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State auditor offers hints to overcome economic woes

State Auditor Rebecca Otto, left, converses Monday with Kandiyohi County Commissioner Dennis Peterson during a stop in Willmar. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

WILLMAR -- Calling her job the "Rodney Dangerfield of constitutional offices," state Auditor Rebecca Otto said she doesn't "make the rules" but makes sure that the rules are followed when taxpayer money is being spent.

Otto spoke briefly Tuesday in Willmar during a stop at the annual Kandiyohi County Township Association meeting.

Otto said she's been trying to be proactive to help prevent government entities from making errors.

Her office is focused on helping people "do things right," said Otto.

Besides giving the auditor's Web site an update, Otto also sends out electronic bulletins every Friday to government entities.

They're chock full of compliance information and reminders for getting certain reports and forms turned in on time. The "avoiding pitfalls" section, which has tips for such things as the importance of entities adopting disaster recovery plans before spring flooding hits, has become very popular, she said.

She provided the township officers with information Tuesday about state laws that require the preservation of the official activities of townships records and other written documents. Town records must also be accessible to the public, she said.

Otto also had words of encouragement for townships that may also be feeling the constraints of tight budgets.

"We are in tight times," said Otto. The challenges can be overcome by "working together."

Townships may feel some state legislators are working against them when it comes to proposed legislation dealing with annexation.

Nancy Barsness, director of District 5 on the board of the Minnesota Association of Townships, warned township officers that legislation that has been introduced would "greatly affect the annexation process" between townships and cities and could "threaten the very existence" of townships.

If approved, the legislation would restrict reimbursements when cities annex township land, would remove acreage limitations, remove the requirement that land border city limits and remove requirements for petitions by landowners.

The legislation "strips townships of any gains we've made in trying to get a fair process for annexation," said Barsness in a later interview. "It undoes a lot of the annexation efforts we've been trying to work out with the cities."

On a unanimous voice vote, the township officers approved a resolution offered by Barsness to oppose the legislation.

"It's just really bad legislation," Barsness said.

She said townships and cities should "work together to compromise" to find ways to deal with "this really contentious issue." Instead, she said the proposed legislation is creating an "atmosphere of hostility between cities and townships."

The resolution will be sent to local legislators.

Barsness said she hopes the unanimous vote of Kandiyohi County townships will "make an impact and kind of stop this in its tracks right now before it gets any farther."