County hashes out buffer enforcement details

Staff Writer

The deadline for Morrison County to inform the state whether or not it will take the responsibility of enforcing the buffer law is approaching. To be exact, it’s June 28, a week from Wednesday.

That deadline will be followed up July 1, as the Minnesota Department of Revenue begins cutting checks.

The Board began its planning meeting Tuesday talking with Land Services Director Amy Kowalzek and other department heads about the details of it taking control of the buffer enforcement.

If the Board accepts, Morrison County would receive $137,179 for July 2017-July 2018, and $171,473 for July 2018 through July 2019.

“How would we distribute this money?” Commissioner Randy Winscher asked.

He wanted to know if the money could be used to fund efforts from departments other than Land Services, like the County Attorney’s Office or the Sheriff’s Department, for their work on enforcement.

Kowalzek said the law isn’t very specific on what programs the county could spend it on, as long as it was for riparian work, and she believed that included any work other agencies have to do to enforce the law.

The county could also choose to not spend all of the money over the two fiscal years, Kowalzek said and keep any staff hired using the funds around for additional time.

There would need to be an added person at Land Services to deal with the issue, Kowalzek said, as currently the department is maxed out.

Commissioner Jeffrey Jelinski said he would have an issue of hiring someone using this funding and eventually use levy money to keep them on when the funding runs out.

Kowalzek said anyone hired for the position would be given the job with the understanding that their position is contingent on the state funding.

However, the county could look at keeping the person, Kowalzek said, as they would be doing more than just buffer law work, but also working with lake shore property owners, a responsibility Kowalzek said previous Boards had chosen to give to the Morrison County Soil and Water Conservation District, who are also maxed out in terms of staff time.

The County Attorney’s Office is also at maximum workload capacity, County Attorney Brian Middendorf said.

His recommendation was the Board treat violations like a speeding ticket or a health code violation, where it is an administrative fine.

Violators would come before administrative panels to state their case, and eventually take it to court if they so choose, Middendorf said.

In the event of that happening, he recommended the Board set aside a pot of money from the funding to use to hire outside lawyers who specialize in these cases.

Kowalzek and Winscher said their understanding is that if the county wants to not enforce the law after the funding is used, it is able to do that and turn it over to the Board of Soil and Water Resources (BWSR)

Commissioner Mike Wilson said it would be better for the people of Morrison County for them to deal with Morrison County than an unknown agency.

“I guess I would rather work with my constituents than have some stranger come in here,” Wilson said.

The Board will vote on whether or not to accept handling enforcement of the law at Tuesday’s Board meeting at 9 a.m. in the Morrison County Government Center’s Boardroom.

After that, it would begin the process of creating an ordinance to determine how it will enforce the law, which must be adopted before September.