Funding county road projects remains a point of contention

Chisago County Engineer Joe Triplett is forthright about the state of county roads. Repairs need to be done on roads countywide, but he noted at the Feb. 19 Board of Commissioners meeting that the county can only do so much at a time because of funding constraints.

Commissioner Ben Montzka, talking about the county’s transportation improvement plan, said not changing the levy amount could impact road projects significantly, but he doesn’t want the cost of funding road construction to be placed on the backs of homeowners in the county.

“Our property owners are very hard pressed,” he said. “They’re paying either the fifth or sixth highest rate in the state of Minnesota. We need to, as a board, commit to being smarter than simply taxing the dickens out of them.”

The other commissioners expressed opinions similar to Montzka, except for Mike Robinson, who wanted to know where the money for road repairs would come from.

“I think it’s time that we do look at raising the taxes for the road projects because we’re just getting further and further behind,” he said. “Sooner or later, there’s not going to be anything left.”

Commissioner Lora Walker, in response to Robinson asking her if she had a plan to fund road repairs, said she doesn’t think higher levels of government are doing enough to help Chisago County with its roads.

“I have the same plan that every other commissioner in the state has, which is to depend on the state government to pay what is their share of these expenses,” she said.

Robinson followed her statement with another question.

“So you don’t have a plan to get more money for our board?” he asked.

Walker replied, “Just the traditional, just what we’re promised.”

Commissioner George McMahon stressed that just because a road is slated to be repaired on the transportation improvement plan, that doesn’t mean that time frame is locked because it all depends on how much money the county has for roads in a particular year.

“We hear at meetings, ‘You promised, you promised,’” he said. “A plan is not a promise, it’s a plan, and that’s difficult for people to differentiate.”

Montzka said the county might be able to solicit help from its state legislators to secure more funding for road projects.

“We have great representation through the state and federal government who have progressive ways to obtain resources for public services,” he said. “By progressive, I mean you tax people who can afford it. If you put it on homeowners, they might not be able to afford that.”

Criticism from Teamsters representative

Also during the meeting, Erik Skoog, the Teamsters business agent who represents a majority of the employees in Chisago County, chided the county during the public forum portion of the meeting for its communication with the Teamsters.

He said, in November 2002, the Teamsters Union and the County Board approved multiple bargaining agreements.

One of those agreements negotiated language that states there could be an additional cost of living adjustment if Teamsters members migrated between health plans.

He said since 2002, dates have been implemented in the contract as far as notification and data on the bargaining agreements was provided to the union, but that data was wrong.

“Those numbers have all been wrong,” he said. “We get one sheet one day, and the numbers don’t add up to what we received the (previous) week, which is very troubling,” he said. “It’s all mythical money; it’s all mythical numbers. The way I interpret that as a Teamsters business agent.”

Skoog said he’s willing to work with the county to address what he said are errors, but he wants the situation remedied as soon as possible.

“As a representative of your employees and my members, I am urging that this board review what is going on with the negotiations or the lack of negotiations between the Teamsters and your county administration and to cease this hokeypokey behavior that has continued over the last three or four months,” he said. “I am open to resolving this issue as possible. However, if not, the Teamsters will proceed forward down every additional avenue we deem necessary. As it stands today, I’m very disappointed in the lack of a relationship that has been shown by your county administration to myself and my members.”

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