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Request for refund of tax dollars viewed as 'banana peel on a slippery slope'

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Refunding property tax dollars to a township because it has its own planning and zoning may seem like a trickle that could lead to a flood gate.

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At least that was part of the argument during Tuesday’s Crow Wing County Board meeting.

Commissioner Paul Koering brought forward a request from his constituents. Crow Wing Township wanted to get a refund of property tax levy dollars saying those dollars it is contributing should come back as the township has its own planning and zoning. Koering asked Land Services to do an analysis of the per person cost in the township and what could go back to them. The amount was $1,315.45. Koering requested the amount on the township’s behalf.

Commissioner Paul Thiede wondered what would happen if the plowing of roads was based on a cost per service and one area of the county received more snow than another. Thiede asked if that was the direction Koering was taking this.

Koering said he was trying to be a good public servant and serve the people he’s representing. Crow Wing Township could have the county handle its planning and zoning and save money, Koering said, but the township isn’t interested in that option at this time. Koering said he understood Thiede’s point and didn’t have a good argument for it.

There is a residual benefit to county residents for a base land use planning service the county provides, Houle said.

Houle likened it to law enforcement. The county sheriff’s department provides the base law enforcement countywide and covers cities or townships without their own constable. Other municipalities have chosen to have their own police departments.

“Would we contribute to the law enforcement agencies in each of the municipalities throughout the county?” Houle asked. “That’s why I think this is a banana peel on a slippery slope.

“Once you open this Pandora’s box, I think there is potentially no end to the degree of which you can be hit up on a fee for service kind of basis that’s just not the way property taxes work. ... Once they make a choice then every individual jurisdiction ought to live with the full consequences of that choice.”

Houle said if the township wants to save a substantial sum of money, it’s clear all they have to do is let the county do the planning and zoning.

The county’s past history of having a planning and zoning department that was inconsistent and difficult to deal with is one of the reasons the township wanted to be their own, Koering said. Whether he agreed or disagreed, Koering said he felt an obligation to bring the issue forward.

His motion to provide the refund failed for lack of a second. Koering thanked the board for its consideration.

Thiede said the township’s previous decision doesn’t lock it into that forever. Coming to the defense of Crow Wing Township may be at the expense of other townships in Koering’s district, Thiede said.

Koering asked if county staff could report the board’s decision and reach out to the township to see if there is new interest in having the county handle planning and zoning. Houle said the township supervisors are just trying to do their best and staff is happy to reach out to them.

Thiede suggested inviting Crow Wing Township supervisors and others townships to a committee meeting to discuss the topic. Koering agreed it was a good idea. Houle said the land use department has taken great pains to reach out to township boards and changed practices to keep townships more informed.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.

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Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
(218) 855-5852
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