Get involved: Levies set, elections held, road projects finalized at township meetings March 14
On Township Day, residents have a direct voice in how the township will be run and will vote on a variety of matters, including the amount they will pay in taxes the following year,
PERHAM — For a look at grassroots democracy in action, check out Township Day on Tuesday, March 14.
In some townships, board supervisors are elected or reelected by residents the day of the meeting, and the votes are then counted and certified either at or just prior to the annual meeting, which starts at 8:01 p.m. Official voting hours that day must be at least 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., but some townships choose to have longer hours. Some townships elect their town board members on the November general election ballot instead of holding a March election.
At any rate, at the annual meeting on Township Day all townships talk about road projects and property taxes.
This annual meeting — held at all 1,777 Minnesota townships — is what really sets townships apart from other forms of local government, according to Jeff Krueger, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Townships.
On Township Day, residents have a direct voice in how the township will be run and will vote on a variety of matters, including the amount they will pay in taxes the following year, Krueger said.
Township residents who show up for the meeting will elect a person from among the crowd to serve as moderator for the evening, said Pine Lake Township Chairman Tim Lachowitzer.
“We’ll get a person to run the meeting that night, I’ll give my annual report, and we talk about what we did, where we’re spending everybody’s money, and what we’re working on in 2023,” he said.
Road projects and maintenance are a big part of what townships do, and that’s where they focus much of their attention, he said.
Two supervisor positions are up for election that night, and printed ballots will have one name for each position, he said. “Of course, anybody can put a write-in (ballot) in, and there you go,” Lachowitzer added.
The township puts out a newsletter about a month prior to the annual meeting, and “we go over some of that at the meeting, but people can talk about whatever they want to talk about,” he said.
Even though the township wraps around Big Pine Lake, the vast majority of issues involve roads, not lakeshore. The DNR and the Pine Lake Improvement District have any lake-related issues well in hand, he said.
One new issue may be EMS coverage for townships. Pine Lake now pays for fire coverage and within a few years may have to pay for EMS ambulance coverage as well. The cost is currently covered by the EMS operators, but that looks like it might soon be changing, he said, as new regulations put a dent in EMS revenue.
Also, there are usually a handful of charitable organizations represented at the meeting, asking townships for donations.
All in all, it’s a good chance to get together with neighbors and talk about township issues. “It’s a fun thing,” Lachowitzer said.
The annual meeting is ”one of the most important days of the year,” said Perham Township Chairman Shawn Sweere. “We set levies and talk about projects they’d like to see the township doing. Maybe they want a road graded or a road tarred or a road paved, or there’s potholes or maintenance problems they want to talk about,” he said. “We can set levies and get projects done.”
Usually fewer than 15 people show up for the annual meeting, but turnout has been getting better, Sweere said. “‘I’m always pressing the issue to come, come, come to the meeting,” he said.
The township board comes to the meeting prepared with a proposed levy and proposed road projects and costs. “We know what roads we want to be built up, but also it depends on how the well-traveled roads are holding up. We never know what winter will leave for us (to repair),” Sweere said. In other words, there’s always room for flexibility at the annual meeting.
Perham Township borders the city of Perham, and they often coordinate work on road projects. “We try to match up their road with our shared road and maybe get it done at the same time,” he said.
The town board also sets the annual property tax levy. “We try not to raise taxes,” Sweere said, and we really haven’t raised taxes much — we just raised taxes last year. We didn’t want to raise the levy over (the first couple years of) COVID — people were already hurting — so there was no change.” Now the township needs to play some catch-up to get road projects done, he said.
Perham Township’s monthly meeting was held March 7, and supervisors talked about potential projects and the tax levy for 2023, he said. “On the 14th we’ll roll it out to people who show up. We’ll let them know that ‘this is the levy we think we should roll out because these are the projects we need to do,’” he said.
Township residents can find the location and time of their annual meeting by checking their local newspaper for the published notice or by contacting their township clerk.
(This article was corrected to specify that the voting occurs before 8 p.m. and the annual meeting starts at 8:01 p.m. on Township Day)