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State legislation could cost Cass $100,00

BACKUS — Cass County could lose almost $100,000 state payment in lieu of tax (PILT) if proposed state legislation passes this session, Land Commissioner Joshua Stevenson informed the county board Tuesday.

The Minnesota House overwhelmingly approved the bill the same morning.

The state bill would remove school trust land management from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and create a new state agency to manage those lands. Sections 16 and 36 in every township were set aside as school trust land in the state’s early days.

Over the years, some of that land has gone into private ownership or to the U.S. Forest Service, but a large share of it in Cass still remains in the state school trust.

More northern Minnesota land remains in the school trust than in southern counties. Because more northern counties have timber on their land, they also are more likely today to have a county land management department to manage their own land, but not school trust property.

The House and Senate bills on this issue arose because the DNR profits from school trust land management have been low compared with high expenditures on them, Stevenson said.

Minnesota legislators would like to see a higher return and lower costs. Minnesota Association of County Land Commissioners (MACLC) opposes the bill.

Cass County sells only about 2 percent of the timber on county owned and managed lands, but generates $1 million annually from those sales to offset county property taxes, Stevenson said. He would prefer to see school trust land here go under county land department management than to see a new state agency created.

Not all state or county managed land is upland timber, Stevenson said, citing extensive swamp areas. The concept should be to earn enough from timber land to more than offset any money spent on the swamp land, he said.

Not only will Cass County lose PILT under the state bill, but schools and townships also will lose their share of that Cass allotment. Stevenson believes if the county could manage the school trust lands for the state here, his department could generate more than the lost PILT.

Another bill this session that Stevenson and MACLC do support would enable counties to exchange county tax forfeited land with state school trust land. This would enable counties to consolidate public and private ownerships or state and county ownerships in logical areas rather than by a set section of a township, he explained.

The commissioners took no action Tuesday on either proposed state bill.

They did vote to designate certain areas of Deep Portage Conservation Reserve around the nature center and dormitory buildings as “preserve” and/or “no-hunting” areas as a part of naming Deep Portage an “area with limitations”.

Certain access points also will be designated as motorized accesses or as non-motorized. Izaak Walton League will provide signs at gates for the access roads.

All four townships overlapping Deep Portage passed resolutions of support earlier.

Stevenson obtained board approval to purchase a 40-acre tract on the north shore of George Lake in Thunder Lake Township using money the DNR approved from the 3/8-cent outdoor heritage sales tax.

The parcel is surrounded by public land and abuts the shallow, wild rice lake. It has medium timber value, Stevenson said. Thunder Lake Township approved the purchase earlier.

The board approved allowing the DNR to conduct boat inspections and flushing of boats to prevent invasive species spread at the 10 public boat landing sites the county currently owns.

Superior Forest Services Inc. presented the lowest of four bids and won the contract to plant 95,200 red pine and jack pine seedlings on county land this spring for $53.80 per thousand seedlings.

The board set a public hearing for the April 17 regular meeting to discuss a proposed land exchange with Brad and Laura Zubke in Leech Lake Township.

Due to delays in providing an aerial survey of county land, the board agreed to contractor Infrared Baron’s proposal to reduce the contract amount by $3,750. The original contract was for $21,700. The survey was done in the spring of 2011.

Minnesota DNR will provide $6,300 for Soo Line Trail maintenance this year under an annual agreement.