmers, Brown County commissioners unanimously approved redetermination of benefits (ROB) for County Ditches (CD) 5 and 72 Tuesday.

Commissioners unanimously approved consolidation of Lateral 11A and CD 5, creating one fund in the financial system, based on a recommendation by County Highway Engineer Wayne Stevens, motion by Commissioner Tony Berg, seconded by Commissioner Dean Simonsen.

A $434,000 CD 5 assessment was unanimously approved for the 7,851-acre watershed with 571 acres in the City of Sleepy Eye, motion by Commissioner Scott Windschitl, seconded by Commission Simonsen.

The CD 5 current fund balance is ($6,251.03).

“The ditch viewers are good people that do a good job,” Sleepy Eye farmer Greg Bartz said, handing out a four-page list of CD5 problems. “My concern is the City of Sleepy Eye’s contribution to the CD 5 ROB is way too low. They have a tremendous amount of impervious surfaces sending water to (Sleepy Eye) the lake and into CD 5.”

Bartz said Sleepy Eye Lake used to flow south through a wetland that was later filled with dredge material so water had to flow north along Highway 4, into highway ditch intakes that flow into CD 5.

Bartz wrote that CD 5 was built and paid for by farmers in 1905 for the farm land and it was not engineered to take water from the city or lake.

“Now CD 5 is overloaded with all the extra water from the City and lake and can’t do as good a job as it should for the farmland it was built for,” Bartz wrote. “Water doesn’t come off the farmland as fast as it should, causing crop losses. The city and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) should take care of their own water and not dump it in the farmer’s ditch. They should restore the historical outlet or pay their fair share to the ditch system for taking care of their water.”

Bartz added that the “spreadsheet dollars” benefitted the City of Sleepy Eye $313.016.

“This is ridiculous! The Sleepy Eye tax base is around $175 million. Probably 1/3 of its water drains to CD 5,” Bartz said.

Prairieville Township farmer Lee Johnson complained about ditch cleaning and said the county’s 100-foot ditch access easement was “a solution looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.”

“The last cleaning undercut the ditch, causing it to slough off,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Berg said the 100-foot easement was for machinery access in case of a catastrophic event.

“We have more absentee landowners now. We need easements for access if we need it. We’re trying to think ahead,” Commissioner Windschitl said.

Johnson asked what the penalty would be if he didn’t plant a buffer strip.

“You’ll get a notice to do it within so many months,” Commissioner Berg said. “If it’s not planted, fines increase exponentially. They’ll go up really fast.”

Stevens said the county will plant a buffer strip if the landowner doesn’t. If that is destroyed, the Brown County Attorney and Sheriff’s Office get involved.

Johnson said the county had no business citing state laws.

“We do that all the time,” Brown County Attorney Chuck Hanson said.

“It’s my ditch system,” Johnson said.

Hanson said the easements are state laws.

“It’s your ditch. If you get 75 percent landowner approval, you can make it a private ditch,” Hanson said.

“When assessments are $100 an acre, I think we can do it,” Johnson said.

Hanson told Johnson he can apply for ditch abandonment at any time.

Commissioners unanimously approved a CD 72 ROB, motion by Commissioner Windschitl, seconded by Commissioner Berg. The all-tile system has no damages to be paid and has sufficient funds, an $18,502.79 balance, to cover ROB costs. No assessment is required.

Commissioners unanimously approved:

• Implementing a 13-step salary range for paying non-union salaried and hourly employees, motion by Commissioner Windschitl, seconded by Commissioner Dave Borchert. Estimated additional levy needed is $119,156 (0.9 percent hike) in 2020; $150,932 in 2021, 1.1 percent hike; $153,951 1.2 percent hike in 2022 and $157,030 (1.2 percent hike) in 2023.

The change puts Brown County in line with other counties surveyed in a 15-county survey.

• A $47,500 audit service proposal for 2019 and $48,700 in 2020 from Clifton Larson Allen (CLA) on Tuesday, May 21, motion by Commissioner Windschitl, seconded by Commissioner Berg. More than $20,000 in savings is estimated over what was paid to the OSA.

• Reference checks were completed. Counties describe the team as knowledgeable, courteous, organized and thorough.

• A resolution to delegate authority to do electronic fund transfers (EFTs) to the Auditor-Treasurer, motion by Commissioner Windschitl, seconded by Commissioner Berg. The Office of State Auditor discovered in a legal compliance review that this authority needs to be delegated by resolution annually.

• Award the contact bidder for storm sewer repair on County Highway 29 in Home Township, motion by Commissioner Berg, seconded by Commissioner Simonsen. The south ditch on CSAH 29 just west of 225th Avenue had a ditch block with a culvert draining into a ravine ending at Kuelb’s Creek. The culvert rusted out on the bottom. Excessive rainfall caused the slope to severely erode under the culvert.

Quotes are $85,510.50 by Ground Zero Services and $88,818.16 by MR Paving & Excavating. The engineer’s estimate is $79,760.50. The Brown County Highway Department recommends the low bid.

• Recognized Brown County maintenance department employee Paul Wesselmann for receiving the 2018 Brown County Distinguished Service Award. Wesselmann said he was honored and humbled to receive the award but felt the whole maintenance department should be named on the award.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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