At a special meeting of the Crookston Township, held Tuesday night prior to the board's monthly meeting, electors voted to sell the township's road grading and ditch mowing equipment and instead contract the services out. So with 53 voting in favor and 18 against the resolution (and three abstentions), the formidable dark cloud that's been hovering over the township for the better part of the year would presumably be lifted.
Maybe, maybe not.
While discussing the matter during the board meeting, Board Chair Suzanne Reitmeier stressed that the decision on how to proceed ultimately lies in the voting board members, as they are the road authority. She also pointed out that the board disputes some of the figures regarding road maintenance that township resident Dean Adams presented at previous meeting.
In his fact sheet of 2011 township costs, Adams compare last year's cost per mile for road maintenance among four townships in the county. According to these figures, Crookston Township, the only one that's employee graded, averaged $1,555 per mile to cover 30 miles of road, with 1,006 hours logged in. Fairfax Township, by contrast, paid out $919 per mile for 40 miles and 459 hours. Hourly costs for the other two townships, Parnell and Russia, drop down to $552 and $517. It should be noted that only Crookston Township does ditch mowing, which contributes to the significant bump in the number of hours. Landowners mow the ditches in other townships.
Reitmeier said the board questions the accuracy of numbers from the other townships. Other board members voiced concerns that the figures presented did not represent an accurate accounting because they are only for one year and use a small sample of townships.
"It would be better to come up with an average cost over a few years," said Sam Kezar, treasurer. "Last year was a low snow year."
Former board member Dennis Kuzel suggested that an "independent outfit" analyze five years worth of figures from several townships.
"That way, you can't argue about it anymore," he said.
Supervisor Jerry DeBoer suggested that the board wait until more township residents have the chance to get involved in the process before selling off the equipment, as the number that voted at the special meeting was only a fraction of the registered voters in Crookston Township. A good time for this would be the annual meeting in the spring, he added.
Adams, however, said the petition drive organizers, who collected 74 signatures to call for the special election, sent out letters to nearly every household in the township informing them of the meeting and issues at stake.
"You're never going to get 100 percent of the people involved, no matter how much you get the word out," he said.
Page 2 of 2 - "Can we just park the equipment for a year and see how it goes on a trial basis?" resident Craig Larson queried. "Once you lose it, you're never going to get it back. Maybe we'll find that contracting it out is a huge failure."
An attorney retained by the board to advise on township matters, Troy Gilchrist, was in attendance. When discussions on road maintenance began going in several different directions, he took the bull by the horns and laid out what should – though not necessarily has to – be done.
"While the vote is considered an advisory vote, I would encourage the board to set up a timeline and expedite the process," he said. "Setting up extra meetings in between your regular monthly board meetings would be beneficial."
He recruited different board members to develop objective cost comparisons, come up with a specifications sheet including a timeline and inventory list, and monitor the situation.
"I can say unequivocally that someone from the board is going to have to take a more active role in monitoring the work done by the contractor, or whoever does the road maintenance," said Gilchrist.
Jerry Reitmeier, Suzanne's husband, has done the road maintenance for the township for more than 20 years. Questions have arisen recently concerning a conflict of interest on her part and the amount of hours he claimed on his time sheet. Some residents have also expressed their displeasure in the quality of work done.
A special meeting will take place in two weeks to discuss the new numbers and other matters pertaining to road maintenance.