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First Assessment Property Tax Meeting

A massive turnout of Unorganized Territory residents descended upon the Crow Wing Power building Thursday night to voice opinions on a proposed doubling of township property taxes. About 100 people packed into a classroom-sized room, filling the seats and lining the walls, while just as many residents spilled into the halls and lobby. County officials scrambled to develop a plan to accommodate those who would be unable to squeeze into the presentation. A second meeting for Wednesday was scheduled on the fly, and County Administrator Tim Houle maneuvered through the crowd announcing the plan. Acting as the township board for the First Assessment District, also known as Unorganized Territory, the county board called the meeting to seek input from residents concerning an impending funding crunch for road construction in the district. Based on current expenditures and township-level property taxes levied, County Engineer Tim Bray estimated no funds would remain for road construction by 2021 without a tax increase. The unorganized area is the third largest population center in the county behind Brainerd and Baxter and contains the highest number of township road miles -- 58 -- in comparison to the 29 other organized townships. Because the area between Baxter and Nisswa is not an organized city or township, the county board is the governing body. To fully fund road construction and preservation assumed necessary to deliver a level of service comparable to that provided by the county and other area municipalities, Bray said, it is likely a three- to four-year period of significant property tax increases will be needed. Possible ranges are from 12-18 percent annually. This may be followed by more moderate increases of 4-5 percent annually over the next six to seven years.