By Ivan Raconteur
WRIGHT COUNTY Recent changes to the Green Acres law have attracted much attention recently, especially in areas such as Wright County, where a significant number of residents participate in the program.
During Tuesday’s Wright County Board meeting, Chief Deputy Attorney Brian Asleson told the board that he had, at the board’s request, drafted a resolution based on a resolution asking the governor, the Legislature, and the Department of Revenue to reconsider the changes to the Green Acres program implemented by the Legislature earlier this year.
Asleson said if the board chooses to adopt the resolution, he could add a cover letter outlining some of the concerns the board has about the changes.
“My concern is that we have senior citizens who rely on rent and social security for income,” Commissioner Jack Russek said, adding that the changes that could require some program participants to repay taxes, and could force property owners into bankruptcy.
If owners notify the county assessor of their intent to withdraw some or all of their acres before Jan. 2, 2009, the assessor will estimate a three-year payback amount.
If any non-productive acres that are enrolled in the program are withdrawn from the program, sold, transferred, or subdivided after that date, they will be subject to the new payback of up to seven years of deferred taxes.
County Assessor Greg Kramber said the Minnesota Association of Assessing Officers has taken a stand against the changes that were adopted by the Legislature.
“Last week we sent out 3,506 letters,” Kramber said.
The letters were sent to landowners who are enrolled in the Green Acres program to inform them of their options.
Kramber also said that he has had hundreds of people call or visit his office to ask how the changes will affect them.
“There are a lot of issues with this legislation,” Kramber said.
One of the issues involves the number of payback years for acres that are no longer eligible for the reduced agricultural valuation and property tax deferment under the program.
Non-productive areas, such as woodlands and wetlands no longer qualify for the program. Property enrolled in conservation programs are also no longer eligible for the Green Acres program.
As a result of the changes, Kramber has had to go through all of the parcels that are enrolled in the program to determine how much of each parcel is productive acres, and how much is non-productive acres.
Kramber mentioned the triggers that will now result in payback of taxes, including transfers from father to son.
“In the past, if the new owner was eligible (for the Green Acres program), there was no payback. Typically, there was only a payback if land was sold for development, and in those cases, there was money available for the payback,” Kramber explained.
“We are doing the best we can to administer the changes,” he added.
Heeter said she talked to someone from Isanti County who said the state may repeal the changes.
Rumble stripes cause friction
The board revisited the rumble stripes issue which has plagued the county almost since they were installed last June, and there was disagreement between the commissioners on how to address the issue.
The stripes consist of grooves cut in the pavement, with a white line painted down the center to mark the edge of the driving surface. The grooves are intended to alert drivers who stray out of the driving lane, to prevent them from driving off the road.
The board had previously decided not to make a decision on the issue until next spring, but resident complaints brought the issue back to the forefront.
Some residents who live next to CSAH 35 between Buffalo and St. Michael where the stripes were installed in June, have complained about the noise, and one resident said three vehicles have lost their hubcaps when driving on the stripes in front of her house, and one hubcap narrowly missed a family member.
The transportation committee considered the matter during its October 13 meeting, and was unable to reach a consensus, and therefore had no recommendation for the board.
It was noted in the minutes from the meeting that Carver County recently filled in 10 miles of rumble stripes between Waconia and Chaska, and MnDOT has filled in some similar areas where the road jogs between St. Cloud and Princeton.
“We put them (the stripes) there for safety. If we remove them now, does that increase our liability?” Commissioner Jack Russek asked.
Commissioner Pat Sawatzke suggested painting over the existing stripes and painting a new white line one foot inside the grooves. He said drivers appear to be drawn to the stripes, and this causes them to come into contact with the grooves.
County Engineer Wayne Fingalson said the current stripes are one-half to three-eigths of an inch deep.
The board considered filling the grooves in completely or partially to reduce the noise.
“I hate to give up on rumble stripes. We have only had them seven months,” Russek said.
“It is very difficult to stay in the lane,” Board Chair Elmer Eichelberg said.
“That is the prime reason we should keep the rumble stripes,” Commissioner Karla Heeter retorted.
“If people are drinking a pop or not paying attention, it’s very easy to hit that rumble stripe,” Eichelberg insisted.
Heeter replied that these are more good reasons for having the stripes.
Fingalson said another option would be to increase the width of the white line from four inches to six or eight inches, as some counties have done.
Fingalson also said that MnDOT would like to inspect the areas in question and offer some suggestions as to what the county should do.
“I think we should be consistent, not just in our county, but statewide,” Fingalson said.
The board agreed to lay over the matter for one week to allow time for input from MnDOT.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• set a bid opening for the Highway 55/CSAH 12 improvement project for Tuesday, Dec. 2 at 9:30 a.m.
• authorized Fingalson to attend a Washington fly-in conference regarding legislation related to highway issues.