To the taxpayers of the Heron Lake Watershed District
Four out of five HLWD managers thumbed their nose at the attendees who objected to the proposed $50,000 Survey and Data Acquisition funding levy. One board member remarked “just live with it”.
On August 23rd, I attended the 2017 Budget Hearing for the Heron Lake Watershed District (HLWD) along with about 30 other taxpayers of the watershed district. This Hearing was publicized in the HLWD newsletter, posted on the monthly Agenda (accessible on the HLWD website) and also published in local newspapers. This was the public’s opportunity to have a say i how the HLWD spends their tax monies. Most attendees voiced concern and opposition to the proposed additional $50,000 levy the HLWD was requesting in order to cover the cost of establishing a “survey and data acquisition fund”. Minnesota Statues 103D.Subd.8 states: “A survey and data acquisition fund is established and used ONLY IF OTHER FUNDS ARE NOT AVAILABLE TO THE WATERSHED DISTRICT TO PAY FOR MAKING NECESSARY SURVEYS AND ACQUIRING DATA.” The watershed district is allowed to levy 0.02418 percent of the estimated market value of a property tax every five years, not to exceed $50,000 for this purpose.
According to the HLWD’s June Treasurer’s report, they have $35,806.42 in savings and $195,921.86 in certificates of deposit (CD’s). Unfortunately, these CD’s are reportedly “committed funds” as collateral; for loans the HLWD has outstanding for work being completed on Jackson County judicial ditches. When asked about the current balance in the general operating fund, the Chairman stated they were over $50,000 to the negative (in the red). The Chair was questioned whether or not they had received their levy money from the counties at which point, he then asked the administrator if they had gotten any payments from the counties. She quietly admitted yes, they had received a payment that same day. Upon checking with the Jackson County Auditor’s office, the HLWD has received $469,210.14 since June 7th and received $216,876.18 of that money on the day of the Budget Hearing (8-23-16). Why was this payment not readily disclosed? Where is the “transparency” they proclaim to provide to the watershed taxpayers?
In June 2016, the HLWD received the first of two installments of their General Operating Levy money of $14,334.48 from Murray County, $72,456.26 from Nobles County, $2,630.64 from Cottonwood County and $58,528.12 from Jackson County for a total of $147,959.40. Now the board states they’re operating in the red and need to levy another $50,000 from the watershed taxpayers. Is this responsible management of taxpayer dollars? It appears the HLWD has taken lessons from Congress in their budgeting considerations. They don’t seem capable in managing their money, and when they run short, they ask the taxpayers for more.
When asked who would be conducting the survey and completing the data collection, the Chairman stated the HLWD staff would be doing this task. In other words, we’re going to give the Managers, the watershed administrator and staff and additional $50,000 for them to do the job they’re already being paid for.
In conclusion, the BOard voted 4-1 to levy an additional $50,000 burden on the taxpayers, beyond the $250,000 they already are levy. Does it appear the HLWD board listens to the people? I don’t think so, particularly when the actions of the HLWD clearly demonstrate they ignore the public, and they are not accountable to those taxpayers who have voiced concerns in the past.
PS: I would like to thank the one board member who listened to what the people had to say and voted his conscience.