Around Cook County
Seventeen people representing Independent School District 166 and the three Cook County charter schools – Great Expectations, Oshki Ogimaag, and Birch Grove – met at the Cook County Community Center on October 27, 2011 to build some bridges.
The creation of charter schools over the last several years has generated a lot of conflicting opinions in a district struggling with funding challenges partly related to declining student enrollment. Before the last school board election, one of the hotly contested topics was whether ISD 166 should allow charter school students to play on its sports teams.
At this point, collaboration might make more sense for everybody than competition, however, and the school administrators and board members at this meeting spent four hours figuring out how they could benefit each other.
Ideas on how working together could help everyone save money included having a common entity do third-party billing for services that qualify for payments by outside entities; sharing special ed classroom space and staff; sharing continuing education workshops, writing collaborative grants, countywide fundraising. sharing payroll/benefits/health insurance administration, sharing school nursing staff, sharing facility amenities, increasing participation in Early Childhood/Family Education (ECFE) by all schools, an Ojibwe language club for community members of all ages,, countywide youth council, youth participation on committees and more.
If you have a failing septic system that is in need of repair, an AgBMP (agriculture best management practice) loan might be the answer to assist you.
There is currently $100,000 available to loan to Cook County property owners to repair failing systems through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s AgBMP Loan Program. The purpose of these loans is to address local water quality and pollution problems. North Shore Federal Credit Union, Cook County, and the Soil and Water Conservation District jointly administer the Cook County’s Sub-surface Sewage Treatment System (SSTS) loan fund.
The loans are at a 3 percent interest rate for five years. North Shore Federal Credit Union (local lender) is responsible for assessing the credit rating of the borrower and the ability to repay the loan. The credit union administers the loans and collects payments from borrowers.
The process for receiving a loan is simple. First, arrange to have a site visit from the county environmental health inspector, obtain a contractor bid and then contact Soil and Water for a loan application. All materials will then be returned to the Soil and Water office and the process to receive a loan will begin. If you are interested in learning more about the low interest loans through Cook County Soil and Water, contact Ilena Berg at (218) 387-3648.
By now most Cook County residents should have received their property tax estimates for 2012 – or will yet this week. The news for most homeowners will not be good. That’s because the Legislature eliminated the Homestead tax credit back in July.
County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers said the impact to homeowners will not be uniform.
“It’s going to vary all across the board. There are going to be increases, there are going to be decreases in individual cases because of class changes or valuation decreases. We had pretty much across the board decreases in land values, this year of about 10%, so some people with a lot of land will have a decrease in value. They have enough land that would lead to a decrease in their taxes, actually. All the way to some properties will have increases of over 100%.
“Typically it’ll be somebody who lost the Homestead credit at least in the low to mid-range value of a house and also if they’re not in the City of Grand Marais because the new law doesn’t hit hard if you’re already paying a high tax rate. If you’re paying a low tax rate, it hits you harder.”
The quirk in the new formula means mid-range properties will be hit hardest and top end values hardly at all.
“Anything close to $76,000 up to, say, $300,000 are going to take a significant hit because that’s where the highest credit was…and will now be gone. If you’re somewhere over $300,000 – in $300,000 to $400,000 or anywhere above that, you didn’t get a large credit to begin with because it’s a decreasing number as you’re value goes up so aren’t going to lose as much.
“Anybody who got the Homestead market value credit loses that. It hits harder if you’re a lower value property that had a large Homestead market value credit. It doesn’t hurt as bad if you’re over $300,000 in value because you didn’t get a large credit to begin with, so you don’t have as much to lose.”
Powers said many tax increases used as examples in the media are averages and don’t adequately explain differences in valuation increases or decreases, tax rates, the presence of seasonal properties and other nuances in the formula.
“I’m just simply leafing through a few examples that we pulled off and here’s .5, 1.9, 1.5, 2.4, 3% increases – these are seasonals and commercial I’m talking about. Now I’m getting into something with homesteads and I see 32.7, here’s a seasonal at 14.4, a commercial at 4.5, a seasonal at 10.5 a homestead with 6.9, a rural vacant with non-homestead with 41.9, a homestead with 7%, homestead with 120%, homestead resort commercial with 130%, homestead with a minus 9.2%, a homestead at minus 9.9.”
Owners of homestead properties will still receive the benefit of the exclusion, but it will be less than they received under the credit.
“What they’re doing is a certain portion of your taxable market value is excluded from the local property tax and it’s on the same basis as the credit was calculated. The maximum credit used to be $304. Now the maximum exclusion is $30,400, so it’s the same formula, but a different scale. I assume the idea behind it then, was if you were in what we’d call a high tax rate area – if you had a tax rate of 100%, this market value exclusion has the same benefit as the credit did.
“There’s no tax district in Cook County with a rate as high as 100%. Most of them are in the high 40%; Tofte in the mid to high 50%, Lutsen is a little less than that, Schroeder, less than that. Most of the unorganized area would be in the high 40 percentile. So it’s less than half the benefit because the tax benefit is less than half of the 100%.”
The upshot of all this is that many property owners will pay more, but the county as a whole will lose revenue.
“The state used to reimburse the counties for the Homestead credit. We actually got a check to pay for that credit that went to homestead. And that’s eliminated, so even though the benefit, the form of it, has changed to homestead, there’s no money coming to off-set that, so it’s just a cut in revenue. That looked like about 3% -- it’s been around $280,000 county-wide.
“What the state is saving, what’s been reported, is around $260 million around the state in payments they made to counties. Actually in the last two years during the budget battles, they’ve cut that so we haven’t actually received all of that $280,000 in the last couple of years.”
Powers said as bad as this may seem to residents, the difference between a property receiving the Homestead exclusion and what a seasonal-recreational property owner will pay is still significantly different.
For years, Cook County has provided services such as plowing and grading for a number of private roadways as “subordinate governmental service districts.” Under these agreements, the county contracts with local road contractors for maintenance on the roads and property owners along the roadways are then assessed by the county for the work done. An unexpected increase in the maintenance on Mile ‘O Pine Road led to another look at this procedure—and a revision of the policy.
County Engineer David Betts appeared before the Cook County Commissioners on Tuesday, November 8, with an updated policy. Betts explained that the policy revision came about when residents on Mile ‘O Pine asked if they could spread their maintenance assessment over several years after a need for $7,400 worth of gravel led to a huge increase in the amount they would be assessed. “The question was—at what point does the county board consider this?” said Betts.
Betts explained that the county meets with property owners and determines what they want done on the road. A fee is then established for snowplowing, grading, and other maintenance. “We keep a ‘rolling average,’” said Betts.
Again using Mile ‘O Pine as an example, Betts said its average has been $46,500. Under the new policy if maintenance costs went over the estimated amount by 100%, property owners could ask that their assessment be spread out over 2 – 5 years—which they have requested.
Two people were killed and another injured Tuesday morning in a two-vehicle collision north of Two Harbors.
According to State Patrol Sgt. Mark Baker, a pickup truck northbound on Minnesota Highway 61 lost control on the Gooseberry River bridge and went into the southbound lane, where it was broadsided on the passenger side by a southbound Jeep. Baker told WTIP News both of the vehicles caught fire.
The accident happened around 6 a.m. yesterday. Roads in the area were slippery from a mixture of rain and snow and, in some locations ice.
Traffic was detoured around the accident scene for several hours while circumstances of the accident were being investigated by the State Patrol. Highway 61 was reopened to traffic before 11 a.m.
To address Minnesota’s transportation infrastructure needs, U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack has introduced H.R. 2947, which would allow Cook County to move forward on a transportation construction project that has been in development for a decade while waiting for Congressional action to end the federal restrictions.
Specifically, H.R. 2947 would require the Secretary of Agriculture to release Minnesota from the conditions imposed on it relative to a parcel of land in Cook County intended to be used to expand the Grand Marais-Cook County Airport. Cravaack said the airport never used the land, but the federal restrictions on how the land could be developed remained. This prevented the land from being allocated for any other use.
“By passing H.R. 2947, Congress will enable the Cook County Highway Department to purchase the final piece of right-of-way, from the Cook County Airport, for the reconstruction of Co. Hwy 8 (Devil Track Road),” said county highway engineer David Betts.
“This bill will benefit the residents and visitors of Cook County by allowing the highway department to improve the safety and ride quality of this heavily traveled roadway. Rep. Cravaack and his staff have been very helpful to Cook County while we try to resolve this unusual issue.”