No more mister nice guy: Pine County Commissioners deliver first "no" vote on property tax default/repurchase abuse case
by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Commissioners reinforced a decision they made in March 2019 about abuse of repurchase on tax forfeited land, at Tuesday’s regular Pine County Board meeting, held at the North Pine Government Center.
If a property goes into tax forfeiture, the owner can request a repurchase contract and pay 10 percent of the taxes due and the remainder over 10 years at 10 percent interest. Some property owners have entered repurchase contracts and then defaulted on the contract. The county has typically allowed them to get another repurchase contract.
In March 2019, Pine County Deputy Auditor Terry Lovgren explained the repeated abuse by several property owners whose forfeiture was due to non-payment of real estate taxes.
Lovgren told the board last week, concerning denial of repurchasing property, “This is not something we take lightly.“
Those who abuse the process have failed to pay off the contract and taxes numerous times and the property goes into tax forfeiture. They request repurchase of the property and the cycle begins again.
The county board agreed, in March, when there is a default on the contract to repurchase, the decision will be brought to the board which has discretion to decide whether repurchase will be allowed.
Pine County Auditor-Treasurer Kelly Schroeder presented the first case to commissioners since their consensus on abuse of repurchase contracts last spring.
The property owner, Bashir Moghul, was present with his attorney at Tuesday’s board meeting. Repurchase of two properties he owns in Pine County were brought before the board.
Both were purchased in 2003 and have had numerous repurchase contracts and failures to pay those contracts and new taxes over the past 16 years.
Moghul’s attorney, Chelsea Troth, pled his case for repurchase to the board calling Moghul a hard-working man who has already submitted a check to the county to pay the delinquent taxes. She said he was present, ready and willing to pay for the property. She said it was unfair to lose the property because of one year of taxes and it was in the public interest to put the properties back on the tax rolls. She added that Moghul was moving forward with the eviction process for those living in the properties.
Over the past eight years, Pine County Sheriff’s Deputies have been called to the two properties 85 times including calls reporting criminal activity such as warrants on drug possession, counterfeiting of currency and theft.
The board requested, in March, that sufficient background information be provided to them so they could make an informed decision on any repurchase.
State Statute 282.241 authorizes the board to deny or approve the request for repurchase while taking into account whether an undue hardship or injustice would be created by denying the repurchase.
Moghul’s properties had their repurchase contracts cancelled on July 15, 2019.
Schroeder said the staff’s recommendation is, “Denying the repurchase request because it will not serve the public interest and there is no undue hardship or injustice to remedy.”
Pine County Attorney Reese Fredrickson referenced Moghul’s court history and the county’s law enforcement resources being used to serve warrants and investigate complaints.
Pick News researched Moghul and found 57 criminal/traffic petty case records beginning back in 1996, in multiple counties including Hennepin, Anoka, Ramsey and Isanti County. Also discovered were 93 cases under Civil, Family and Probate Case Records in Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Scott and Pine County beginning in 1995 with a personal injury case.
Commissioners commented on the case, with Chairman Josh Mohr stating that contracts had been abused and the standard is the public interest and undue hardship.
Commissioner Steve Chaffee said the county goes through the repurchase process and then again in four years when the property owner doesn’t pay, they start all over.
Mohr made a motion to deny Moghul’s repurchase which was seconded and unanimously approved 5-0.
MN Voters must reveal their party preference
to receive ballot at presidential primary election
by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Voting should be uncomplicated to encourage people to get to the polls and vote.
Politicians and special interest groups never fail to bring up how voting should be sacred and tamper-proof.
It may seem like politicians are getting a head start on the 2020 elections, bashing their opponents and promoting themselves. Voters will begin suffering through combative and shameful television advertising earlier than usual with Minnesota Legislature’s new edict of March presidential primaries.
Minnesota State Legislators and Governor Dayton decided they needed to complicate the process one more time. There will be two primaries. There will be a presidential primary on March 3, 2020, and a primary for all the other elected offices on August 11.
When a voter walks up to the registration table at the presidential primary, they will be asked to choose a party. They will be handed a ballot from one of four major parties: Republican, Democrat, Legal Marijuana Now Party or Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party.
For those voters residing in a mail-in ballot precinct, and there are quite of few of those in Pine County, each voter will receive four ballots by mail. But, they can only use one of the ballots. They will have to pick the party of their candidate and vote on that ballot only.
Absentee voters must also request a ballot for one party.
No more confidential voting in the presidential primary.
Pine County Auditor Treasurer, Kelly Schroeder, told PiCK News after the Sept. 3, 2019, county board meeting, she and county staff will be attending educational classes about the presidential primary. She confirmed there is likely to be concern about residents having to announce their party before receiving a ballot.
This will bring about resistance from voters who may say they do not want to tell anyone the party of their choice. It could cause disruption at the polls when voters are told they will not receive a ballot unless they choose a party.
Separate presidential primaries have been held before, in Minnesota. The first in 1916, was held on March 14, with three parties on the ballot, Republican, Democrat and the Prohibition Party.
On March 18, 1952, there was a separate presidential primary with candidates in the Democratic and Republican Party.
Four years later, Estes Kefauver won the bid for the Democrats and Dwight Eisenhower won the Republican bid on March 20, 1956.
In 1992, April 27, there was a closed presidential primary for Independent Republican Party, which means only registered party members could vote in the Republican Party’s primary. The Democrats also participated in the primary but it was called a “beauty contest” because the DFL delegates were already chosen at the Democratic caucuses on March 3, of that year.
Minnesota is one of 14 states holding primaries on Super Tuesday March 3, 2020. Primaries for all other elected offices in Minnesota will be held on August 11, 2020.
A Voting and Elections Forum will be held at Pine Technical Community College, in Pine City, on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019, from 11 a.m. until noon. Attending will be MN Secretary of State Steve Simon, Pine County Auditor-Treasurer Kelly Schroeder, Government and History Faculty Phil Arg, Ph.D. and Student Senate Representative Joshua Dake.
Deadly EIA confirmed in Pine County animal
Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Equine infectious anemia (EIA), a viral disease affecting horses, donkeys, and mules was confirmed by a Minnesota veterinarian in Pine County on Thursday, August 8. The veterinarian reported the affected horse was tested as part of routine screening shortly after being purchased from another Minnesota premises. Animal health officials quarantined the premises and the horse was euthanized. They are investigating to identify any additional potentially exposed horses. EIA poses no known risk to people.
PiCK News contacted Pine County Veterinarian Delores Gockowski to give more detailed information about EIA.
Though horses require Coggins testing before being exhibited at an event, trail rides don’t necessarily require testing, Gockowski said.
“I tell people, ‘You sell a horse, you do the test.’”
She said,”Losing a horse can be heartbreaking because they’re more than just a service animal.”
There are three forms of EIA, she explained. With the acute form of EIA, the animal gets sick and dies quickly because the disease wipes out the red blood cells.
In the chronic form of EIA, the animal gets sick and then gets well over and over until the animal dies.
In the unapparent carrier form, they never know the animal has EIA.
“I advise my clients to do the EIA test before buying an animal. And, anytime you go on a trail ride, consider whether or not the animals on the ride have been tested.”
The Minnesota Board of Animal Health requires EIA infected horses be euthanized or quarantined for life because there is no vaccine or treatment, and once a horse is infected it remains a carrier for life and may not display any clinical signs. Horses must have a negative blood test for EIA (Coggins test) within 12 months of importation into Minnesota or before being exhibited at a public event.
“The Board’s testing rules are in place to survey for this disease and prevent it from spreading,” said Equine Program Director, Dr. Courtney Wheeler. “Even if you own a horse that never leaves your property, we encourage testing for EIA routinely and avoiding shows or events where there are no testing requirements.”
EIA is primarily spread through horse and deer fly bites. People can also spread it between horses by using contaminated needles or other equipment not sanitized after working with infected horses, mules or donkeys.
Biosecurity is the best way to prevent many diseases like EIA. Some best practices include insect and pest control to reduce potentially infected flies from biting animals. Other measures, like cleaning and disinfecting equipment and supplies, and isolating new horses until they’re tested for EIA are recommended. Minimizing or eliminating contact between non-exposed and infected horses is instrumental in preventing spread of the disease.
Pine County Engineer LeBrun wants board to renew transit tax before its sunset in 2026
by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Pine County Engineer Mark LeBrun encouraged the Pine County Board, at the regular August meeting, to look at renewing the transit tax before the end of it’s 10-year life. Extending the transit tax can be done before projects are completed. Road projects had to be defined before the transit tax could be approved in August of 2026.
The $10 per vehicle Wheelage Tax was cancelled at that time and replaced by the transit tax.
The .5 percent transit sales tax began being added to goods and services in the county on Jan. 1, 2017. Since that date through July 10, 2019, the county has collected $2,541,941 in transit sales tax. It is set to continue until $8,450,000 has been collected or no longer than 10 years.
LeBrun told PiCK News the board can renew the tax and extend that ending date at any time. Projects can be added and removed. He said if they were removed they would be moved and placed under regularly funded projects.
Commissioner Steve Hallan said the county is collecting more money than anticipated.
“The economy must be good,” he said.
Hallan said the county will have collected the total project funding in seven to eight years and the board should look at what they want to do with a resolution. He said they could stop the resolution and start another one but they shouldn’t wait until the last month.
Commissioner Matt Ludwig asked how close they are getting on estimated costs for the projects that are being funded by the transit tax.
“We’re in the ballpark,” LeBrun said.
Here is a partial list of items and services Pine County residents saw tax increases on beginning in 2017:
- Building materials, supplies and equipment sold to contractors, subcontractors and builders.
- computer software
- taxable candy and soft drinks
- dining out
- delivery charges including shipping and handling for taxable items and services
- charges to produce, fabricate, print or process
- installation labor - building cleaning and maintenance
- motor vehicle towing, washing and rustproofing
- pet grooming,
- parking services
- pay television services, pay-per-view, direct satellite
- fees for athletic clubs
- garbage service
- alcohol -
- plus an increase in all taxable items purchased at a grocery store such as toilet paper and paper towels
Pine County Commissioners approve extending low interest loans for septic system upgrades
by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Residents can continue to apply to Pine County for loans to upgrade their septic systems.
Pine County Commissioners passed a resolution, at last week’s regular meeting, to amend the 2016 Clean Water Partnership Loan Agreement with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA.
The county already had a low income loan program in 2016 to assist residents with septic system upgrades when they approved the original resolution.
A $600,000 bond was also approved by the board in August 2016. It’s purpose was to repay the MPCA clean water partnership loan.
It is a low-interest loan program to replace non-compliant septic systems.
Land and Resource Manager Caleb Anderson told the board over the past three years, 44 non-compliant systems have been replaced. He told commissioners the county needs a little more time because there are residents who have applied for the loan and have been approved. The original loan program was for three years and allows for an extension of one year.
Anderson also asked that an additional $300,000 be available for loans. To date, $445,764.81 of the original loan has been used.
He also said the department did not know how quickly the original fund would be depleted. There is a 2 percent charge on the loan and a 3 percent charge for administration of the loan by the county, Anderson explained.
Pine County Administrator David Minke presented a second quarter budget update.
He told commissioners expenditures “look really good for the middle of the year.”
According to his chart of expenditures, of the 20 county departments, five are over 50 percent in expenditures at mid-year. They are Information Technology (IT), Attorney, Recorder (at 70 percent), Sheriff and Probation.
Minke said overtime in the salaries and wages fund was at 60 percent. He said most of that overtime is generated by the sheriff’s department operations and jail.
Pine Co. joins opioid lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies
by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Pine County Attorney Reese Fredrickson explained to commissioners, at lhe July 2, 2019 regular meeting, the benefits of joining lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies to recover the costs incurred by the county due to the opioid epidemic.
Fredrickson provided statistics which spelled out the cost to Minnesotans.
The statistics showed the increase in deaths from prescription painkillers between 1999 and 2014, in Minnesota, were directly related to the quadrupled sales of opioid prescriptions during those years. Opioid overdoses have increased 200 percent. In 2017, 401 Minnesotans died of opioid overdoses.
The cost to counties include health care for treatment, increased law enforcement costs for opioid related crimes, equipment and training for lifesaving Narcan dosing by emergency services, drug-related criminal activity requiring additional law enforcement and related increases in child welfare services.
“Deaths from opioid overdoses outnumber deaths from gun shots and motor vehicle accidents combined,” Fredrickson told the board.
Law firms contacted Pine County about joining the lawsuits, which have been initiated across the United States. There is no cost to the county to join the suit, Fredricson said.
Commissioner Steve Chaffee asked if the purposes of the lawsuits were to get rid of the opioids completely. Fredrickson did have an answer but said bankrupting the pharmaceutical companies could be the outcome.
Opioids are still being prescribed by doctors. What’s to prevent the pharmaceutical companies from increasing the price in response to the suits, PiCK News reporter Ailene Croup asked.
Fredrickson said the pharmaceutical companies have made billions and billions of dollars and increasing the cost of the drugs could happen.
Commissioner Matt Ludwig asked if there was a reason for “jumping in” to join the lawsuit.
Fredrickson said it might be better to join the lawsuit sooner than later in case the lawsuit settles early.
Commissioner Steve Hallan asked If the county were to be awarded a settlement, could the money go toward stopping addiction.
“Absolutely,” was Fredrickson’s response.
In 2018, there were 582 victims of addiction, Health and Human Services Director Becky Foss told the board. She added, in Pine County, methamphetamine and alcohol are still the number one abused substances.
The board voted unanimously to join in the opioid lawsuits.
Sheriff Jeff Nelson told PiCK News deputies are trained to deliver lifesaving Narcan. They have even given Narcan to the same victim twice in six hours.
He said if someone encounters a person who they suspect has overdosed, and Narcan is not available, the best thing they can do is to give the victim airway support.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MNDH) just released preliminary data from 2018 which shows a decline in opioid death from 2017 to 2018.
MNDH included this statement from Tony Lourey.
Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey recognized the positive trend, but believes more work needs to be done. “Minnesota is working to end the opioid crisis by investing in a range of prevention, emergency response, treatment and recovery strategies,” Lourey said. “The decrease we’re seeing in opioid deaths tells us our approach is the right one. We must continue to help those who are struggling with addiction and stop the damaging effects illicit opioid use has on people, families and communities.”
Pine County Commissioners approve $65,000 settlement in one of the three known lawsuits against the county
by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
The new North Pine Government Center in Sandstone, built to house some of Pine County government’s offices such as Health and Human Services and Veteran’s Services, will open in June.
Pine County Board, which will meet for its second monthly meeiing in the new building, held its last regularly scheduled meeting at the Pine County History Museum in Askov, Tuesday, May 21, 2019.
The meeting ended with two closed sessions.
When the board reconvened after the first closed session, they voted to approve a settlement in the lawsuit brought against Pine County by former County Recorder Tamara Tricas.
Tricas, who had worked for the county for 24 years and had been the Pine County Recorder since 2003, filed suit against Pine County after being terminated from her position.
According to Tricas’ 2017 pretrial statement of case:
“On December 7, 2016, Tricas was called into Schroeder’s office (County Assessor Kelly Schroeder). Human Resources Director Ms. Connie Mikrot (“Mikrot”), was also present. Without warning, Tricas was told that her job had been eliminated by the County Board and that her responsibilities were terminated effective immediately.”
In the statement of the case, Tricas indicated what led to the termination was her request to take her autistic son to the Fraser Academy one day a week for treatment.
At last week’s board meeting, commissioners approved a settlement with Tricas.
The news release handed out after the closed meeting stated the Recorder’s position was eliminated due to a “budget deficit” and the action “has saved the county over $90,000 per year.”
It also stated there was a summary judgement by Judge Michael J. Davis who ruled in the county’s favor on three of the four claims brought by Tricas. They were the claim of age discrimination, invasion of privacy and FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) interference.
“The remaining claim, FMLA retaliation, was set for a jury trial in June 2019. In the judge’s summary judgement ruling, he noted that it was not clear if the position was eliminated for lack of work or for budget issues, and for that reason the issue should be presented to a jury.”
The parties reached a tentative agreement in the court-mandated settlement conference on May 15, 2019 subject to the County Board’s approval.
“The settlement pays Tricas and her attorney $65,000. The county will contribute $21,500 of the amount and the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust will provide $43,500. Under the settlement agreement, neither party admits to any liability and Tricas releases any and all claims and agrees to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice. The settlement is made solely to avoid additional attorney’s fees and costs which would be incurred to proceed to trial which could exceed the settlement amount.”
The next closed meeting concerned the county’s taking by eminent domain of a portion of the James and Wilda Obey property in rural Munch Township. A judge upheld the county’s case for eminent domain, and a hearing to determine Obey’s damages was held May 1. A panel of appointed land commissioners will decide the amount Obeys will be paid for their land, the overseeing Land Trust and the landowners who access their properties via the Obey’s land.
Commissioners had no decision on the Obey’s case when they reconvened at last week’s county board meeting.
PiCK News learned the county is also embroiled in another lawsuit.
Jared and Wendy Rosati have filed suit against Pine County, Pine County Department of Health and Human Services, Rebecca Foss as Director of Pine County Department of Health and Human Services, Pine County Sheriff’s, Jane Doe (the Reporter) and Jeff Nelson as Sheriff of Pine County Sheriff’s Office.
The “Plaintiff’s Statement of the Case” begins with, “In 1998, 2006, and 2014, Jared Rosati ran for Pine County Sheriff on a platform critical of Pine County government.
The claim concerns an 80-acre property and its sale to the Rosatis by a woman, a longtime friend and neighbor of the Rosatis, who had been removed from her home by Pine County Health and Human Services.
The Rosatis are suing for $1 million claiming Statutory Damages of $150,000, Past Emotional Trauma/Stress/Anxiety $300,000, Future Emotional Trauma/Stress/Anxiety $300,000, Tarnished Reputation $300,000, Attorney’s Fees $30,000.
The case was filed in United States District Court on Dec. 31, 2019.
Local assessors' charges more economical for townships than Pine County Assessor's
by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Townships around Pine County just completed their Board of Appeal and Equalization meetings. During those meetings, township residents had the opportunity to appeal the tax assessment on their property in front of their own township board.
At Tuesday’s regular Pine County Board meeting, Auditor/Treasurer Kelly Schroeder gave a powerpoint presentation explaining why there should be an increase in the county’s charge for assessment of county residents’ properties. She and Pine County Assessor Lorri Houtsma also stated mistakes are being made by local assessors as one reason why residential properties should be assessed by the county as opposed to townships hiring their own local assessors.
Currently, 18 of the 33 townships contract with the county to have parcels in their jurisdiction assessed. All townships’ are charged for assessment of commercial properties which is only done by the county. In the townships not assessed by the county, the assessor’s office still charges townships $1.50 for each residential property.
Assessments from local assessors are due to the county by February 1, each year. Schroder said that gives the county only six weeks to get the tax statements printed and it isn’t enough time. She also said the $1.50 for every parcel in the county isn’t enough for all the work the assessor’s office does.
The local assessor isn’t always going out and measuring. Sometimes the building being constructed can be larger than approved with the permit, Houtsma said.
Commissioner Steve Chaffee asked about the new licensing required by the state for local and county assessors.
Schroeder told commissioners,”So, the three local assessors that we’ve had in this county for years, have pretty much all said they’re not going to go through the new licensing. However, now all of a sudden this year we have two Chisago County employees who now are going to do local assessing in Pine County.”
PiCK News asked one of Pine County’s three local assessors to comment on the new licensing. She said she intends to go through the licensing process and it really isn’t a difficult procedure and that the new licensing isn’t required for three years. Fisher also said that over the years she has been assessing, the local assessors have been doing more and more of the work.
Chisago County assessors, who are licensed and work in their assessor’s department, are “moonlighting” to assess properties in Pine County, Schroeder informed the board. She objected to assessors from another county taking that money from this county rather than paying Pine County assessors. Schroeder who was the Pine County Assessor before being appointed Auditor/Treasurer is a resident of Isanti County. Houtsma, who was appointed to replace her, lives in Kanabec County. She has worked in the Pine County assessor’s office for several years.
Schroeder questioned why any township would use an assessor other than the county’s assessor as she looked toward reporter Ailene Croup, who is also a Pine County Township Clerk.
Croup responded, “Because it’s cheaper.”
The local assessor who spoke to PiCK News is not a resident of Pine County, has been assessing properties in seven townships in Pine County for many years. She said the local assessors from Chisago County helped out a local assessor with assessing townships where one of the assessors has contracts. They are licensed and qualified.
Local assessors charge townships approximately $6 per parcel for assessment according to the power point presentation. The county bills separately for their charge which can be $1.50 per parcel to $2.37 per parcel. Schroeder said the county’s charge depends on how many commercial properties are in that jurisdiction. The county assessor also assesses city properties.
The powerpoint showed the Pine County Assessor charging $8.75 to $12 per parcel for township assessment contracts.
She asked the board to increase the parcel assessment price by 25 cents.
Commissioner Steve Hallan said all properties should be assessed in the same manner to make it fair.
There are 30,503 parcels in Pine County. The county assesses 19,897 and local assessors do 10,636 parcels.
Schroeder’s report outlined the statutes which allow the county taking over all the assessments. The county board may, by resolution, appoint an assessor and terminate the local assessors according to the statute.
Schroeder also told the board they would need to increase the budget to accommodate another employee if they had 4,000 more parcels to assess.
Schroeder said if the county went to “true county” assessing where the county assessed all properties, it would cost the taxpayers and additional $283,000.
The board approved increasing the assessment charges 25 cents per parcel.
MN House bill HF 2209 would change name of St. Croix State Park
by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
St. Croix State Park is the largest of Minnesota’s 57 state parks, at over 34,000 acres. It is named for the St. Croix River which runs through it. A bill in the State House of Representatives would change the park’s name to Walter F. Mondale State Park. It would have happened without fanfare or input from the residents of this area.
Pine County Board approved resolution 2019-20, at Tuesday’s regular board meeting, which requests the State House of Representatives remove the renaming of the park from the Omnibus Natural Resources bill to allow public comment on the proposal.
Newly elected District 11B Representative Nathan Nelson and newly elected District 11 Senator Jason Rarick were both present at the meeting to give input and take questions from the board.
Farther down the St. Croix River at Taylors Falls, Minnesota Interstate State Park was in the original bill to be named after Mondale. But, after public outcry to keep the Interstate Park’s name, the chief author of the bill - HF2209, Rep. Ryan Winkler decided to find another park.
The bill has been passed through the House Ways and Means Committee.
Rep. Nelson said there has been a “…loud, strong message…keep the name of the St. Croix State Park.” Transitioning into the new elected position mid-session has put Nelson at a loss not knowing the issues being presented for a vote.
He said he understand’s Rep. Winkler wanting to honor Mondale, who was instrumental in protecting waterways with Scenic River designations. But, Nelson added, according to state statute it cannot be named after someone who is living. Nelson ventured an opinion that he didn’t think Mondale would care to have his name wrapped up in such controversy.
What Nelson found most disturbing was the lack of public input on the St. Croix State Park name change. There were no public hearings on the subject.
He had a meeting with Rep. Winkler who he said was willing to make a “trade,” such as funding to save Grindstone River Dam in Hinckley.
Nelson is not in favor of a trade.
PiCK News reporter Ailene Croup spoke with Senator Rarick following the meeting and learned he was very upset that the legislative process did not including public input to change the park’s name. He also objected to it being lumped in an omnibus bill and not being brought forward to give it proper attention for public review. He said, the Senate bill has had the name change language stripped from it.
Commissioners’ comments included Matt Ludwig’s who was not in favor of the State renaming the park.
Commissioner Steve Chaffee said this change would be in his district and he wasn’t even given a “courtesy call.”
”We aren’t the deciders,” said Commissioner Steve Hallan. He said the Pine County Board didn’t conduct business this way and that their should be public input..
Tim Williams, Executive Director of the Hinckley Convention and Visitors Bureau, called St. Croix State Park the “crown jewel” of the area. The activities at the park promote tourism in the area and changing the name would affect that negatively and it would be costly for the State to change the name.
Director of the Hinckley Chamber of Commerce, Charlene Gufkin, said the Chamber is not in favor of the name change and lawmakers “need to make sure this isn’t shoved down our throats.”
Pine County Commissioners approve property tax increase, employee wage increases despite farmer's plea for lower taxes
by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Pine County Commissioners held their final regular meeting for 2018, last Tuesday, in Askov, and completed their duties required by state law.
According to Minnesota State Statute 275.07 Subd. 1, commissioners are required to adopt their final 2019 property tax levies and their final 2019 budget no later than Dec. 28, 2018.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance, Chairman Steve Hallan opened the public forum.
Sandstone Township farmer, Morris Carlson, asked to speak.
“Guys, I ain’t going to be able to stay farming much longer if you keep doing what your doing. My home place (taxes) went up 34.2 percent. My valuation went $106,000 more. The land - they raised $100 per acre.”
Carlson said the county changed the classification on the two remodeled homes on his property. He and his wife have one and his granddaughter has the other. One was built in 1924 and the other in 1918.
“It’s discouraging. I don’t know what to do,” he added. None of his taxes went down, Carlson explained. Taxes on one house went up 34.1 percent and the other went up 39.2 percent. Net taxes went up over $1,300 on one house and over $400 on the other.
“I’ve worked all my life farming…Please do something,” Carlson pled.
The Carlsons requested to have the county review the increases earlier this year, but they never heard anything more.
“I don’t know what to think. We’ll keep plugging along.”
Commissioner Matt Ludwig thanked Carlson for coming to the board meeting.
Carlson quoted a verse from the Bible. “Now the making of many books, there is no end. That’s the laws, rules, orders and everything else. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. - Fear God and keep His commandments, Carlson said.
“That’s what’s frustrating to me. We’ve ruled God totally out of the picture. Schools. Society. Government. I guess that’s all I have to say.”
The chapter ends with - For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. -
Carlson talked about not being in compliance with zoning on a couple tracts of his land. He said he wasn’t “mean” but “firm” when he told Caleb Anderson, who works under land management for the county and reviews residents compliance with the state’s buffer law, that they could not come on his property.
The county has the aerial pictures of his property and Carlson said they will comply if they have to and they were working on it.
“We’ll do the best we can. I guess I wanted it to be at my family’s and my judgement, not someone else telling me what I can and can’t do.”
Hallan asked if Carlson looked at the township and the school tax on his property tax statement saying, “…probably percentage-wise (they) have a bigger increase.”
Sandstone Township has not increased their levy for five years.
When Pine County increases the market value (valuation) of resident’s property, it affects all taxes - school and township based on what the county says is the value of a resident’s property. A resident whose property value increases will pay a bigger portion of the township’s levy even though that levy stays the same.
Carlson thanked the board and left.
Personnel Committee recommendations
Ludwig, who is the board’s representative on the personnel committee, outlined their recommendations.
They included raising the Pine County Board chairman’s salary by $1,200 and keeping “per diem at for certain meetings” at $100. Commissioners and employees will receive mileage reimbursement at the federal rate which is 54.5 cents per mile.
Also, recommended for approval was the county ‘scontribution for health insurance for commissioners, other elected officials and non-union employees. The county will be paying more for employees health insurance in 2019.
The personnel committee also recommended a 6 percent salary increase for County Attorney Reese Fredrickson for a 2019 salary of $116,770 and a 6 percent increase for Pine County Sheriff Jeff Nelson to $105,512.
Also on the list of recommendations was approval of a 3 percent cost of living increase for all non-union and non-elected employees.
Ludwig made a motion to approve the personnel committee’s recommendations and it was unanimously approved 4-0. Commissioner Josh Mohr did not attend the board meeting.
Set 2019 property tax and budget
Hallan said the board had been working on the property tax levy for six months.
Ludwig made a motion to increase the 2019 levy to $18,790,664. It was approved 4-0.
The 2019 property tax increase is 4.9 percent higher than 2018. Commissioners approved a property tax levy decrease in 2012 which remained at $14,075,000 for two years. Every year since 2014, property taxes have gone up totaling more than $4.7 million in increases.
“We’re at a point where the public is pushing back a little,” Ludwig said when they got to the 2019 budget portion of the agenda.
Hallan told the board at a budget meeting, before the preliminary levy was set in September, they would not be using fund reserves to balance the budget which would have resulted in no tax increase.
However, after finalizing the levy, Administrator David Minke said the county would be using general fund reserves to pay for furnishings in the new building, in Sandstone.
In a meeting earlier this year, the board discussed employees in the new building closing their own furnishings . Furnishings totaled nearly $400,000.
The board then approved the 2019 budget 4-0.