The Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, Nov. 22, unanimously agreed to transfer ownership of five tax-forfeited properties to the city of Baxter for various public works purposes.

A parcel on Evergreen Drive at the intersection with Hastings Road is set to be used as part of an extension of nearby Douglas Fir Drive as well as for stormwater management. One at the corner of Memorywood Drive and Cedar Scenic Road will be home to a sanitary lift station. Two others — one on Inglewood Drive and one on Highland Scenic Road — feature existing stormwater retention ponds. One parcel is already part of an existing public street, located at the dead-end of Marohn Road in western Baxter.

The city of Baxter will pay nothing for the land with the exception of potential closing costs, while the county will cover deed recording costs. State statute allows tax-forfeited property to be conveyed at no cost to local governments as long as the land is set for public use of some kind.

County Administrator Tim Houle told commissioners staff found the request to be consistent with the county’s land asset management policy and commissioners Rosemary Franzen and Steve Barrows — who represent the districts within which the parcels are located — raised no objections.

While the county acts as the steward for tax-forfeited parcels, the state of Minnesota claims ownership when property owners fail to pay property taxes over a period of time. Last winter, the county’s land asset management policy as written was more restrictive than state statute, prompting a re-examination when the city of Nisswa requested the transfer at no cost of a number of tax-forfeited parcels with intent to establish a new nature park. Other than for purposes of correcting blight or creating affordable housing, the county’s policy discouraged the sale of land below market value for any other reason, including creating or preserving wetlands, stormwater management, a school forest or land restoration.

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In recommending the more restrictive approach, land services staff said it would ease the burden of keeping track of conveyed properties for three decades — as required by law — to ensure they continued to be used for public benefit. The board ultimately approved the Nisswa request in a 3-2 vote and a majority of commissioners indicated they’d prefer to give cities and townships the option of requesting land on a case-by-case basis.

This summer, the city of Baxter agreed to purchase the 84 acres making up the Camp Vanasek property on Whipple Lake from the county for $347,471. The county had the fee title for the Baxter property — meaning it owned it outright — and agreed to a counteroffer from the city in the purchase. The property’s future was in doubt after Crow Wing County told the city it was exploring dissolving its interest in the property back in the winter of 2019.

In a council report, the acquisition was described as giving the city the opportunity to achieve one of its goals in expanding the Whipple Beach Recreation Area into a community park with a variety of facilities not unlike the city’s Oscar Kristofferson Park.

In August, Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said he appreciated all the negotiations on both sides but it felt like a double-edged sword.

Olson said he didn’t understand why it didn’t resonate with the county that this was about preserving this property for community use. He noted the county previously deeded properties to other cities and entities in the past for a dollar or nothing and added Baxter taxpayers are county taxpayers.

The Baxter City Council agreed to the unexpected purchase for which the city did not have funds set aside in a 3-1 vote, with Olson citing the potential of the county moving forward with a sale to a developer as less desirable.

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