By Scott Henderson, Sauk River Watershed District Administrator
There has been a lot of misinformation recently concerning the Sauk River Watershed District (District). This misinformation has mostly been focused on how the District creates and uses funding, and the potential financial impacts for citizens within the watershed. The District’s mission is “to protect and enhance our watershed’s waters and natural resources for today and tomorrow.” Through Minnesota State Statute(s) watershed districts are given a special set of authorities on how funding can be generated to fulfill their missions. The District, like other local units of government (cities, townships, etc.), uses special assessments to pay for projects and programs that help further the mission.
Unfortunately, special assessments may cause confusion. Some points of confusion may be; why the assessment is happening, the timing of the assessment, amount of the assessment, and why only a certain group of property owners are being assessed. Special assessments are charges that the District places on properties for a particular project or program. Special assessments occur when a project is started and maintained. Much like a city redoing a sidewalk or performing maintenance on a sewer, properties are charged for maintenance costs of water quality projects that the District has completed and committed to maintaining. Which property owners to assess can be decided using a few different ways that are allowed in Minnesota State Statute(s).
Other projects, like the District’s new office building, uses municipal borrowing or issuing bonds for financing the cost of the projects. This is consistent with the way counties and cities can finance certain building projects. The repayment of bonding is handled over many years and is funded through the annual operating budget of the District. In the instance of our building project, the estimated annual payment on the bond is $140,000 for 17 years. To put it in perspective, a house worth $250,000 within the District will pay an estimated $3.99 per year for 17 years towards the office building project.
We have been at our current office location since 1994, which is a converted doctor’s clinic. In 1994, the District had only three employees, oversaw the management of only two drainage systems, and did not have an education department or a monitoring department. Since that time, the District has grown to have six different departments, a core staff of seven, and a staff of up to ten in the summer with interns. The District also has three vehicles, watercraft, and other equipment that requires rented offsite storage space. The current building also lacks a water quality laboratory and an adequately sized board meeting space. Not having a large enough meeting space has meant holding meetings offsite at rented venues, standing room only at meetings, or even crowds standing outside the building during a meeting.
All of this led to the managers forming a building committee in June of 2017 and finalizing a building design in June 2019. The District looked at existing spaces available around the area and specifically Sauk Centre at the time, but nothing was found that suited the needs of the District. Therefore, a new building design was started. Construction is anticipated to begin on April 1, 2020.
The District at times can carry debt like most cities, counties, and other government entities. That District debt was accrued by financing water quality projects and having financial assistance programs for citizens. These programs have included shoreland restorations, stormwater practices, conservation farming practices, and septic system upgrades to just mention a few. This debt is being repaid over a specific time by special assessment. What this adds up to is a very active watershed district that is working to accomplish its mission with the tools and abilities allowed by Minnesota Statutes.
The District is always looking for more insight from the citizens in the watershed, and would be happy to explore new ideas. Any interested citizens are not only welcome, but encouraged, to become a part of our Citizen Advisory Committee. There is a link on our website at www.srwdmn.org. Click on About Us, and then Citizen Advisory Committee.
If you have specific questions regarding this article, or information you may encountered, we encourage you to contact our office. We would be happy to talk through any concerns that you may have over the phone or in person. 320.352.2231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.