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Crow Wing County: More than a million - Revenue surplus a measure of economic recovery

Tax-forfeited surplus surpassed $984,000 in 2006, 2007 and 2008 before dropping sharply in 2009 to $361,831. Between 2010 and 2014, the surplus averaged just over $390,000 annually with a low of $229,276 recorded in 2013. In 2015, the surplus more than doubled to $1,002,326—a figure not closely approached since 2008.

Just two other years in nearly 60 years of land management by Crow Wing County saw higher revenues than those garnered in 2015.

These revenues accounted for the sixth largest surplus from tax-forfeited lands in the same time frame, reaching more than $1 million for the first time since the Great Recession.

Chris Pence, land services supervisor, said the surplus, acquired through timber sales from the 105,000 acres of county-managed lands and the sale of tax-forfeited properties, is an indicator of a recovering economy in Crow Wing County.

"Back when everything crashed ... (the price of) aspen was going through the roof," Pence said. "When the market went down, you saw a lot of mills close. On the supply side, there wasn't as much need. ... This is a key marker in the economy that shows things are picking up."

Tax-forfeited surplus surpassed $984,000 in 2006, 2007 and 2008 before dropping sharply in 2009 to $361,831. Between 2010 and 2014, the surplus averaged just over $390,000 annually with a low of $229,276 recorded in 2013. In 2015, the surplus more than doubled to $1,002,326—a figure not closely approached since 2008.

"We're able to manage that (land) in a way that we pay all of our bills and we still have revenue left that's not tax dollars," Pence said.

The fluctuations in the tax-forfeited surplus revenue mirrors changes in the county's overall market value in Crow Wing County through the recession. The market value peaked in 2008 at $12 billion before dropping precipitously each year to a valley in 2013 at $9.5 billion. Each of the last two years have seen a rise in market value. In 2015, the value was once again approaching $10 billion countywide.

The surplus revenue collected from tax-forfeited lands cannot be spent on just anything—state law dictates to which funds these dollars must be allocated. A resolution passed Tuesday by the Crow Wing County Board approved the distribution of the funds.

Half of the surplus will be split between supporting costs of county recreation (40 percent) and the capital improvement fund (60 percent). County recreation funds are used for parks, county trails and county-owned public boat accesses. The capital improvement fund is used to improve county buildings and other physical assets.

Of the remaining half, 40 percent is distributed in the county general fund, 40 percent to school districts and 20 percent to townships and cities. Pence said these distributions are based upon whether timber or tax-forfeited property is sold within these taxing districts.

"Let's say we harvested some timber in Lake Edward Township and we have a surplus," Pence said. "They would receive their percentage of the timber that was cut in their township."

The largest beneficiary of the tax-forfeited surplus in 2015 is the Pine River-Backus School District, receiving $58,715. Allocations to cities and townships ranged from $16,312 to Timothy Township down to $2.85 each to Center and St. Mathias townships. Cities and townships receiving payments of more than $5,000 from the county are Fifty Lakes, Oak Lawn Township, Breezy Point, Baxter, Irondale Township and Mission Township.

Pence said although one of the main goals of managing county forests is to get timber to market, another focus is to properly manage forests for the benefit of water quality.

"What we do on the land has a positive impact on the economy and the environment at the same time," Pence said. "If there were no people, Mother Nature cuts down her own trees—through fire, through wind, through insects. When we manage a forest, we're replicating what Mother Nature would do if we weren't here."

Pence said when the county developed its water plan in 2013, an examination of the minor watersheds found more densely forested areas yielded higher water quality.

"More trees in the landscape equals clean water," Pence said.

Pence added this goes not only for parcels directly adjacent to the water's edge, but all properties.

"We all have different roles that we play," Pence said. "There's no silver bullet when it comes to water quality."

In other business, the county board:

Approved a contract with Tri City Paving for reconstruction of County Highway 45. The contract amount is for $1,297,427.

Approved a contract with Anderson Brothers Construction for road improvement projects on county highways 31, 32, 34 and 36. The engineer's estimate was $3,711,534, the same as the contracted amount.

Authorized the county engineer to solicit proposals from qualified consultants and enter an agreement to receive intersection improvement assessments. The request for board action stated there are a number of intersections warranting review for safety.

Approved a bridge bonding agreement for a bridge replacement project on County Road 122. The project was originally scheduled for 2015, but was delayed until 2016 when additional bond funds became available. The low bid on the project was $308,657 with $269,290 available for state bridge bonds.

Authorized an industrial discharge permit with Brainerd Public Utilities, allowing the county to discharge leachate from the Crow Wing County Landfill into public sewers at a cost of $500 annually. The agreement is for two years and is a renewal of a previous agreement.

Updated an agreement between the Crow Wing County Attorney's Office and the Minnesota Court Data Services Governmental Agencies.

Approved a new 2016 tobacco license for Nitro Square in Unorganized Territory.

Approved an all-terrain vehicle trail permit for the Cuyuna Iron Range Riders ATV Club for the Miller Black Bear Area Trail.

Approved a renewal consumption and display permit application for Father David Forsman of Holy Family Church Hall in Roosevelt Township.

Approved tax settlements with 10 property owners with reductions in owed taxes.

Approved the promotions of Rori Tulenchik to jail sergeant in the sheriff's office and Karen Mohler to financial worker in community services.

Accepted the transfer of Travis Svoboda to jail programmer in the sheriff's office.

Approved the hiring of Zachary Spicer as a medium/heavy mechanic in the highway department.

Accepted the departures of Bryan Ruzynski, highway maintenance specialist, and Becky Koecheler, senior technical/administrative specialist in the sheriff's office.

Approved the reclassification of a position in land services from grade 21 land services supervisor to grade 17 natural resource manager.

Approved replacement staffing due to departures for an engineering aide in the highway department and an accounting technician in administrative services. Staffing for seasonal recreational assistants and seasonal boat and water deputies in the sheriff's office were also approved.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her Bachelor's degree in professional journalism from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Perkins has interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before joining the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

(218) 855-5874
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