Herald JournalHerald Journal, March 8, 2004

Township officers enjoy their jobs

By Lynda Jensen

Few may know what local township officers work with on a regular basis, but a hint can be found from touring any township.

Being an officer can mean helping to erect a bridge across a river, working to help keep roads clear, or being concerned with the cost of gravel that is used to maintain roads.

“There’s a lot of rewards, such as good roads,” commented Dick Sawatzke of Marysville Township. Sawatzke has been serving as an officer for three years.

“It’s rewarding,” agreed township officer Bob Berg, who has served Middleville Township for 21 years.

Berg remembers when Middleville had a bridge built across the Crow River about four or five years ago. “It’s a beautiful bridge. We never borrowed. We never bonded (for it),” he said.

Bergen Township had three bridges built in the past several years, two over the south fork of the Crow River, and one over Buffalo Creek, said Eugene Feltmann of Bergen Township. Two of the bridges replaced wooden bridges, he said.

Keeping roads maintained is another concern for township officials.

“Nowadays, people want the roads open,” Feltmann said. Years ago, it didn’t matter if the road was cleared a day or so later, he noted.

But now, there are commuters in the Twin Cities who need to be on the road by the early hours, he said. “It used to be not so quick.”

Burton Horsch of Victor Township considers his most important issue as trying to secure snow plow equipment when he was first voted in 15 years ago, since the township didn’t have equipment at the time.

“It took two years of arguing, but it passed – by four votes,” Horsch remembered.

Now the township has a 1991 Ford truck with all the snow gear, and a sander, too. “I don’t think they’d give that up now,” he commented.

What has been a highlight in Woodland Township? “Seeing some of the new equipment coming in,” said township officer Ken Pawelk, who has served Woodland for more than 25 years.

“Also, for five years we’ve been working on a new township shed, which I think we’re going to get started this year,” Pawelk said.

In fact, Woodland voters recently approved a new town hall at a special meeting Feb. 23.

The hall will be built on 17 acres of property owned by the township at the corner of Wright County Roads 30 and 10, just south of the present township hall.

The existing town hall site, including six acres with the building, will be sold.

Virgil Stender of Camden Township remembers when the township bought a new grader. Stender has served Camden for eight years.

The Camden board is also thinking about a new shed down the road. The township bought land near Highway 33 by the Crow River which may end up with the new shed built on it, he said.

Gravel is also a heavy cost for townships. It will take up from $45,000 to $50,000 in the Victor Township budget this year, Horsch said. This includes costs to haul and crush it, he said.

“It’s getting to be expensive and hard to find,” Ron Kassulker of Hollywood Township noted. Kassulker served as a Hollywood Township officer for 18 years.

Middleville has its own gravel pit, Berg noted.

Other milestones of progress include new town halls, such as the case for Marysville and Hollywood.

“It was a big event (in 1991),” Kassulker said of Hollywood’s township hall.

The township used to meet in an old country school house with no running water, he said.

Marysville dedicated a new town hall dedicated last year.

Annexation is also a big item of discussion for many townships, with the strong growth in the area of cities.

“This whole area is changing so fast,” Sawatzke commented. He noted that development is good if it’s where it’s needed.

Annexation is also a big topic for Victor, which is in the final stages of agreement with Howard Lake, Horsch said.

“People moving into town are welcome, but it causes some problems with farmers and odors,” Pawelk noted.

What does it take

to be a township officer?

Serving as a township officer usually means looking toward the future, keeping the entire township in mind, and not the needs of a few.

“You have to do what’s best for the township,” Sawatzke said.

Stender agreed, saying “You’ve got to give up your personal views, and think of the township.”

Township officials need to be dedicated, and open minded, Berg said. They also need to possess a sense of permanence, and be in it for the long haul. “They can’t move away next year,” he said.

Township government is a collection of neighbors watching out for each other, Berg said.

“It is the most efficient type of government,” Pawelk said.

“It’s grass roots government,” commented Mike Laxen, who served Winsted Township in the past for six years.

Of course, being a township officer also means working with people about problems that crop up through the year.

This can be an endless task, Stender noted.

“Somebody’s got to do it,” Berg said. “People have got to get involved or we’ll lose local control,” he said.

“I like working with people,” Horsch said.

“You’re not in it for the money,” Stender said.

“It’s interesting,” Sawatzke said.

Township officers get to know first-hand about what’s going on in the township, Pawelk said.

Being an official can also be a chore.

Being an officer doesn’t end with the township meetings, Laxen said.

“It’s not just going to meetings,” Laxen said.

“You have to be willing to be interrupted,” commented Feltmann said. “You have to be willing to deal with things that come . . . sometimes right away.” Feltmann has been an officer for 17 years.

“It was a learning process,” Kassulker commented.

Kassulker was the youngest member of the board when he started at the age of 37.

Sometimes, it can be disappointing to hear the complaints, Laxen said.

“You try to do the best you can do,” he added.

“I wish more people would come to meetings,” Laxen said. The only time he sees people come is when they have a problem, he noted.

He’d rather people come and say together “Let’s find a solution,” Laxen said.

“You can’t please everybody,” Laxen said. “I just try to please half of them.”

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