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County right of way reclaim to begin this fall

MORRIS – On Tuesday, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a plan that will address right of way encroachment issues on 40 miles of county roadways each year at a cost of about $30,000 to county taxpayers.

Under a plan prepared by County Engineer Brian Giese, marking for the roadway right of ways will occur each year in October and November. If areas in the right of way have been tilled, they will be re-seeded with a mixture of grasses in the spring.

If landowners continue to encroach on the right of ways, the county may involve the sheriff’s office, since it is a misdemeanor to till and plant crops or install a fence within a right of way.

“Any assistance that could be provided by landowners to help reestablish the right of ways adjacent to their properties is very much appreciated and will reduce costs to taxpayers,” Giese said in his action plan.

Giese told the the board the majority of the $30,000 cost each year will be to pay for the posts and reflective markers. Each 40-mile stretch could take between 1,000 and 1,400 posts, he said. County staff will begin working on right of way marking in the northwest corner of the county this fall.

Since the concern over right of way maintenance was raised by landowner Randy Schmeising in October, several commissioners had received comments from the public on the issue.

Commissioner Donny Wohlers said one landowner told him he plows up the right of way because the county doesn’t do any weed control in the area.

Giese responded that the Highway Department was committed to weed control, but has to balance resources for mowing and spraying for weeds with other projects.

Commissioner Jeanne Ennen said the comments she received indicated residents are concerned about the safety hazard that degraded right of ways can cause.

County Attorney Aaron Jordan told the board that a defendant in a recent failure-to-yield case claimed that he couldn’t see the road in El Dorado Township because it was blocked by corn.

“It was likely in one of the areas where the right of way has been eroded,” said Jordan. “It’s happening – it’s just a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt.”

Agricultural land sees big jump for 2014 assessments

The average increase on 2014 assessments (payable in 2015) for agricultural land will be about 25 percent, Stevens County Assessor Judy Thorstad told the board on Tuesday.

Tillable land, a specific type of agricultural property, will increase about 27 percent. These numbers are considered preliminary until they are reviews by the Department of Revenue, Thorstad said.

Last year, the average increase for agricultural land was 20 percent, with a 22 percent increase on tillable land.

The sales period for assessments was Oct. 1, 2012 to Sept. 20, 3013, and included 26 qualifying sales. Across the county, the estimated market value per tillable acre is $5,924. Sale prices over the year varied from $3,438 to $10,063 per acre.

For the first time in many years, some homeowners in the city of Morris will see their values increase by as much as five percent.

“This is a nice thing to see because we haven't seen any residential increases for a long time,” said Thorstad. There were several sales of houses ranging from $300,000 to $400,000 dollar range during the sale period, Thorstad said. There may also be some increases on rural/residential properties.

Other assessments across the county will vary by property type, but will include some equalization adjustments, said Thorstad.

Other business

  • The board accepted the retirement of Stevens County Sheriff’s Deputy Greg Reese effective Dec. 20, 2013. The board also authorized Sheriff Jason Dingman to begin the process to hire a new deputy.
  • The board approved maintenance contracts for snow plowing and sanding with the cities of Hancock and Donnelly. The agreement allows the county to store one of their machines at a facility in each city for 50 percent of the actual heating expenses while a machine is stored there. In return, Stevens County will plow snow on city streets following two or more inches of snow at the current plowing rates.
  • The board approved a 2014 maintenance and grooming grant agreement between the state of Minnesota and the West Central Trailblazers to maintain the county’s trails this winter.