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State blasts Becker County Taxpayers, Osage president of the association

After 15 years of largely fruitless investigations inspired by allegations made by Les Ristinen of rural Osage and the Becker County Taxpayers Association, the Minnesota Department of Revenue has thrown up its hands and says it will no longer deal with either of them.

Ristinen is the longtime president of the Becker County Taxpayers Association.

In a 44-page in-depth report going back to the department's first dealings with Ristinen in 1995, Gordon Folkman, director of the Revenue Department's Property Tax Division, sharply criticized Ristinen and the Taxpayers group.

Ironically, he says they wasted taxpayer dollars by instigating investigations on allegations that turned out to be false or inaccurate.

"The history of these accusations spans four appointed county assessors (and more interim assessors) and involves numerous commissioners of revenue, state attorneys general, governors, and directors of the property tax division," Folkman wrote. "We cannot begin to compute the cost to the State of Minnesota of the history of these correspondences."

A favorite target of the complaints has been a well-regarded assessor in eastern Becker County, Rodney Salmen.

Folkman concluded his report by saying the Department of Revenue Property Tax Division "can find no evidence of wrongdoing by the Becker County Assessor's Office. The department has found no evidence of wrongdoing by local assessor Rodney Salmen. The department has found no evidence that any property owner is receiving preferential treatment in Becker County at the expense of other taxpayers.

"The parcels that have been brought to question by Mr. Lester Ristinen or the Becker County Taxpayers Association over the last 15 years appear to have been appropriately valued and classified over the history shown in this report."

Unless "facts change in a substantial way," the Department of Revenue will no longer investigate claims brought by Ristinen or the Becker County Taxpayers Association, Folkman said.

Becker County Commissioner Barry Nelson took note of the report and praised the quality of the work done by County Assessor Steve Skoog, and the professionalism of his department.

Commissioner Harry Salminen agreed. "I think he's done an excellent job, too," he said.

"It has to be the worst job in the world, other than used car salesman," joked Commissioner Larry Knutson. "The perception from people is there is always something wrong -- but overall I think the assessing in this county is done very well-- very, very well."