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Crow Wing County Board: Engineer recommends taxing Ditch 13 property owners

Residents owning property along a county drainage ditch north of Brainerd might soon be asked to pay more at tax time. Crow Wing County Engineer Tim Bray Tuesday recommended the county board approve an annual assessment on the nearly 730 property...

Ditch 13 flows through Lake Edward into this unnamed lake behind the Half Moon Saloon in Lake Edward Township and then continues through a culvert under County Highway 4. The ditch is the subject of a petition to Crow Wing County requesting its repair. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch
Ditch 13 flows through Lake Edward into this unnamed lake behind the Half Moon Saloon in Lake Edward Township and then continues through a culvert under County Highway 4. The county board is tasked with deciding whether to assess benefiting property owners for its repair. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch

Residents owning property along a county drainage ditch north of Brainerd might soon be asked to pay more at tax time.

Crow Wing County Engineer Tim Bray Tuesday recommended the county board approve an annual assessment on the nearly 730 property owners considered beneficiaries of Ditch 13, one of 14 drainage ditches built more than a century ago in the county. The assessments would contribute to a repair fund to be used by the county to maintain the ditch.

The recommendation is the latest development in the ongoing saga of Ditch 13. Earlier this year, the ditch was the subject of a resident petition requesting repair, a request state law dictates must be addressed by the local drainage authority. While tasked by law with maintaining the ditch, which passes through private property, the county is barred from expending general fund dollars to do so.

A repair fund bankrolled by assessments is what most counties use to cover costs, explained Kurt Deter, an attorney who specializes in ditch law, at a community meeting in July.

Bray is proposing the county collect $14,201.25 annually to support the fund. This assessment would be spread among all benefiting property owners, who were determined beneficiaries based upon a 1907 county plat book. Ditch 13 begins at Lougee Lake, east of Pelican Lake, connects to Lake Edward and ends at the northeast corner of North Long Lake. A portion of the ditch also connects to drainage into Mollie Lake.

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Originally, the benefiting area contained 80 parcels, but in the intervening century those parcels became 730 smaller ones. Of the properties, 62.6 percent are owned privately, while the other parcels are owned by various government agencies, including Lake Edward Township, the county and the state.

Individual assessments would range from $1 annually up to $271.26 for the largest parcel. Lake Edward Township would be assessed the most of any affected party at $2,100, which covers property owned along township roads in the benefiting area. More than 140 of the properties would pay no more than $1 toward the fund next year.

Bray's request also included a one-time assessment of $3,000 to reimburse administrative costs the county has incurred since the petition was filed.

Although Bray recommended the board approve an assessment, he did not recommend the county conduct an engineering study on the ditch. A study would have determined more precisely the operation of the ditch and whether any major repairs were necessary to return it to its original condition. It likely would have cost between $10,000 and $20,000 to conduct, a bill that would also be footed by property owners, and neither Bray nor a majority of surveyed property owners believed it was necessary.

Survey results of 177 responding property owners show at least 56 percent preferred the county maintain the ditch in its current condition, only removing beaver dams and other minor obstructions to maintain flow. This percentage is likely higher, as many of the 24 percent of respondents who selected "other" as a response included comments backing that preference, Bray said.

The next step is for the county board to pass a resolution scheduling a public hearing on the possible assessments. Bray said for the assessments to be included on next year's tax bills, Auditor-Treasurer Deborah Erickson must certify them by Nov. 30.

Bray also asked the board to consider directing him to develop a management policy for all 14 drainage ditches in the county and to investigate the possibility of applying the repair fund concept to properties along those ditches. About 2,400 properties in the county are within the benefiting areas of the ditch system.

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

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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