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Hubbard County moves forward with buffer law ordinance

Hubbard County Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf and County Assessor Ginger Woodrum met with county commissioners last week to discuss the Minnesota Buffer Initiative and its potential impact on the assessor's office.

Last month, the county board tabled action on drafting a buffer ordinance. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) created a model ordinance that the county could follow or the county could create its own ordinance.

Previously, county commissioners elected to assume jurisdiction and enforce compliance with the new state law. In July 2017, the county received $20,000 from the state to offset enforcement expenses. Another $20,000 is expected in December. Equal amounts are anticipated for 2018 as well.

Woodrum said her staff will need to adjust the value of land designated as a buffer from property classified as agricultural.

"We are looking at reviewing 6,428 parcels," she said, adding it's difficult to calculate how much time that process will take. "We're assuming some of those parcels will be obvious that they're not in a buffer zone, but until we take a look, we don't have a good way to flag all of those parcels to limit that search down to anything less at this time."

She estimated it could take up to 1,600 hours to review the parcels, set rates and analyze sales.

The new legislation requires perennial vegetative buffers up to 50-feet wide around public waters, including lakes, rivers and streams by Nov. 1. By Nov 2018, at least 16.5-foot wide buffers must be along public ditches.

The Hubbard County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) has reported that 99 percent of all parcels adjacent to Minnesota waters with Hubbard County meet preliminary compliance with the law. The majority of waterbodies affected by the buffer law are already encompassed within the county's shoreland management ordinance, which requires permanent vegetation in the shore impact zone.

If the county board declines to enforce the buffer law, the responsibility would fall to the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), Buitenwerf said. He prepared a draft resolution so the county could opt out of assuming jurisdiction.

"I'm scared of that. I don't like letting BWSR control what we can control," said County Commissioner Cal Johannsen.

"But we know they probably won't," said Board Chair Vern Massie.

Johannsen asked about the difference in estimated market value. "If there's a buffer that I can't use, should I have to pay taxes on that?"

Woodrum noted that assessors have strict state rules to follow regarding taxation.

"It would be taxable at this point. We'd have to identify those acres, regardless if there's a different value or not, because those acres are going to come into play for special programs, like Green Acres," she continued. "Whether or not there'd be a huge reduction in value, I can't tell you that. I haven't analyzed any sales yet."

The assessor's department won't be spending $40,000 in staff time, "but there will be staff time," Woodrum said, plus Environmental Services staff time.

Johannsen recommended "dragging our feet and don't be in a hurry to come up with an ordinance."

The consensus was to move the draft ordinance to the county planning commission.

County Commissioner Char Christenson said she would go along with that plan, with the understanding that the two county departments may need to pay for overtime or hire a part-time worker.

She expressed concern with the county's ability to enforce the buffer law. "And if they aren't enforceable, they shouldn't be on the books."

"This ordinance needs to be relatively simple," Johannsen said.

"It's state law. Either BWSR does it or we do it," Massie said.

In other business, the county board did the following:

• Learned that Solid Waste Administrator Jed Nordin accepted the position of County Public Works Coordinator/Highway Engineer. David Olsonawski is retiring. Nordin's new position will become effective March 5, 2018. The county board approved the refilling of solid waste administrator position.

• At a cost of $95,840, approved the purchase of an emergency data recovery system and Storage Area Network (SAN) deployment for the county's tax system, recorder's software and any other identified needs. The system is designed to save data and allow IT administrators to easily and quickly retrieve it in the face of problems like hacking, cyber attacks, ransomware, data loss and downtime.The state-contracted price was awarded to ByteSpeed of Moorhead. Their bid includes a five-year warranty and four-hour emergency response time.

• Approved quotes, totaling $12,143, to install an additional service window in the treasurer's department on the first floor. County Auditor/Treasurer Kay Rave said the project was originally slated for 2018 but she found room in her 2017 budget. The extra window will help with voting overflow.

• Approved the expenditure of $2,130 for a new customer service station in the Assessor's department on the second floor. Woodrum explained the counter will be used for filling out passport applications and various other applications. "We feel this is the cheapest solution with the most benefits," she said.

• Approved Hubbard County Extension Services' purchase of an oak desk and hutch for $3,205 and 10 conference room tables for $2,455.

The next county board meeting is 9 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7 at the Hubbard County Government Center.

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