breaking news history

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.
Confused yet?
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,


- massages


- parking services


- pay television services, pay-per-view, direct satellite


- fees for athletic clubs


- garbage service


- alcohol
-

tobacco


- 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.
Budget
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.

DNA testing may take mystery out of missing persons search

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Fifty years ago my Dad went to work and never came home. I wanted answers. The search for those answers began with me filing a missing persons report in January 2015.
Pine County Sheriff’s Deputy Barry Sjodahl swabbed my cheek for DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). My brother also provided DNA. It is now in the national missing person’s database.
My Dad was, by trade, a house painter and had his own business in the Twin Cities before moving north to Pine County in 1961. He would take on extra jobs in the metro area to support my mother and the seven of us children. Everyone worked.
We had paper routes, we were waitresses, we washed dishes, mowed lawns - we all had jobs. It was that work ethic which was the fabric of families back then.
I was living in Duluth with my sister, Carol in the summer of 1967. She and I had bought bus tickets to visit Mom and Dad for Father’s Day, June 19, 1967. It was a fun visit with cake and gifts for Dad. I remember the blue cotton fishing hat we bought him.
The day ended too soon. Dad drove us out to Tobies and we boarded the bus for the return trip to Duluth.
Later, I would look back on that moment, wishing that last kiss, last hug, last goodbye would have been longer, would have said much more about what was in my heart instead of being just in the moment.
The next morning, the hat and other Father’s Day momentos were tucked into a box along with some salami, homemade bread and pickles. Dad would be staying with grandpa in the Cities, as he occasionally did when he was hired to do some painting. This one was an inside painting job - a two-story apartment building.
Dad told mom he expected to be finished on Wednesday and would be home late that day. If he ran into problems, he would call and be home the next day.
I had been contemplating moving back to Hinckley and the idea was reinforced by my trip home.
A friend from Hinckley, who was attending college in Duluth, called that Monday. He apologized for not having been in contact with me sooner. We exchanged news of the past year and he said he was moving back home for the summer. I asked if he had room in his car for my stuff. There wasn’t much. We found a way to squeeze it all in and headed to Hinckley that day.
Mom was pleased. There was always room for one more. Moving home meant pulling my weight. I immediately got a job at local restaurant working evenings.
My youngest brother was only four months old and Mom had just gone back to work. She needed someone to watch him during the day. She worked mornings at the same restaurant. The plan was for me to take care of my brother while she worked.
I made it home from my shift that Wednesday about 11:30 p.m. Dad hadn’t made it home yet. Mom said he had not called so he’d probably be pretty late. We all went to bed.
He didn’t come home the next day and he didn’t call. Mom planned to call grandpa if Dad wasn’t home Friday morning,
Bright and early Friday morning, she called before going to work. Grandpa said he had not seen Dad at all. Mom called several friends in the metro area. They had not seen him.
She was upset. The next call was to the Pine County Sheriff’s Office. They said “technically” he hadn’t been missing 48 hours because he said he would be home Thursday. She was instructed to call the sheriff’s department on Monday if he didn’t show up over the weekend.
This was not like Dad. There was no consoling Mom. I don’t know how she did it but she went to work that morning.
The weekend was unbearably long. Mom cried a lot. We called everyone who could possible know Dad’s whereabouts, to no avail. Lifelong friends of Mom and Dad came to stay with us and offer Mom support. Mom didn’t sleep.
Monday morning finally came and we were hungry for any news or help we could get from the sheriff.
Mom repeated the story about Dad not making it home. The response was cold. They considered Dad’s disappearance “a domestic” and said they would not get involved.
Mom slept with the light on for months. She didn’t sleep much. We went about our business at a mechanical pace, a day at a time. Slowly the tears turned to resolve. Mom worked 10 hours a day, six days a week for $1.10 an hour. She said she was determined to keep us all together. And, she did.
Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole, and Sheriff Jeff Nelson after him, proved law enforcement has changed over the last 50 years by taking information about my Dad’s disappearance along with my DNA.
There is now a ray of hope to solve old and new missing persons’ cases.
Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is hoping to match the DNA of 100 unidentified remains by providing opportunities for people to voluntarily provide DNA to locate missing family members.
BCA Public Information Officer Jill Oliveira, with the Department of Public Safety, told PiCK News that there are a series of collection opportunities scheduled over a two-week period. The first was held Saturday in St. Paul. Nine people came to the location to provide information about family members and offer their DNA. The second was held Tuesday, in Duluth and Wednesday it was held in Bemidji.
For those families who were unable to attend any of the first three, there will be one more opportunity to provide DNA and information at the Blue Earth County Justice Center, 401 Carver Road, Mankato, Minn.,, on Thursday, July 27, 2017, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. This is an updated location.
Hope is there.
Oliveira offered one example of a 30-year-old missing person’s case.
Family members of 19-year-old Cassandra Rhines, who was last seen in Minneapolis in June of 1985, came forward to offer DNA in hopes of solving Rhines disappearance. No matches were found in the missing persons’ database.
In 2016, a few months later, her remains were found at Gooseberry Falls and they were able to identify her from those samples and give the family closure.
Oliveira recommended to those who have old or new missing family members come to the Mankato collection to speak with BCA agents to explain the conditions of the disappearance and volunteer their DNA. The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center will have staff on hand to provide family support, Oliveira said.
No one has ever come forward with any information about my Dad. His Social Security Number has not been used since he went to work the day after Father’s Day, in 1967. My hope is that through providing my DNA, my Dad’s disappearance will be solved.