Crow Wing County declines to support or oppose Wausau Paper waiver request
Crow Wing County commissioners voted to neither support nor deny a waiver request by Wausau Paper.
When Wausau Paper opened in Brainerd in 2004 it received JOBZ property tax benefits from the state, which were set to continue until 2015. Money the county, city and school district would have collected were returned to Wausau Paper, which agreed to provide a certain amount of jobs in return.
Wausau Paper closed in 2013. Crow Wing County Administrator Tim Houle said since Wausau Paper wasn’t able to fulfill its obligations it was sent an invoice for taxes due. Houle said the tangible benefit to the county would be $153,000 worth of taxes that otherwise would have come to the county Wausau Paper would have had to pay.
“In other words if the commissioner grants them a waiver we don’t get that $153,000,” Houle said of the commissioner of the Department of Revenue.
Wausau sent the county a letter saying it was planning to appeal. The law gives the county an opportunity to weigh in on the matter.
The Brainerd City Council voted Monday to oppose the waiver request. Waiver reasons are normally based on natural disaster, unforeseen industry trends, loss of a major supplier or contractor, Deborah Erickson, deputy auditor told commissioners. Commissioner Paul Thiede said he was against supporting or denying the waiver request.
In summary after hearing from Houle, Commissioner Paul Koering said his question to Thiede was since in his mind the employer didn’t meet its obligation to get the tax relief why shouldn’t the county ask for the money back?
Thiede then asked Houle how much input the county had in the initial granting of the JOBZ tax break. None, Houle replied.
Thiede said he saw no reason to get in the middle of the issue between Wausau and the state Department of Revenue. The revenue department will make a decision, Thiede said.
Thiede said he wanted to let the taxpayers of Crow Wing County know the board had nothing to do with the JOBZ decision, which was imposed by the state.
Now the county is being asked to be put on record to help the state collect it by saying Wausau has to comply.
Thiede said his point is once again the department of revenue has the ultimate say whether the company is forced to pay or not. Thiede said he was just drawing attention to the a taxpayer supported jobs program with a local impact. Thiede said up to now, he didn’t believe the board was able to make the point they were making Tuesday morning.
Koering said then what it really comes down to the department of revenue asking the county, city and school district to pile on this company and say the money is wanted now.
“So we can be the bad guys in the bad job climate that caused them to move away,” Thiede said. “How’s that for a political statement?”
Wausau agreed to it, but the county didn’t have anything to say about it in the first place, Thiede said.
Koering said he also wanted to be on record as not liking all the tax increment financing as it means everyone else has to pick up the freight. If people have a business, like Koering and Houge do, Koering said they have to sink or swim.
“You have to pay your tax just like everybody else,” Koering said.
Thiede said to be clear he would oppose granting a waiver but was also opposed to a resolution in favor of that because he wanted the department of revenue “to bear the freight,” Thiede said.
Koering compared it to the letters of recommendation he has been opposed to at past meetings. Koering moved the county board take no action on the issue. Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom seconded.
Thiede said if Board Chairwoman Rosemary Franzen had recognized him first he thinks he could have provided a better motion. His motion was the county neither supported nor opposed the waiver request by Wausau Paper noting it was the decision of the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Thiede said he wanted to make the point the decision the county had nothing to do with granting the JOBZ in the first place.
Koering then withdrew his motion and Thiede’s motion was unanimously approved.
Auditor-Treasurer Laureen Borden said the revenue department must consult with local units of government before making a decision by law. Borden said the county board can say it doesn’t care or choose not to respond.
“To me that is missing an opportunity,” Borden said.