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August 21, 2019

7/25/2019 3:43:00 PM
County Board votes 3-2 on using ditch fund for bill

The Chisago County Board voted 3-2 July 17 to stand by a decision made in 2018 allowing public monies to pay a share of repairs done to a collapsing culvert, that’s a conduit for a county ditch.

After approving work for Pine Street North in rural North Branch in October 2018;  the county took a second look at the site. Upon staff reviewing historic paperwork, no evidence was found the street had ever been “registered” as a public street, said County Administrator Bruce Messelt.  

Messelt added that spending public funds on this site  could “open a Pandora’s box” for other situations involving thoroughfares with vague status as maybe public.

The two commissioners who voted no on sustaining the payment were Rick Greene and George McMahon.  They decided the ditch culvert wasn’t associated with a public street, rather it was a “private” street got the benefit of the private culvert replacement.  

A notice was given the Ditch Authority would convene a hearing-- when the payment decision came into question.
Last week the County Board assumed their title as Ditch Authority and heard as residents who use the street testified it’s an open, “very busy” street with emergency services, delivery and garbage hauling trucks using it, and there’s no exclusivity.  

Sue Sinna commented, “The county took the initiative” to fix the deteriorating culvert in the first place and she said everybody can agree old land records are “inadequate” in this case and can’t be relied on.

Peter Wilson noted the county highway department authorized Gustafson Contractors to do the replacement/repairs and now was changing its mind and wondered if state law had anything to say about it. (It didn’t.)

The three commissioners who decided to pay the $5,408 bill said enough “gray” area is involved that the payment should stand.

Commissioner Ben Montzka added that the  action option approved will not set a precedent because it’s specific to conditions related to this project.  

Furthermore, the motion that passed also says the project (culvert or driveway) aren’t automatically accepted as part of the ditch system for future repairs or replacement.  

Montzka continued, “And, had the county not said ‘sure’ (in 2018) maybe the residents would have looked for another remedy...hired a contractor who could have done it... at less expense.”

The Ditch Number  7 account is built through 167 parcels paying into a special tax levy and those landowners pay the culvert project sum out of that account balance.  

If the commissioners, acting as the Ditch Authority, had decided instead that it was a “private” street/culvert and a private amenity (driveway) had been part of the problem, then seven lots off that street would be footing the $5,408 bill.

During the hearing, nearby landowner Tim Fairbanks, said he doesn’t benefit from keeping Pine Street North open,  and as a ditch account contributor he opposes using public monies.  There were no other non-street fronting property owners who spoke.

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