Commentary: Local SWCD provides true accountability

Beltrami County has historically depended upon its many partners to provide services to its landowners, and to protect the very environment we all treasure for its recreational, aesthetic and economic value.

Beltrami County has historically depended upon its many partners to provide services to its landowners, and to protect the very environment we all treasure for its recreational, aesthetic and economic value.

One of those entities has faithfully served the county since 1950, helping landowners make wise decisions about the natural resources on their property. This entity was created by referendum vote of county taxpayers who called for its establishment under Minnesota Statute 103C.

This entity is the Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District. SWCDs are governed by an elected board, similar to that of the county board. Five landowners are elected to serve Beltrami County and its resources by committing to four-year terms of service. Careers represented on the Beltrami SWCD Board include farming, logging, well-drilling, septic installation and water resource management.

The SWCD Board's legislatively mandated responsibility is to protect and enhance the soil and water resources in Beltrami County. They are held accountable for their actions by the state, the county, and the taxpayers. They are held to state accounting standards, and have regular, independent financial audits completed with state auditor review and approval.

SWCDs are able to apply for, receive and spend grant funds for special projects. However, SWCDs do not have any levy authority, and are forced to rely on an inconsistent stream of financial support from grants, fees for services and county allocations.


We are deeply concerned about the recent Pioneer editorial which discussed the findings of a legislative audit on water management programs. The author cited the county's new way of conducting business with the SWCD -- contract for services -- as an example for how the state should be conducting their water management programs.

We are most disturbed by the unwritten implication that a lack of accountability and low performance existed before the contracts-for-services were implemented in 2004.

The legislative audit did find some issues, primarily with the large percentage of counties which failed to respond to their audit, and with the overlapping jurisdictions that exist in some parts of Minnesota -- but not in Beltrami County. To extrapolate the report to the conclusions the Pioneer editorial did is irresponsible journalism. A contact with any SWCD Board member would have given the editorial a balanced perspective.

The Beltrami SWCD's performance levels have been exemplary! The County Board should recognize the opportunities that exist to assist them in making wise decisions about the county's natural resources, and depend more on the SWCD, not less.

Annual contracts-for-services remove autonomy of decision-making from the SWCD Board, and limits the ability of the SWCD to respond to most resource issues. This is not in the best interests of Beltrami County, which depends upon a healthy environment to sustain its tax base, provide tourism dollars and allow its citizens to enjoy the natural resources the area has to offer.

Since 1990, the SWCD has brought over $2.5 million into Beltrami County for projects and initiatives that the county could not afford to do on their own! In this same time period, Beltrami County provided $700,000 in funding support to the SWCD. For every dollar of county support to the SWCD, $3 were returned and locally invested into the county! An entity that returns more money than received should be acknowledged for its wise use of public funds and be provided with more leadership and autonomy, not less.

The SWCD Board and staff are committed to their mission to improve the resources of Beltrami County by providing technical and financial assistance to its landowners. We will continue to accomplish our mission despite limited resources and poorly founded insinuations in the Pioneer's editorial column. The Beltrami SWCD stands on its record of outstanding performance, truthful accounting, and locally elected oversight.

Chuck Meyer is chairman of the Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors.

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