Township representatives oppose increased road maintenance rates at Beltrami County Board meeting
Representatives from townships across Beltrami County spoke out against a substantial increase in road maintenance costs approved by the county board in its last meeting.
BEMIDJI — Representatives from townships across Beltrami County spoke out against a substantial increase in road maintenance costs at the county board meeting on Tuesday night.
In its last session on Feb. 21, the county board approved changes to rates related to road maintenance, increasing the cost of snowplowing from $160 an hour to a per-mile rate of $1,200 for gravel roads and $2,000 for paved roads.
This cost increase led several township officers attending Tuesday evening’s meeting to speak about how this would negatively affect their communities during the public comment period.
“Our township can’t afford the cost increase that the county is proposing, and to find other people to take care of our township (roads) is pretty near impossible,” said Dan Lossing, a supervisor from Langor Township.
Lossing explained that after converting what his township has been paying over the last eight years for snowplowing to a per-mile average, it came out to $198.60, far from the $1,200 and $2,000 price tag of the county’s increase.
“I just don’t see how it can work out for us,” Lossing said. “I’m hoping that there’s a better alternative.”
Representatives from other townships shared similar projected increases and the challenges they would pose.
“(The new rates) would come out to $11,464 we’d be paying from the $4,371 we’re paying now,” said Jerome Geerdes, an officer of Birch Township. “That’s a tough bite to take.”
While several of those who made public comments acknowledged that rates might need to increase, they still voiced their concern over the amount and how it was approved without any conversation with township governments beforehand.
“We’re not opposed to an increase, but how about 10% (or) 15%?” posed Scott Burns, the chair of Birch Township. “How about charging us a little more so over time we can find alternative solutions?”
Pat Kovar, a board member of Hines Township, shared that he felt the approval was rushed and hoped that the county board would reconsider their initial decision.
“I think this whole process has been rushed. We haven’t had enough time to sit down,” Kovar said. “We all have to sit down and look at this from a number of different angles. There’s more to taking care of roads than something so cut and dry … I really do hope we have the opportunity to get together and work on this.”
County board response
In a slightly unusual response, the county board immediately took up the issue and added it onto the meeting’s agenda following the end of the public comment period.
This addition was approved by a 4-1 vote, with District 4 Commissioner Tim Sumner voting against it and noting the uncommon practice of adding a topic to the agenda at the last minute.
“I would like to have that conversation too, but (I can’t support) adding these things to the agenda (last minute),” Sumner explained.
Nevertheless, when the item came up for discussion, all five commissioners supported reexamining the road maintenance rates, and District 1 Commissioner Craig Gaasvig moved to rescind their previous approval.
Instead of moving to a per-mile rate with a substantial increase in price, the motion included a smaller adjustment of the previous hourly rate from $160 to $180 for 2023.
“I was under the impression that this was only going to be a slight increase. I don’t think any of us thought this increase was going to be that onerous,” shared District 5 Commissioner John Carlson. “I would have never voted for that should I have understood that the impact was that huge.”
After unanimously voting to rescind their prior approval, the commissioners indicated that they would like to reexamine the rates at a work session later this year to allow for further discussion with the impacted townships prior to setting a future increase.
“I felt that it was kind of rushed and that we did need some time to reach out to the townships to get more information on how this would affect them,” Sumner said. “I do appreciate pumping the brakes on this and taking the time necessary to readdress it.”