by CHRIS ROGERS
After pressure from Winona County officials, the Goodview City Council will consider a deal to take ownership of County Road 129 (also known as Goodview Road). Last month, county officials said they might postpone or scrap altogether a project to rebuild and widen the county road in 2018 if the city refused to take over the road — and the plowing and maintenance costs that go along with it — after the project is completed. If the deal works out, the county will be poised to move ahead. The council has yet to make another decision tied to the road project: whether to pursue future annexation of Hillsdale and Rollingstone township homes.
Goodview Road snakes along the base of the bluffs south of Goodview. Most of it is a narrow, shoulder-less road. At just 20-feet across, Goodview Road is barely wide enough for two cars and unsafe for the many children and adults who walk or bicycle along it, some county officials and neighboring residents have said. In 2015, 40 residents of WE Valley petitioned the county to widen the road. Commissioner Marie Kovecsi, who represents the area, has been a champion for the project, and she was the only urban county commissioner to vote for a new half-cent sales tax for road funding this fall, which passed on a 3-2 vote and will take effect in January. The prospect of generating funding for the Goodview Road project was part of the reason Kovecsi voted for the tax.
On the roster of road projects to be funded with the new sales tax money, rebuilding Goodview Road is one of the largest. When it approved the sales tax, the County Board laid plans to spend over $2 million — more than one year of sales tax revenue — on widening Goodview Road from 44th Avenue to its junction with Highway 61 west of Hidden Valley.
However, later this fall, Winona County officials told Goodview leaders that the county might scrap the project after all if Goodview was not willing to take responsibility for plowing and maintaining the road after the project. Goodview Road functions like a city street, so it makes sense for the city to take it over, county engineer Dave Kramer argued at a meeting between the Winona County Board members and Goodview city staff in November. Kramer mentioned that the county has the legal authority to force Goodview to take over the road without the city’s consent, though the county does not normally do that. If the City Council does not agree to taking County Road 129, the County Board might chose to spend the money on other roads, Kovecsi and county commissioner Steve Jacob told Goodview City Manager Dan Matejka.
At a December 7 meeting of the council, the County Board, and nearby residents, Goodview City Council member Dick Ledebuhr asked Kramer: if Goodview decides it cannot afford to maintain this road, will the project still happen? “That’ll be up to the County Board,” Kramer replied. “If Goodview won’t take it, it may not happen.”
“So what you’re saying is, ‘It’s up to Goodview whether that project goes through or not,’” Ledebuhr asked again.
Kramer responded, “If [Goodview consents], I think it’ll be much more likely that the County Board will invest in that infrastructure.”
Ledebuhr said it seemed like the county did not care about Goodview.
On December 19, the Goodview City Council discussed what to do about the county’s proposal. “They’re open to it,” Matejka summarized. “None of them were questioning that the road [project] should be done from a safety standpoint. That was very clear,” Matejka said. However, it seems there is a “very good possibility” that county officials would cancel the project unless Goodview agrees to take over the road, he stated. Matejka said that he and county staff will try to work out a potential agreement for Goodview to take over the road, with some guarantee of the road’s condition, so that if there are problems with the road after reconstruction, the county would help pay for fixing them.
“It needs to be fixed. There’s no question about that,” Mayor Steve Baumgart stated in an interview after the December 7 meeting. Baumgart added he would support Goodview taking over the road, if that is what it took to widen it. “We have to work together,” he said of the city and the county. Baumgart referred to petition organizer and WE Valley resident Jon Hogenson as he explained that lives mattered more than maintenance costs. “If one of Mr. Hogenson’s kids were to get hit or killed or disabled, that would bother me, when we had the chance to improve that road. We’re talking about dollars,” he stated. However, the mayor added, “If Goodview rejects [the road], I would be very disappointed if the county does not make at least some repairs.”
Back in November, Kovecsi told Matejka that if Goodview refused to take over the road, the funding for the project “would go pretty far on other county roads.” In an interview after the December 7 meeting, Kovecsi said should would support completing the project even if Goodview is not willing to take over the road.
Matejka said he hopes to work out a potential agreement for the council to consider in late January.
No decision on annexation yet
The Goodview City Council also needs to decide in the near future whether it wants to take the county up on its offer to extend city sewer and water pipes along Goodview Road while the road is being rebuilt. Extending pipes could, someday, convince Rollingstone Township residents along Goodview Road and, potentially, Hillsdale Township residents in Hidden Valley to join the city. Those annexations could boost the city’s tax base and population. However, the pipe extension would cost a lot of money upfront and it could be decades before residents have any interest in joining the city. Homeowners living just outside city limits often find it cost effective to be annexed and switch to city utilities when their septic tanks or wells fail. Matejka said the council has not yet discussed whether to extend utilities to the area.
If property owners and city leaders support annexation, townships have limited tools to fight it, but at the December 7 meeting Hillsdale Town Board Chair Mike Flynn let city officials his township would not welcome any move to annex Hidden Valley, where much of the small township’s population resides. “Hillsdale does not want to lose the 500 people who are in that valley,” he stated.