by CHRIS ROGERS
Last week, Winona County agreed to move forward with rebuilding Goodview Road (County Road 129) and to allow the city of Goodview to extend sewer and water utilities along the road. The $2.3-million project slated for construction this summer will be the county’s largest sales-tax-funded road project so far. It will significantly widen the narrow toe-of-the-bluff road, add paved shoulders, and provide what residents of Goodview’s WE Valley petitioned the County Board for over two years ago: more room for safely walking and biking. The county’s decision also puts to rest, for now, a jurisdictional debate about who should pay for future road maintenance and about Goodview’s prospects for expanding its city limits.
Earlier this winter, the city of Goodview requested the chance to extend city sewer and water lines underneath the road. In December, the County Board opted to postpone making a decision until neighboring townships could be alerted. At the time, Winona County Highway Engineer Dave Kramer warned that the delay could threaten the county’s ability to complete the project this year. Kramer was not immediately available for comment this Tuesday, but county administrator Ken Fritz said that, barring future complications, the county still expects to construct the road this summer.
Despite Kramer’s concern about the timeline, County Board members Steve Jacob and Marcia Ward insisted on waiting to approve Goodview’s utility extension request until the Rollingstone and Hillsdale township boards could be notified. The road is partially in Rollingstone Township, and Goodview’s plans to extend city sewer and water lines into Rollingstone Township will give rural property owners along the road the option to join the city and switch from wells and septic tanks to city sewer and water at some point in the future. The annexation of rural properties by cities is generally bad for townships because they lose tax base.
The road also runs past one of Hillsdale Township’s biggest neighborhoods, Hidden Valley. “Hillsdale does not want to lose the 500 people who are in that valley,” Hillsdale Township Board Chair Mike Flynn said in 2016. While Goodview officials have insisted they have no plans to annex Hidden Valley, Flynn has expressed skepticism and concern about the township losing a large chunk of its tax base. Goodview’s request is reasonable, but the county should wait until the townships know what is being planned and have a chance to comment, Jacob said last month.
Now, the townships have had a chance to comment. Here is how Kramer summarized their input at last week’s meeting: “Hillsdale — they said, ‘This doesn’t affect us, we don’t have a problem with it.’ … They’re strongly opposed to any annexation, but this doesn’t affect that.” Kramer explained that Rollingstone Township was not opposed to the project, and that both townships would have liked to have known about Goodview’s request ahead of time and appreciated the County Board’s decision to wait until they could be notified of the utility extension.
Jacob brought up another jurisdictional wrinkle at last week’s meeting: the right-of-way for Goodview Road is owned by the county but runs through Rollingstone Township territory. Does the County Board have the authority to give Goodview permission to extend city pipes into township territory? “It seemed that both Rollingstone and Hillsdale [townships] were supportive of the concept and that this was the right thing to do. I would have preferred that you had a written agreement with Rollingstone [Township] to put sewer into their jurisdiction … I don’t feel good about being the one to authorize that to happen,” Jacob said.
Goodview City Administrator Dan Matejka and County Board member Marie Kovecsi said Jacob’s concern was unmerited. While Goodview does not have a written agreement with Rollingstone Township, it has an informal agreement and a good relationship, and this is something the city has done before, Matejka explained. Kovecsi said while it would be a good idea for Goodview to put its agreements with Rollingstone Township into writing, it was not the county’s place to require that either.
Ultimately the board voted to allow Goodview to extend sewer and water lines under the road. In an interview afterward, Matejka thanked the County Board, adding, “We see it as a timely project to do [while] the road is torn up,” he stated. Matejka added of giving rural residents the chance to switch from failing septic tanks to city sewer at some point in the future, “We look at it as a proactive approach to potentially alleviating things down the road.”
County Board members Jim Pomeroy and Greg Olson brought up another jurisdictional issue at the meeting — one the County Board might act on in the future. In 2016 and early 2017, the County Board tried to get Goodview to willingly take ownership and responsibility for maintenance of Goodview Road after the construction project. County officials went so far as to threaten to not do the project or to scale it back, but the city still declined. Olson brought up the fact that the county still has the legal authority to force Goodview to take responsibility for the road. “Not necessarily that that would be good policy, but you have the statutory authority to do that,” Kramer advised Olson.
Pomeroy stated, “As time goes on, I think that if we find that there are substantial annexations that occur along that road, I wouldn’t hesitate to revisit the ownership of the road at that point.”