Monday , 23 September 2019
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Survey of Day County townships finds most are making do

by George Thompson
They’re not flush, but they’re not broke either.

A random survey of Day County townships found these grass roots units of government are making do with the money they’ve got – even though that’s not a lot.

“We are just trying to keep our roads maintained,” said Egeland township chairman Ray Arneson. “We still have a lot of flooded roads, and the biggest trouble is finding good gravel and paying to haul it in from a long ways away.”

Arneson said his township has been able to work with FEMA to get some trouble spots repaired. A good winter meant a savings of nearly $10,000 in snow removal, and a lot of that will go back into summer maintenance in this township of about 50 residents.

Arneson said the junior township board member has over 10 years experience. “These guys are doing it because they enjoy it, not for the money. We’re keeping our heads above water.”

Egeland Township, which has a population of about 65-70 residents has opted out twice to keep pace with road repairs.

“Water is our biggest issue,” said town board chairman David Ewalt. “We received some money from FEMA but it hasn’t been enough and erosion continues to be a problem.”

Ewalt estimates between 20-25 percent of the township roads remain underwater. “Everyone has been pretty good about it,” he observed, “but it’s still a struggle to pay for it all.”

The township hasn’t had much of a muskrat problem this year, but that’s not true for gravel. “We’re having to pay for longer hauls and good gravel is getting tougher to find,” he added. “This winter has been hard on the gravel roads. We’re seeing a lot of soft spots.”

Ewalt, who has close to 20 years on the board, says the other supervisors are relative newcomers. He would like to see more people show up for township meetings and run for office. “We like to try and help people,” he concluded. “Sometimes it’s a thankless job but I try to do whatever I can.”

Grenville Township hasn’t had to opt out at this point.

In Farmington Township the big issue is revenues keeping pace with expenses, said chairman Milo Olson. “We don’t have a lot of roads underwater. I’d guess about 10 percent.”

Olson says muskrats have been an issue this year but less so than last year.
Farmington has received FEMA assistance and the veteran town board has managed to get most of the work done.

Like the rest of the townships gravel is becoming harder to come by and it’s more costly. “We’ve had a lot more washouts than we’ve had spots underwater,” he noted. “We have erosion problems and culvert replacements we’ve had to do.”

Chairman Richard Wat-tier says Oak Gulch Township has been lucky. With a number of wind towers and a portion of an oil pipeline going through the township their tax revenues are a lot higher than their neighbors’.

The township only has a population of 20 people or so, and only 12 miles of roads to maintain. Wattier said the township has no roads underwater, but they did have some erosion work done with help from FEMA. “We’ve still got some to do but we’re waiting on the contractor,” he said.

The township did opt out a few years ago, but Wattier doesn’t anticipate that happening with the pipeline and wind towers now in place. “When they were building it was a stressful time for us but overall they’ve been good neighbors,” he said.

He also noted a good winter has really helped. “We try to do as little snow removal as possible and last year we were very fortunate.”

Road repairs are the biggest issue in Webster Township according to chairman Aaron Gaikowski. “We only have one road that’s fully open from one end to the other,” he said.

Gaikowski estimates about half the township roads have flooded out spots. The board did get FEMA funding but it wasn’t enough to do all of the needed repairs. “We’re still working on some projects and we’ve got others where we are waiting for the water to go down.

The chairman said muskrats haven’t been the problem that they were last year. He estimates a good winter allowed the board to save about 25 percent of its snow removal budget which will be earmarked for further road repairs.

The township has about 85 residences. Gaikowski noted one problem facing most town boards is that their roads were never designed to accommodate the heavy equipment that runs on them. Webster Township has opted out.

Lynn Township chairman Ken Anderson said getting flooded roads open again is the top priority. About 20 percent of Lynn’s roads remain underwater.

Anderson said the veteran town board members were able to spend all the money received from FEMA last year, but still have some projects that were put on hold until the roads come out of the water.

He said muskrats aren’t the problem they were last year. The township saved some money on snow removal which will be thrown back into summer road maintenance and graveling.

Diane Wordell, executive director of the SD Associat-ion of Towns and Townships says one of the biggest issues facing townships today is that people have a lack of trust in government. “People have high expectations and they pay a lot more attention to what government is doing, especially when money is tight,” she said.

As a result townships have been the target of more lawsuits and open meeting law violation claims.

Wordell says an increase in license plate fees will put more money in township coffers but on the same note, townships will be saddled with higher expenses.

“Contractors who do substandard work and get bogged down in multiple jobs have been proving headaches for townships, especially when it comes to snow removal.”
Wordell says it’s a misconception that a township might be better off going back to an unorganized unit of government. “If you do that you’ll go right to the bottom of the county’s priority list,” she warned.

Wordell urges townships to make sure they have adequate insurance coverage. She thinks future issues townships will face are trying to decide which road they abandon or quit maintaining because of a lack of resources. An associated issue is the increased risks and liabilities townships will face, especially as their roads take on new uses other than that of a traditional farm road.

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