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Conservation takes property off tax rolls

As conservation easements spread and Legacy funding is increasingly being used for Minnesota land purchases, Hubbard County board chair Lyle Robinson wonders about the future.

Representatives of the Leech Lake Area Water Foundation, who visited the board to spread the gospel of land acquisition for the public good, prompted a discussion of that future.

The watershed foundation encompasses the northeastern third of Hubbard County. The foundation identifies and protects sensitive shorelines and land throughout the district.

Director Paula West thanked the board for its role in preserving a 44- acre tract near Lester Lake last winter that will become a scientific and natural area.

"We need to balance growth with the protection of our natural resources," West told the county board. "Citizens are a critical part of protecting these resources."

But Robinson said with the state facing a $6 billion shortfall, it worries counties to take property off the tax rolls.

Counties do get Payments in Lieu of Taxes, but Robinson said PILT monies are among the first cuts when states need to balance their budgets and they seldom equal the tax revenue lost.

He urged West to begin thinking about using Legacy funding to pay those taxes in addition to the land acquisition.

"You use the money out of the sales tax fund to buy so why not take the money to pay the taxes?" Robinson questioned.

The Lester Lake SNA took a $1 million piece off Hubbard County's tax rolls. Robinson worries about PILT monies making up the deficit in tax revenues.

"We support the DNR's large acquisition plan," West said of the state agency's wish to acquire environmentally sensitive areas for preservation.

West said conservationists have begun to ask for money for ongoing management of the public areas, but never thought to request property tax replacement funds.

"Taking one-third of the taxable acreage" from the smaller townships "squeezes the township to provide services," Robinson warned.

"Taking property off the tax rolls in one way costs" in another, he said. It spreads the burden to other taxpayers, he noted.

West said she will carry the message back to the foundation.

Meanwhile, there are 12 public meetings across the state during the first two weeks of August to help applicants understand the Conservation Partners Legacy program, prepare their application and submit applications using the online application system that is new this year.

For Hubbard County residents, the closest meeting will be Tuesday, Aug.10 at the Roger Spiry Community Room, Beltrami Electric, 4111 Technology Drive N.W., in Bemidji.

The new grant cycle Request for Proposals and Program Manual will be available by Aug. 2 on the DNR website. The application system will close on Sept. 16.

Minnesota conservation organizations submitted 44 requests totaling over $202 million for consideration by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.  

Local units of government, conservation districts, school districts, non-governmental organizations and state agencies requested funds for programs to protect, restore, and enhance habitat for fish, game, and wildlife.  The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council will meet on Aug. 16 to select requests to be heard by the council.   Hearing dates for selected projects are set for Aug. 24 and Aug. 25.

The Council anticipates recommending to the 2011 legislature $86 million in conservation efforts from the Outdoor Heritage Fund.  The Outdoor Heritage Fund receives one-third of the money raised by the constitutional amendment creating the Outdoor Heritage, Clean Water, Parks and Trails, and Arts and Cultural Heritage; sales tax dedicated funds.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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