Wright County Board Minutes

WRIGHT COUNTY BOARD MINUTES
NOVEMBER 27, 2012
The Wright County Board met in regular session at 9:00 A.M. with Sawatzke, Mattson, Russek, Thelen, and Eichelberg present.
Russek moved to approve the 11-20-12 County Board Minutes, seconded by Sawatzke, carried 5-0.
The Agenda was discussed. Bob Hiivala, Auditor/Treasurer, requested that Aud./Treas. Item #2, “County Ditch 16 Update” be removed from the Agenda.
On a motion by Russek, second by Eichelberg, all voted to approve the Agenda as amended. On a motion by Eichelberg, second by Russek, all voted to approve the Consent Agenda:
A. ADMINISTRATION
1. Performance Appraisals: J. Adelman, IT; B. Rhineberger, P&Z.
2. O/T Report, Period Ending 11-10-12.
3. Refer to Personnel Committee Discussion RE: Employee’s Time While Attending Wellness Committee Sponsored Events.
4. Cancel Committee Meeting Date of 1-09-13.
5. Tri County Regional Forensic Laboratory Report (October, 2012).
B. HIGHWAY
1. Set Bid Opening For Street Lighting SP 086-070-008 Safety Project For 1-15-13 At 9:30 A.M.
Bob Hiivala, Auditor/Treasurer, presented a request from the CROW Joint Powers Board to utilize Wright County as CROW’s fiscal agent. Diane Sander, CROW Watershed Coordinator, was present for discussion. Currently, Prairie Country RC&D (Willmar) serves as the CROW’s fiscal agent but that will terminate as of 12-31-12. Hiivala said the Auditor/Treasurer’s Office serves as the fiscal agent for other agencies, including the Pulaski LID and the Mink Somers LID. Russek stated the RC&D is disbanding as the Federal Government pulled funding. Mattson asked about costs involved. Sander indicated that grant applications are submitted on behalf of the ten counties involved in the CROW. Once a grant is received, 5% of the grant is used for administration costs. That is what was paid to RC&D. Sander said the first hurdle is to see whether the County can serve as the fiscal agent for the CROW. Sander said the CROW has two staff members, and it will need to be determined whether CROW employees will be eligible for PERA and whether they will be able to utilize health care that is provided to Wright County employees.
Richard Norman, County Coordinator, said that the Auditor/Treasurer’s Office can become the fiscal agent. Additional research will be required to determine whether CROW employees are employees under the County’s umbrella for health insurance and whether they are eligible for PERA. If the Board wishes to address those issues, Norman recommended a Personnel Committee Meeting for that purpose. Thelen asked whether the County could be the fiscal agent without providing the insurance and PERA benefits. Hiivala said that is the question for the CROW, whether they are okay with the County moving forward as the fiscal agent without answers on insurance and benefits.
Mattson referenced the original Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) for the CROW and whether there are minutes reflecting the intent of that Agreement. Sander said the original JPA was signed by the ten counties involved. Currently, grants cover the costs of health insurance. Sander said the request is not for the County to pay for the health insurance. They would cover those costs themselves. Sander said the first decision is whether Wright County would attempt to be the fiscal agent. Other details could be worked out thereafter. Currently, CROW employees have insurance through RC&D. Hiivala said the County needs to decide whether to act as the fiscal agent. Answers would then be obtained on insurance and PERA, followed by acceptance by the CROW. Sawatzke asked Hiivala if the Auditor/Treasurer’s Office has the capacity to take on this additional work. Hiivala said the Auditor/Treasurer’s Office completes work for the LID’s and there are not many transactions involved. The CROW does obtain grant funding so if an audit is required, the CROW would be responsible for those costs. Sawatzke moved to accept the request for the County to act as the fiscal agent for the CROW and any issues relative to PERA and health insurance to be referred to the Personnel Committee. The motion was seconded by Russek. Mattson questioned whether the CROW has to come back to the Board for approval. Sawatzke clarified that this would not be required relative to the County acting as the fiscal agent. However, any decision relating to PERA or health insurance would be required to come back to the County Board for formal approval. Russek asked Sanders whether PERA was offered through Prairie Country and Sanders said it is not. Sawatzke assumed that anything the County would do in that regard would not be an expense to the County but would instead be through the CROW paying for those things through the County’s process. Sanders said that is correct. The motion carried 5-0.
Hiivala said that last week, he provided a report to the County Board on a request to abandon a small portion of County Ditch 41. Since that time, he had conversation with Kurt Deter, Rinke Noonan, who indicated that this may not be an issue to come before the Board unless they are officially petitioning to abandon the Ditch. Hiivala said if the landowner put in a private tile up to the public ditch, the County does not have any say over that. He does not currently have a request to abandon the Ditch. Todd Wurm’s request was to drain the portion that runs north, not necessarily to abandon the Ditch. Private tiling would involve the SWCD. This was provided as an informational update.
The October Revenue/Expenditure Guidelines were discussed. Hiivala indicated the County is doing well on costs associated with personnel, wages and benefits. However, November is a month with three pay periods so those percentages will catch up. On a motion by Eichelberg, second by Russek, all voted to accept the October Revenue/Expenditure Guidelines.
Hiivala requested that the Board refer to the Personnel Committee discussion on employee retirement bridging. Hiivala said Lee Kelly, Special Projects Administrator, attended some sessions where feedback was obtained on whether this is a financially prudent method for the County. It would provide an opportunity for an employee who has met the Rule of 90 or is at retirement age to bridge health insurance to retirement. Hiivala said some counties have found this to be beneficial. Sawatzke stated this could be because they may not have done a good job of calculating the associated costs. If the request is to not backfill a position when someone retires, there may be some associated benefit. However, if the position is filled after a retirement and the County then pays $12,000 toward the retired employee’s insurance, those numbers would turn upside down in a hurry. He said a number of government units have done just that and found over time the economic difficulties that it creates. Sawatzke asked for the thought process on whether the positions will be back filled when the employee retires. Hiivala said that is the idea. He said they would be cautious about the open ended liability and would quantify the duration of the time the County contributes. Hiivala said they have completed some statistics on employees who are at the top step and retire and the costs associated with a new employee that comes in at Step 1 of the Salary Schedule. The monetary savings are there although they may not be great. Thelen said it was significant as they looked at the potential numbers of employees who are interested in retiring but are staying as they have no health insurance. She felt it was worth review by the Personnel Committee. Russek said it may work for a year or two. If an employee retires at age 51-52 and the County pays for insurance until age 65, by that time the new employee is at the top step. The County would then be paying health insurance on two people and the salary of one at the top step. Thelen said they are not looking at that. Russek said those are things that they need to look at as they could actually happen.
Sawatzke said another thing that needs to be reviewed are employees who retire under the Rule of 90 and are paying insurance for themselves. All of those people would have the County paying insurance in the future. In all of the scenarios, there would be a $12,000 loss to the County every year because right now people are covering their own insurance. He said not only would the County pay $12,000/year for those employees that wouldn’t have retired early but would also pay for every employee that would have retired early and paid for it themselves. Sawatzke said that needs to be in the formula, and he was unsure how to make that estimate. Statistical analysis may not take that type of thing into consideration. Sawatzke said another consideration that cannot be quantified is that the County pays people more money for longevity. He has been told those employees deserve more pay because they have more experience and more knowledge. In this scenario, it would take those people with more experience and knowledge and move them out the door. He questioned why the County is paying them 20% more than new employees if all of that experience and knowledge isn’t valuable to the organization. Thelen said those things would have to be examined but there are employees who would like to retire and can’t afford it. When the County is paying top dollar for someone who would prefer to retire and can’t, Thelen said it is worth looking at. She said there is considerable savings. Sawatzke moved to refer employee retirement bridging to the Personnel Committee, seconded by Mattson. Sawatzke said there are plenty of people in the private sector who would like to retire and can’t afford it, but there is no one to pay their health insurance until they reach age 65. Thelen said she thinks there are in some cases. Thelen said these things will be reviewed. She said it needs to move beyond an opinion and into an examination of what happens in these cases. The motion carried 5-0.
Russek moved to approve the claims as listed in the abstract, subject to audit, 120 vendors, and $235,098.08. The motion was seconded by Sawatzke. Mattson referenced a claim on Page 21, Justice Benefits Inc. ($3,037.76) for the 2012 State Criminal Alien Program. The claim is being paid out of the Corrections budget. He questioned what the claim relates to. Lt. Todd Hoffman, Sheriff’s Office, said this is a Jail program but did not have the details. Hiivala said in review of the claim, it is payment for 22% of the amount of $13,808. Hiivala said the claim could be paid on a Commissioners warrant if the Board desired and held until 12-11-12. If the County is responsible for the bill, he did not want to hold up the payment process. The invoice does not indicate Net 30 for terms. Russek suggested that the motion includes payment of the claim, subject to audit. If further explanation is needed, it can be obtained. Russek and Sawatzke agreed that is the intent of the motion. Mattson said he would agree to that if there is an explanation of what the claim is for. The motion carried 5-0. Lt.
Todd Hoffman returned with more information on the claim to Justice Benefits Inc. It involves a Jail program where Wright County applies for a Federal grant for reimbursement of costs associated with the handling of illegal aliens. Justice Benefits Inc. writes the grant, submits the statistics, and obtains the grant from the Federal government on behalf of Wright County. The amount of the claim is the percentage that Justice Benefits Inc. is being paid for their services. Hoffman recalled the grant that was awarded to Wright County was approximately $13,000. Hiivala said it was $13,808. Sawatzke questioned who applied for the grant. Lt. Hoffman said it is something that has been done for the last five years, whether through Capt. Pat O’Malley or through the County itself. Justice Benefits Inc. is a company that was contracted with to apply for the grant for Wright County. Sawatzke referenced other grants that the Sheriff’s Office applies for (i.e., through the DNR) and said those grants are formalized by the Wright County Board. The Board Chair signs the contracts. He questioned whether the contract being reviewed today was presented to the County Board. Lt. Hoffman was unsure but said the grant has been signed for the past five years. Sawatzke said he was curious why some grants would come to the Board and others not. Lt. Hoffman said he will check with Capt. O’Malley on this.
Marc Mattice, Parks Administrator, said the City of Monticello submitted an Outdoor Recreation Grant for Phase 5 of the Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park acquisition in March, 2012. The Outdoor Recreation Grant Program is funded by the Federal Land and Water Conservation Program and administered by the Minnesota DNR. The application was successful in receiving $369,713, which is virtually all of the available funding from this Program. Similar to previous awards, this is a measure of commitment on the part of the State to the project and to the funding partnership. Mattice said the adopted Memorandum Of Understanding refers to how local matches will be dealt with as grant funds are awarded. The County share of the local cash match being requested is $322,268. This figure includes all costs associated with closing such as an updated appraisal, review appraisal, and closing costs. The Monticello City Council has authorized funding their local cash match and associated costs for Phase 5. Mattice sought approval of the County share of the local cash match and for a funding source to be identified. Norman asked for the total cost of Phase 5. Mattice stated $1,004,250 is their anticipated cost per a market value study completed a year ago. Mattson said as the YMCA is paid, they are using those funds to build. He referenced Dakota County erecting cabins on stilts at a cost of $90,000 and said he hopes that will not be done here. Mattson voiced concern with the spending associated with the purchase of park land. Even though grant funding is obtained, it still involves taxpayer dollars. Eichelberg said he is in favor of the request. This project has come a long way. At the end of the acquisition, Eichelberg feels it will be a great asset to the community. Eichelberg moved to authorize the local cash match for the Phase 5 Bertram Chain of Lakes acquisition with funding from the Capital Improvement Account. The motion was seconded by Sawatzke. Mattson said he has voted against this project from the start, and he still hasn’t heard of a fee being considered for collection at the gate. Mattice said this was on the last Bertram Chain Of Lakes Advisory Committee Agenda. There will be fees collected as things are brought on line for camping, access, etc. The fees will be similar to County fees being charged at other Parks. Russek said that he anticipates the Bertram Regional Park will have an annual draw on the County’s budget. The motion carried 3-2 with Russek and Mattson casting the nay votes.
Virgil Hawkins, Highway Engineer, presented the Wright County/Township Agreements for the Town Road Signing Project, Phase 2, for all 18 Townships (Township Signing Program SP 086-070-005). Phase 2 involves the future Wright County contract with a private contractor to remove, replace, and install the signs and posts in accordance with the consultant’s recommendations (Phase 1). Final plans are being prepared by the consultant and it is anticipated that the project will have a bid letting date in early 2013, with sign installations to begin the spring and summer of 2013. Hawkins said the Agreement was approved by the County Board in July, 2012. It is now being presented to authorize signatures. Russek moved to authorize signatures on the Wright County/Township Agreements with 18 Townships, seconded by Mattson. The motion carried unanimously.
Sean Riley, Planning & Zoning Administrator, brought forth discussion on granting Shoreland Authority to Corinna Township. Riley said the DNR requires a county board give a township the authority to administer and implement the DNR Shoreland Regulations. That is the decision before the County Board today. If shoreland authority is granted, the Township then must make application to the DNR. Corinna Township has sent a preliminary application to the DNR for submitting a shoreland ordinance. Riley said the Board received copies of information from Ben Oleson, Corinna Township Zoning Administrator, from Dan Shay, a former Corinna Township Planning Board/Board of Adjustment member, and from Orville & Kathryn Jonsrud and David & Susan Levi. Riley said a good part of Oleson’s letter was in response to the letter from Orville & Kathryn Jonsrud and David & Susan Levi.
Riley said he is in the position of looking at questions about where the JPA stands today and the process Corinna Township has been going through responding to some of the data in the packet. Riley said he made a very brief recommendation in the letter he presented today. Thelen said the JPA has been in place for almost two years. Riley stated that is correct, but there are separate components to it. There is currently a separate, stand-alone agreement for performing building inspection and sewer inspection services. Corinna Township has the authority and has done planning & zoning outside of the shoreland district for this period of time. That is not in question. The decision today is about the shoreland district. Thelen said part of the agreement under the JPA was that Corinna Township would be able to request shoreland authority, which they did a year ago. The JPA was then extended another year.
Riley said the local unit of government needs to obtain authority from the County Board to apply to get shoreland authority. Up to this point, that has been continued to allow them to gain more experience. There were a few items that came up including removing the township from the decision making authority on their Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment. An issue with Cedar Acres came up as well, and that was resolved. He said that matter was addressed and responded to in the letter from Oleson. Thelen mentioned those present for discussion today, including the Corinna Township Board and representatives from the Cedar Lake Association. She said Corinna Township feels they have met the standards as being capable of being at least as strict as or stricter than the County’s Ordinance.
Riley said he is in the position of pointing out problems or concerns, which he has on a few items. It is not his responsibility to sell Corinna’s program or what they are doing well, as that is what Oleson is responsible for in his position. That is why he left it up to Oleson on how they run their program. Riley said if he had hesitation or concern, he would bring that up. As far as the issue of efficiency of the Township, he also felt that was not his position to decide. He referenced some responses received from residents and lakeshore owners. Thelen said Riley’s letter reflects that things have been going well. Riley stated that the County’s Planning & Zoning Office has been working closely with Corinna Township (day-to-day, week-by-week basis). He said they look at things such as planning & zoning, JPA on the building code and sewer code, information exchange, working with Oleson, and working with the Township on occasion. One member of the Township Planning & Zoning Board serves on the County’s Board of Adjustment. Riley said as a whole, things are going well compared to how they started two years ago. Whether this is a right policy or direction for a county and township to take, that is why it is being presented for the Board to decide.
Ben Oleson, Corinna Township Zoning Administrator, said there is nothing new in the letter he wrote. Oleson read from a MN Rule, which reflects that the township must demonstrate to the county board that their proposed ordinance and administration is at least as restrictive as the county’s prior to final adoption. Then it addresses some of the other things that townships need to do. Oleson said his interpretation is that it reflects what the county’s role is. It does not imply the county board’s role is to determine the best way or the most efficient way; their role is to decide whether it is at least as restrictive. Oleson said part of the concern in the letter from the Levi’s and Jonsrud’s is something that may come up in any variance decision that is made. Oleson said the way he reads the MN Rule, it is not something the County Board really needs to get involved in. He said he made that comment respectfully.
In terms of whether the Ordinance is as restrictive and whether the administration is as effective or as restrictive, Oleson felt that was laid out in documents provided previously. Those documents outline similar processes, including the criteria used to deny or grant variances and public notices. His opinion is that the staffing levels in terms of expertise are high enough. Oleson said he was a County Zoning Administrator for 3-4 years, and he has been a Zoning Administrator on a public or private basis for the last 12 years. They have consulted with and notified County staff on decisions. County staff has commented in some cases but not in others. He said if there are concerns, they would want to know that.
Oleson said the Township feels they have met all of the criteria laid out in State Rules. Whether it is cost effective or efficient is not the question. Oleson said they are asking the County Board to acknowledge that the Township has an Ordinance that is at least as restrictive as the County’s and in some cases may be more restrictive, once they get through the DNR process. Also, that the Township’s administration is meeting State requirements and law and is going above what is required in terms of public notice and trying to make sure everyone is involved in decisions.
Oleson said he was asked to provide information on the types of decisions made over the past year. That information is laid out in the charts. He said the types of decisions Corinna Township has made are in line with what the County does. They are different applications or issues, but they are parallel in terms of a broad overview of what they do. The Township is not granting significantly more variances than the County. Variances are being approved with changes, which is essentially a partial denial. Oleson said that it would be tough to argue that the Township is doing things improperly. Thelen said that the Board packet included a number of staff reports dating back to January. The question to the County is whether the Ordinance is as strict or more and whether the administration is as effective.
Sawatzke referenced Oleson’s letter which said the Township has a tax capacity nearly 2.5 times that of Wright County. He asked for an explanation. Oleson responded that was handed out in the packet prior to the October Board Meeting. He consulted the State Auditor’s website where data can be obtained on cities, townships and counties in terms of tax capacity. In 2012, which is the latest year for the data, Corinna Township had a tax capacity, per capita, of a little over $2,500. Wright County was just under $1,100. Sawatzke asked Oleson if he understood that Wright County’s tax capacity is many times greater than Corinna Township’s. Oleson said that is correct. His figures are per capita. Sawatzke said that per capita is not reflected in the letter, as it reads, “The Township has a tax capacity nearly 2.5 times that of Wright County.” Sawatzke said with Oleson’s explanation, he now understands that the statement relates to per capita. Oleson said the material handed out in October reflects that it is on a per capita basis. Sawatzke said that according to the State Auditor, Corinna Township spends nearly twice as much per person as every other Wright County township spends on average. According to the State Auditor, he said Corinna Township spends over four times as much as one of the townships in the County, and at least 22.5% more than the next closest township in the County. He stated that according to the State Auditor, people in Corinna Township pay a lot more township taxes than any other township in Wright County. Thelen asked for the relevance. Sawatzke said Oleson pointed out a few things according to the State Auditor, so he did as well.
Eichelberg asked Oleson whether the other Minnesota townships he works with do shoreland planning. Oleson responded that he works personally with Alexandria Township which has done zoning since 2007. In includes the entire Township and they have quite a few lakes. He thought Alexandria Township is similar to Corinna Township in that regard. Eichelberg asked Riley whether he contacted any townships that have their own shoreland authority to seek their experience. Riley said some counties are not set up with a centralized Planning & Zoning and have the staff and resources. A number of townships complete this on their own. Riley has not had any direct contact with other townships that Oleson has worked or talked with. Riley said from his experience, Corinna Township is unique in the level of resources and time and effort they have put toward their planning and zoning. Some would argue that is a good thing as it has made this possible. Others could argue that they are spending resources on something the County is doing. Riley said it is not his position to judge that. His only concern is this is a snapshot in time. If for some reason Corinna lost the ability to have this amount of resources or this professional level of assistance, he would be concerned with where that would go. He is not able to judge this either as he is not seeing evidence that it is going to take place in the near future.
Eichelberg asked Riley what percentage of work in the office will decrease, if any, if shoreland authority is granted to the Township. Riley said compared to the last year or two, he did not foresee a change as Corinna had shoreland authority on a temporary basis for the last two years. Planning & Zoning did realize a reduction in work load when there was a short term, private contract on the sewer and building inspections in Corinna Township. From the County’s perspective, Riley supports the County completing the sewer inspections and building inspections. The contractors appear to be happy working with the County, and it provides an opportunity to work with the Township when they do have questions. As far as assisting with Planning & Zoning, there is a learning curve on how the County does things. By necessity, Oleson had to contact the Planning & Zoning Office to obtain input and documents. Over time, that may reduce.
Mattson said that 60% of the people in Corinna Township do not have voting privileges. He asked if they are those that only live here in the summer. Bill Arendt, Vice President of the CLCC (Cedar Lake Conservation Club), said the CLCC Board asked him to attend today’s meeting to voice concern with granting Corinna Township shoreland authority. He said the CLCC is an active, non-profit organization that began in 1953 that has 192 members (79% of the 242 people that that own land on the Lake). Approximately 50-60% of residents live off the lake full time so they cannot vote in the Township. They are being taxed and assessed but they can’t vote as they live elsewhere. Arendt said there is no compelling reason to grant the Township shoreland authority. He said Wright County is doing a good job and has more resources, experience, and a better staff. More important, they provide local control with a non-partisan viewpoint. Arendt said the CLCC urges the Board to vote no for this authority. Russek asked whether Cedar Lake is the largest Lake in Corinna Township. Arendt said Clearwater Lake is larger but half is in Wright and half is in Stearns. Cedar Lake is about 900 acres and Sugar Lake is about 1000 acres. Russek asked whether Cedar Lake has the most residents. Thelen said they do not.
Kathy Jonsrud, Annandale, referenced the letter she submitted and said she is a citizen of Corinna Township. She said the letter reflects several points. The first is that her neighborhood urges the County Board to retain shoreland authority. The second relates to the Cedar Acres situation. The good news is that litigation is over. She thought that all involved felt a lot was given up. As a result of the litigation, Corinna did need to amend the variance they did on the property in 2011. Jonsrud said they recommend that an indefinite JPA as a potential solution. It provides historical wisdom and dispassionate oversight that comes when a variance is needed. She said they recommend an indefinite JPA, maybe even for five years. Mattson asked Jonsrud whether they pay tax to Wright County and to Corinna Township. Jonsrud said that is correct. She said the argument is not over cost. She said if that were the case, they would request to have all of the shoreland authority at the County. As a compromise, they recommend a JPA continuum.
Mattson asked the Corinna Township Board if there is a means of healing the disagreements with people that are concerned. He said that they will never make everyone happy but asked whether they are working hard to get this done. Dick Naaktgeboren, Corinna Township Board, said that is why they went through mediation. There were three parties involved including Corinna Township, Cedar Acres, and the CLCC. The goal was to work out an agreement between the two properties to see what they could live with or without.
Naaktgeboren felt it worked out. Naaktgeboren said Commissioner Sawatzke referenced the Township budget compared to other townships in the County. He said that is hard to do because townships may have different number of miles of road. One township has 24 miles of road and Corinna Township has 64 miles of road. Corinna Township has 2,350 homesteaded and almost that many non-homesteaded. He said they are taking care of more properties, roads, and possible other things that other townships may not be. Sawatzke said Corinna could be compared to Southside Township with regard to the number of lakeshore and seasonal properties. Corinna Township’s budget is 40% higher. Naaktgeboren asked whether Sawatzke has driven Southside Township in the winter. Russek said Corinna could also be compared to Franklin, as they have more roads than Corinna Township does (77 miles) and are at $390 per capita.
Thelen said the matter at hand relates to what is laid out in the JPA; that Corinna Township could come to the County for a decision on the shoreland authority. Thelen said the issues with Cedar Lake have been contentious but were resolved. The mediation affirmed what the original Planning & Zoning decision had been. Additionally, the County made recommended changes to the Corinna Township Ordinance that would create a parallel structure between the Boards for Corinna Township and the County, in terms of how final decisions are made.
Thelen said she wanted to caution the Board and the public in that it is nice to assume that the Wright County Planning & Zoning Office has never made any mistakes or errors, and that their distance from the situation always results in a better decision. She said sometimes local control will enhance the capacity to do planning and zoning. Thelen said that if at any point Corinna Township is not as restrictive or more so, it can be revisited. Thelen said in the past four years, she saw the Township trying to become more cooperative with and being on the same page as the County. She has not seen any decisions that would suggest that they are going to “sell the farm.” Thelen said they are looking to make a decision and asked for public comment.
Charlotte Quiggle serves as the Chair of the Corinna Township Planning Commission and is a member of the Wright County Board of Adjustment. What they are looking for is the determination of whether Corinna Township has fulfilled the criteria outlined in DNR rules and State Statute. She said the primary rules are that Corinna Township has an ordinance as restrictive as the County’s, that they administer and enforce it similarly to the County, that they provide notice and have procedures, and a couple of other things. Her opinion is that they are doing this. She said she is familiar with the processes followed by the County BOA and the Township. Those bodies work with the same Ordinance and go through the same criteria for granting ordinances dealing with conditional use permits and subdivisions. She said the Township is more transparent with the citizens at the Township level than the County is. The Township posts staff reports, applications, surveys, and public comment on their website. Quiggle said the Township applies the same standards as the County with regard to variances, and not every variance request is a unanimous decision.
Thelen asked Greg Kryzer, Assistant County Attorney, whether he had anything to add with regard to the task of the County Board. Kryzer stated that everything has been laid out clearly for the last two years on their duties. Eichelberg referenced the draft resolution, last paragraph, which reflects that “…the Wright County Board reserves the right to review this resolution and revoke the appointment and designation in the event Corinna Township is no longer administrating the official control in a manner consistent with the Minnesota Administrative Rules and the official controls adopted by Wright County.” Eichelberg asked Riley if the Board approves the agreement whether he will monitor (monthly, quarterly) as the process moves forward. Riley said as long as the Planning & Zoning Office has this working relationship with Oleson in the Township, they will monitor how it is going to the best of their ability. If something does not go well with the Lake or property owners, the County will hear about it in writing and will have to act on it at that time. He deferred the opinion on revocation to Kryzer. Kryzer said things would be handled on a case-by-case basis. He hopes that any issues that come up could be handled at the administrative staff level. He thought it would take something significant to start a revocation hearing. Eichelberg asked whether the County still has the right by State Statute to have shoreland planning. Kryzer said the County is reserving that right in the resolution. The Shoreland Rules indicate the Township must be as restrictive as or more restrictive than the County. If there is a situation that deviates from those Rules, they would take the necessary steps to rectify the situation.
Eichelberg moved to adopt the resolution granting shoreland authority to Corinna Township. Russek said that once the authority is given away, it is gone. He said the Board needs to make a decision so it is not passed to the next County Board. Thelen said it is her understanding that it can be taken up with the next County Board if it is denied today. She then asked if she would be allowed to pass the gavel in order to second the motion. Russek said that she could. Thelen passed the gavel to Vice Chair Eichelberg. Thelen seconded the motion. Eichelberg called the motion and it failed 2-3 with Mattson, Russek and Sawatzke casting the nay votes.
Thelen asked members of the Board that voted against the motion to indicate why for the record. She asked whether that is the prerogative of the Board Chair to ask members to make their reasons explicit. Norman responded that it would be the willingness on the part of each individual Commissioner. Thelen asked Sawatzke. Sawatzke said that he did not believe they rise to the requirements of the Statute and the supporting rules of the DNR in passing over shoreland authority. Thelen asked whether those requirements mean they are not as restrictive or more. Sawatzke said as restrictive, having the same resources and all of the issues that exist in the SONAR (the Statement of Need and Reasonableness) language, and that they are comparable to Wright County. Thelen asked Russek to explain his vote. Russek stated they haven’t heard from a group of citizens in support of this. There are citizens here saying it should not be done. The question is whether they should listen to the people who want it or their constituents. He is listening to the constituents. If the citizens are against it, then he questioned why the Township is for it. Thelen asked Mattson to explain his vote. Mattson said he knows about the tax rate on lakes. He represents a District with many lakes. His main concern is the taxes people are paying and what they get out of it. There may be concerned citizens around the Lake that are being disrespected and he would like to see that changed. He thought the next County Board could come forward and help this situation.
Thelen asked if there is any other action. She asked Russek about a potential other motion he mentioned. Russek asked when the JPA on the Shoreland Authority ends. Riley said the JPA expires at the end of the year. Russek made a motion to propose a JPA for another five years. He said it has been working fine so far. Eichelberg asked if they should consider giving the incoming Board of Commissioners a chance to weigh in on it if the JPA is for five years. Russek said the incoming Board can change it after the first of the year if they want. Thelen said Corinna Township would have to accept it as well. The motion was seconded by Sawatzke for discussion. Russek said he has heard that the arrangement is working, and that is his reason for an extension. Sawatzke said based on a letter received from citizens and property owners on the Lake, the motion would be consistent with what they want to see. In addition, by enhancing the Township’s efforts with County resources, it overcomes the concerns about the statutory requirements and those items listed in the SONAR report. Sawatzke said the County does need a willing player on the other side to be agreeable as well. The motion carried 4-1 with Thelen casting the nay vote.
Hiivala returned to the meeting with additional information on the claim to Justice Benefits Inc. ($3,037.76) for the 2012 State Criminal Alien Program. He said this type of claim has been paid for the past five years at a rate of 22% of the grant. Hiivala does not have a copy of the grant agreement. Norman recommended that the Board reaffirm the policy that any applications for grant funding come to the County Board prior to submittal. Lt. Hoffman said the grant was discussed as part of the budget sessions. Norman said that even though that is the case, the actual application for the grant should come before the Board for authorization and signatures. Lt. Hoffman said he does not know if that has happened. Sawatzke stated it is a Statute Auditor’s requirement. Norman said that is correct.
Bills Approved
Alberg/Jillian $100.00
Albertville Body Shop Inc 1,631.37
All State Communications Inc 200.00
Allina Hospitals & Clinics 12,320.99
Allina Medical Laboratories 629.15
Amer. Probation & Parole Assn 300.00
Ameripride Services 237.38
Anoka County Corrections 9,553.00
Anoka County Sheriff 16,281.64
Aramark Services Inc 6,404.96
Association of Mn Counties 3,550.00
Buffalo Auto Value 280.55
Center Point Energy 870.08
Centra Sota Coop - Buffalo 32,179.95
Cent. MN Mental Health Ctr Inc 110.09
CenturyLink 250.73
Climate Air 817.36
Comm. of Transportation 793.96
CPS Technology Solutions 1,450.62
Dell Marketing LP 1,367.32
Dynamic Recycling 2,660.19
Engel/Dale L 300.00
Gabriel/Cathleen 300.00
General Office Products Co 722.83
Going Under Dive Center 957.20
Grainger 186.04
Hewlett Packard 6,436.37
Hillyard Inc - Minneapolis 312.67
Howard/Jolanta 100.00
ICC Upper Great Plains 1,064.00
John Deere Financial 613.40
Josephson/William S 858.00
Justice Benefits Inc 3,037.76
Keaveny LTC Pharmacy 3,588.90
Kustom Signals Inc 846.88
L3 Communications Inc 43,026.13
LaPlant Demo Inc 999.74
Marco Inc 1,888.63
Milana P Tolins LLC 200.00
Morries Parts & Service Grp 1,059.73
Morrigan Law Office 100.00
Munson/Margaret 441.00
Northern Green Expo 447.00
Northland Chemical Corp 103.47
Office Depot 432.80
Otto Associates 186.00
Precision Prints of Wright Co 224.44
Pts of America LLC 2,471.00
Public Safety Equipment LLC 2,398.03
Purick/Ryan 300.00
Ramacciotti/Frank 100.00
Reds Auto Electric 280.10
RS Eden 1,282.60
Safelite Fulfillment Inc 685.16
Setter/Randi 100.00
SHI International Corp 377.27
St Cloud Stamp & Sign Inc 161.49
Stanley Consultants Inc 3,303.72
Straughan Hardware Co Inc 565.84
Swanson Brothers Trapline Srv 230.00
Tennant Sales and Service Co 249.85
Total Printing 1,112.57
Verizon Wireless 646.23
Voss Lighting 195.58
West Payment Center 1,065.26
Wright Co. Highway Dept 55,576.37
Wright Hennepin Electric 1,637.00
Xcel Energy 1,016.64
20 Payments less than $100 921.04
Final Total $235,098.08
The meeting adjourned at 10:26 A.M
Published in the Herald Journal Dec. 31, 2012.
WRIGHT COUNTY BOARD MINUTES
NOVEMBER 27, 2012
6:00 PM MEETING
The Wright County Board met in special session at 6:00 P.M. with Sawatzke, Mattson, Russek, Eichelberg, and Thelen present. Sawatzke announced that he would be leaving the meeting just prior to 7:00 P.M. as his daughter will be receiving a significant award and he wanted to be present for it.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the proposed 2013 Budget and Taxable Certified Levy. The Assessor’s Office was open to assist with questions regarding individual property tax statements.
A handout was provided on the following: How Your Property Taxes Are Determined, Total Budget, Major Impacts on Budget, 2013 Revenue Budget, Budget 100 Non-Departmental, Road & Bridge 2013 Combined Funding Summary, 5 Year Highway Construction Program, Road & Bridge 2013 Equipment Needs, 2013 Human Services Budget, Local Levy, and the Major Impacts on the Local Levy.
Bob Hiivala, Auditor/Treasurer, said the Board previously requested that the County’s proposed budget be placed on the Internet. Hiivala provided a copy of that information which includes: the County’s proposed 2013 Budget, the 2013 Departmental Net Operating Budgets (with a comparison to 2012), Wright County Expenditure Budget by Function (including 2012 Budget & Actual, 2012 Budget, and the 2013 Proposed Budget), Wright County Expenditure Budget by Classification (including 2012 Budget & Actual, 2012 Budget, and the 2013 Proposed Budget), How Your Property Taxes Are Determined, Taxable Market Value by Class of Property (2009 Assessment, 2010 Assessment, 2012 Assessment, and 2012 Assessment), Tax Capacity by Class of Property (2009 Assessment, 2010 Assessment, 2012 Assessment, and 2012 Assessment), Initial Tax Capacity Rate (Payable 2010, Payable 2012, Payable 2012, and Payable 2013 Proposed), and an example of a 2013 Property Tax Statement.
Hiivala referenced the material, “How Your Property Taxes Are Determined.” The handout reflects that the proposed property tax revenue (tax levy) is divided by the total tax capacity (f.k.a. assessed value) to come up with the property tax rate (a.k.a. “tax capacity” rate). Property tax is determined by taking a property’s market value times the class rate(s) times the “tax capacity” rate. Hiivala then provided an overview of taxable market value and tax capacity. The market value of the County is in the tens of billions of dollars. It is not all taxable. The tax capacity of the County is broken down by classification of property (i.e., residential, agricultural, seasonal recreational, etc.). The levy is divided by the tax capacities to come up with a tax rate. All residents pay the same tax rate, including large businesses. Hiivala said if a resident’s property tax statement increased, it could be attributed to the value not decreasing as fast as other properties or the property had a classification change. He referenced the example of a 2013 property tax statement and noted that the County property tax is on the first line of the statement. There are other taxing districts listed who hold their own meetings on their levies.
Richard Norman, County Coordinator, said the Budget process began in June. Departments submitted draft proposals for the 2013 Budget. Norman commended Departments for the budgets they submitted, saying they were comparable to 2012. The Board’s task in this process is to establish priorities and decide what ultimately gets funded.
Norman provided a summary of the 2013 proposed Budget:
Total Budget. The Total Budget is broken into three major funding categories including General Revenue, Road & Bridge, and Human Services. Human Services is made up of Social Services and Public Health.
The 2013 General Revenue Budget is proposed at $51,976,337 compared to $50,782,771 in 2012 (2.35% increase). The Road & Bridge Budget is proposed at $21,847,642 in 2013 compared to $18,253,905 in 2012 (19.7% increase). The Human Services proposed budget for 2013 is $24,263,100 compared to $23,704,100 in 2012 (2.4% increase).
Debt Service in 2013 is proposed at $4,698,696 compared to $7,427,924 in 2012. Norman said this is significantly less than what was budgeted in 2012 as some bond issues were removedfrom the Debt Service schedule. The Lake Pulaski LID is at $75,000 in 2013 compared to $35,000 in 2012. The Pulaski LID has informed the County that they are requesting $72,500 next year. The figure will be corrected in the draft budget that will be presented for approval on 12-11-12 to the County Board. The Mink-Somers LID amount for 2013 is $16,000 compared to $13,420 in 2012. The Total Budget is proposed at $102,876,775 compared to the 2012 Budget of $100,217,120 (2.7% increase). The amounts for the Lake Pulaski LID ($72,500) and Mink-Somers LID ($16,000) are spread only to residents in those specific LID’s.
Major Impacts on Budget.
1. Labor Costs. The 2013 amount is proposed at $676,000 and includes expenditures related to employees that are on the salary step system. Employees are entitled by union contract to receive the increase on their anniversary date. The amount also includes funding for implementation of the Classification Study and for costs related to benefit packages.
2. Road and Bridge Budget. The 2013 amount is proposed at $3,593,700. This amount increased due primarily to the 2013 construction program. This does not mean the levy for local road projects will increase that much.
3. Human Services Budget. The 2013 amount is proposed at $559,000. During a recession, the Human Services Agency deals with more clients. The levels of assistance have gone up significantly in the last number of years. The proposed budget includes three new positions in the Human Services Agency to help meet their needs.
4. Debt Service. Debt Service will decrease by $2,729,200 in 2013.
2013 General Revenue Budget. The handout compares the 2013 Budget to the 2012 Budget for all departments within the General Revenue Budget. The General Revenue Budget for 2013 is proposed at $51,976,337 compared to $50,782,770 in 2012. Subtracted from the total of $51,976,337 are Rentals and Leases ($3,775,191) and Income ($15,154,346). After the reductions, the net total for 2013 local taxes comes to $33,046,800.
Norman made a change to the Medical Examiners portion of the Budget. It was proposed at $354,653 and will be reduced to $331,268. Norman was notified that Chisago and Carver Counties will join the Medical Examiners organization. This has resulted in a reduction in the amount Wright County will fund. Norman explained that Rentals and Leases relates to the amount of rent charged to Departments based on square footage occupied. This enables the County to receive Federal reimbursement for a portion of Human Services expenses. Income relates to delivery of services by departments (fees they charge, grants, contracts). Those services generate income that is taken into account when determining the Levy. For example, the Sheriff’s Department contracts with all but three Cities in Wright County for Law Enforcement Services.
Budget 100, Non-Departmental. The total for 2013 is proposed at $5,409,606 compared to the 2012 amount of $4,674,002. Norman explained that Personal Services Line Item #6100 carries a proposed budget of $1,000,000 in 2013 compared to $324,011 in 2012. When the Budget is set, a figure is placed into this line item to cover estimated labor costs and costs associated with reclassification and benefit increases. Amounts are transferred from this line item to various department line items during the year. There is a balance in the 2012 Personal Services line item that relates to the settlement of union contracts. Last week, a settlement agreement for the Jailers/Dispatchers Unit was placed on the County Board Agenda. The County has a tentative agreement with another union. If settled, funds will be transferred from the Personal Services Line Item to the Departments involved.
Road & Bridge Combined Funding Summary. The expenditures are budgeted at $21,847,642 in 2013. The projected expenditures in 2012 were $19,758,760 with the 2012 Budget at $18,253,905. The projected revenues in 2012 were $20,574,471. The summary reflects the road construction programs and the revenues and levy needed to support the Road & Bridge Program. Norman stated that several areas reflect significant increases. Highway Maintenance increased from a 2012 budget of $3,698,764 to a 2013 Budget of $3,775,707. Estimates must be used because of the unknown oil prices which affect costs for blacktopping and fuel. This Budget also includes $700,000 for purchase of equipment. Norman said they are trying to purchase two tandem trucks per year. The trucks are on a 12-year replacement schedule. For 2013, they will purchase one truck as the Highway Department needs to fund other equipment needs.
5-Year Highway Construction Program. The 5-Year Highway Construction Program reflects projects the County is contemplating completing in 2013 and the funding source. The handout reflects the project, type of construction, and how it is funded. The Local column on the handout reflects the local property tax needed for some of the projects. The handout also shows costs associated with right of way acquisition. The total estimated project cost in 2013 is $11,635,088.92 and the local share is budgeted at $2,875,659.48.
Road & Bridge Equipment Needs. The handout reflects equipment replacement requests totaling $710,000 for 2013 and includes the purchase of one each of the following equipment items: tandem truck, grader, loader, mower tractor, and ranger vehicle.
Human Services Budget. The total expenditures in 2013 are anticipated at $24,263,100 which is a 2.4% increase over the 2012 Budget of $23,704,100. The handout reflects revenues received compared to expenditures. It also shows the annual Year End Reserves for the period of 2006 through 2011. The County has received recommendations from the State Department of Revenue and Larsen Allen on how much funding should be held in reserves for each of the major funding sources (General Fund, Road & Bridge, and Human Services). Norman said the County is trying to build this reserve. The County must have cash flow available during the first five months of the year because property taxes are not collected until that time.
Hiivala provided a summary of the 2013 Levy:
Local Levy.
• General Revenue is projected at $24,841,996 in 2013 compared to $24,692,972 in 2012 (0.6% increase).
• Road & Bridge is projected at $7,904,457 in 2013 compared to $7,542,864 in 2012 (4.8% increase). The increase is driven by construction needs.
• Human Services reflects a projected budget of $9,107,500 in 2013 which is the same as in 2012 (0% change).
• Special Levies is projected at $51,040,619 in 2013 compared to $52,370,019 in 2012 (-2.5% decrease). Special Levies include Corrections ($8,204,804), Debt Services ($4,698,696), Matching Requirements ($406,600), Lake Pulaski LID ($75,000), and Mink-Somers LID ($16,000).
• Another source to offset the debt service in 2013 is unfilled vacancies at $466,600.
It is anticipated that $466,600 will be utilized from the General Fund to reduce the Local Levy. This $466,600 comes from unfilled vacancies. This results in a proposed local levy of $50,574,019 in 2013 compared to $50,574,019 in 2012 (0% increase).
Major Impacts On Local Levy. The major impacts include: General Fund, $1,855,600; Road & Bridge, $361,600; County Program Aid, $860,000; Debt Service, -$2,729,200; Unfilled Vacancies, -$466,600; and Use of Reserves, $0.
The meeting was opened up for public comment.
Bill Nibbe, Marysville Township, asked if there has been any pressure to reduce the actual budget. Families in Wright County have to do more with less, making their budgets stretch further without any additional income. He asked if there has been any pressure on the County departments to do the same. Russek said anyone willing to sit through the Budget process can do so. If there is a way to further reduce the Budget and Levy, the County Board will look at that. Russek said he owns agricultural land and his tax statement reflects a large increase. In response to Nibbe, Sawatzke said the Levy will not increase and the Budget went up 2.7%. As Norman indicated earlier in the meeting, the Budget will reduce by $23,000 (reduction in Medical Examiner cost) so the Levy will go down slightly. Any other reductions the Board may make would affect this as well. Russek said he appreciated some Departments submitting Budget requests that were less than last year. Nibbe suggested the County Board look at selling off assets that are not needed.
Joan McGregor, Albion Township, asked for explanation of turn back dollars and insurance rebates. Hiivala said the County completes a year-end review on actual versus budget figures. In recent years, the County has used these dollars to maintain fund balances. Turn back dollars may be transferred to Human Services or to the Capital Improvement Fund. McGregor asked if insurance rebates are ever used to lower property taxes. Sawatzke said this was done in 2012.
Allen Malerich, City of Buffalo, extended thanks to the Board members who will be leaving at the end of 2012. He said Wright County is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. Like the City of Buffalo, he feels Wright County is too expensive. Malerich feels cuts can be made on a $51 million Budget. When he was in business, there were mandates that indicated budgets must be cut by 7%. To avoid inter-department conflict, everyone needed to make cuts. Somehow all of the work got done. Malerich encouraged the current Commissioners and the incoming Board members to look hard and draw the line. An increase of 2.7% may not sound like much, but that is about double what social security recipients are receiving. The increase is 0% for those on retirement pensions. He said there is a portion of the residents that are doing with far less than the County. He stated the Law Enforcement Center and the Government Center are beautiful facilities, probably the best money can buy. Malerich said maybe they don’t need to be the best and the County can do with slightly less.
Tom McGregor, Maple Lake, said his comments would piggyback those made by Nibbe on suggested cost cutting measures. The County spends $250,000 supporting the Historical Society which he thought could be phased out over a five-year period. He sees no reason why that entity could not survive on its own, and feels the Historical Society is generating funding already. McGregor said the Historical Society should be weaned off the Wright County taxpayer’s backs. McGregor referenced the over $250,000 spent on 4-H, which he understands is a volunteer program. He suggested that be phased out and funded privately. McGregor referenced the $3.6 million budgeted for culture and recreation and is unsure what that relates to. He feels some of that may be funded by State and Federal grants, but that is funded by taxpayers as well. McGregor said there is $104,000 budgeted for personnel in Civil Defense and $116,000 in Veteran Services. As he is unsure what those Departments are responsible for, he asked whether that was necessary. McGregor referenced Bertram Lakes and the additional $3 million that it will cost taxpayers. He questioned what the Compost Facility is being used for and what the plan is moving forward.
Russek stated that activities at the Compost Facility are funded by SCORE dollars so costs do not get passed onto the County taxpayers. The building is there and he did not feel the County would get much for it. He thought Veolia could be interested in it, but he questioned whether taxpayers would want another mountain of garbage. McGregor asked if there has been any effort to sell the Compost Facility. Russek said there was earlier but the effort was given up. McGregor asked about SCORE funding. Sawatzke explained that there is a tax collected when a resident pays their garbage bill. A portion of that tax is distributed to Minnesota counties to use for recycling and disposal of problem goods. Expenses at the Compost Facility to perform these functions are covered under SCORE grants. He estimated that Wright County receives a couple hundred thousand a year toward this effort. Dollars are also used to assist cities and townships with curbside recycling programs. McGregor asked whether the Compost Facility is being used at this time. Russek said it has not been utilized as a Compost Facility for 18.5 years. The Facility is being used to collect household hazardous waste. Sawatzke added that it functions as a garden and organic facility to recycle yard and garden materials. The tax dollars that are given to each County can only be used for specific things such as recycling, household hazardous waste, etc. McGregor said it is still being funded by taxpayers and the fact that the Facility is not functioning is even more wasteful. Sawatzke responded that the Facility is being used quite heavily for the programs that are run on site. The Facility is open Tuesday, Thursday, and one Saturday a month. Unfortunately, it is much more building than is needed. Russek said one of the reasons he ran for County Board was that he was upset that the Facility was built.
Mark Porter, Franklin Township, asked about the Budget process and how the recommendations made by those present would be considered. Russek said a suggestion was made to get rid of the 4-H Program. That is the entire Extension Program that is used by many people. It is a great program for kids. Sawatzke said that McGregor referenced the Veterans Services Office. He said that the citizens owe it to the veterans in the State to have a place for them to find services. By law, the County is required to have a Civil Defense Office as there is a nuclear plant located in the County. That effort is substantially funded by NSP. Those are two things that the County can’t get rid of.
Thelen said that comments heard will be considered as they move forward. Many services are mandated but the thrust has been to become leaner. Last year, the Commissioners heard the public wanted more information. As a result, the Auditor/Treasurer placed information on the Internet relating to the Budget.
Sawatzke left the meeting at 6:49 P.M.
Porter asked why the Highway Department needs a 4 x 4 vehicle. Virgil Hawkins, Highway Engineer, said it is for efficiency and will be used by the Survey crew for construction projects (used off-road). Russek said that over $1 million was cut from the Highway Department’s proposed Budget. Porter said the Federal government is broke, and he felt that was the situation for all levels of government. He asked whether there is something that can be done to cut spending, as he did not feel the County could continue to make increases. He understands the Board has a difficult job but feels that there are large financial troubles. Russek responded that Wright County has the third lowest per capita tax in the State. He did not feel the County Board is approving excessive requests for Departments. Porter said he moved to Wright County from Meeker County because the taxes are lower in Wright County.
Joan McGregor extended appreciation for the material that was placed on the website. She said they would like even more information, especially with regard to things that are mandated versus decided on by the County Board. She felt that would be helpful to the public. The public can take that information and research it further if they so desire. She also suggested placing the Budget material on the website sooner. Russek said the County tried to respond to the request made last year on providing information on the website. It is a learning process and the County is willing to listen to what people want provided. Thelen said that in other counties, there are more personnel available to work on these efforts. Wright County is trying to improve the accessibility of information by the public.
Mattson stated that Wright County is being pressured by the MET Council and the St. Cloud APO. Those groups want to position themselves so they receive more funding. He said Wright County has to be very protective. With regard to funded and unfunded mandates, he said Norman went to Departments about ten years ago. A large amount of information was brought to the House but it was not even looked at. He said they were going to help the County but the information was just discarded. Wright County never heard another word on it. He said that a lot of tax is forced on Wright County.
Thelen asked Greg Kramber, Assessor, to provide information on property tax solutions or efforts for reform. Kramber said he has worked in the Assessor’s Office for 20 years and sees first hand the budget process. Every line item in Department Budgets is itemized and he felt Departments are doing a good job with the Budget.
With reference to mandates, Kramber said some of the legislative changes have been costly. The most recent is the rural preserve issue. Assessor staff members have been working with property owners for four months, trying to educate them on the different aspects of classifying land. He testified three times in 2008 in an effort to have the rural preserve issue repealed and it did not happen. He estimated the Assessor’s Office spent a quarter million dollars in the first couple of years that program was in place. He said the Office has sent out six mailings to every singe agricultural land owner in the County. Staff has been personally visiting property owners to assist them with obtaining the benefit they are entitled to.
Kramber said a property tax working group was created at the legislative level a few years ago. It involves a group of assessors, legislators, property owners, and representatives from farm credit and farm services agencies. The group meets monthly to discuss simplifying the property tax system. Minnesota’s property tax system is one of the most complicated systems in the U.S. because of all of the credits, programs, and exclusions. It is getting to the point where more time is being spent administering the system than what the efforts are bringing. The group is required to have a report completed by February, 2013 to the legislators.
Kramber said his job as the Assessor is to do the best job they can to value and classify properties. He said the purpose of today’s meeting is to discuss the Levy. He compared the property tax system to a balloon. That volume of air is what is needed to operate this unit of government. The property tax system has been complicated by giving credits and exclusions. Others pay more when one group of property owners receives a benefit (i.e., agricultural seasonal, etc.). The balloon is pushed in different directions based on these credits or exclusions. The hope is that this group will be able to identify ways to streamline this process and make it easier to administer. That will hopefully result in a lower cost to taxpayers in the future.
With regard to property tax trends, Kramber said one of the largest benefits has been the CAP X2020 project in the northern part of the County. That added over $100 million of additional value to the tax base. As far as general value trends, Kramber said they have seen some declines. He is also seeing some areas where taxes may increase for the 2013 assessment (payable 2014). The townhome market is making a come back. In Buffalo, there are very few available on the market. Kramber said the agricultural market has really taken off. An auction held recently in Stockholm Township brought sales of $5,800-$7,700 per acre. Russek complimented the Assessor’s Office. There has not been a State correction in 10 years, meaning the assessments have been within the State guidelines.
Thelen said counties are working through the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) in an effort to pass the MAGIC Act. The MAGIC Act would provide a waiver from the required way of doing things. It would allow government at the local level to take a mandate and be innovative on how the outcome is achieved. Currently, counties are mandated by rules and required to do things a certain way. She encouraged residents to talk with their legislators and said property taxes cannot continue to increase.
Thelen extended appreciation to the offices of Auditor/Treasurer and Administration for working so diligently on the Budget. She feels people in the County should be pleased that there are really good people in place doing good work.
Mattson extended appreciation to all who have attended the Hearing each year. Mattson said it was the last Budget meeting he would be attending as a Commissioner. He ran for Commissioner as there was not a Commissioner available at 8:00 A.M. prior to that time. He thanked people for coming in to express their views. Russek also thanked the incoming Commissioners who attended the meeting.
The meeting adjourned at 7:15 P.M.
Published in the Herald Journal Dec. 31, 2012.


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