Earlier in 2016, Hubbard County Commissioners had asked Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf to gather information as to what surrounding counties had been doing in regard to zoning regulations that address vacation rentals.
"When I looked through most counties ordinances that would have any reason to look at regulating vacation rentals, there were a number that were similarly situated to us in terms of geography where there could be folks wanting to rent out cabins on their lakes," Buitenwerf said.
This included Aitkin, Carlton, Cass, Clearwater, Cook, Crow Wing, Douglas, Itasca, Kanabec, Koochiching, Lake, Lake of the Woods, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Polk, Stearns, Todd and Wadena counties.
According to Buitenwerf, Aitkin and Stearns counties require an interim use permit for vacation rentals and they have the most extensive regulations. Cook County has the least restrictive regulations and they allow vacation rentals as permitted uses. Lake and Mille Lacs counties allow them as permitted uses only if performance standards are met.
"Performance standards, interim use permits and conditional use permits tend to be resource-intensive in order to administer them effectively," Buitenwerf said, adding that these conditions require public hearings with the planning commission as well as county board approval and would take up a tremendous amount of time.
Buitenwerf also pointed out that all three options also face difficulties in proving whether or not standards or conditions are being met. Most issues with these properties occur on weekends - when staff are not working - in order to investigate or observe said issues. Acquiring documentation as to whether money is being exchanged for a vacation rental and the duration of the rental could also become difficult for the county.
At the time of Buitenwerf's research, Carlton, Cass, Clearwater, Crow Wing, Douglas, Itasca, Kanabec, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, Morrison, Polk, Todd and Wadena counties did not regulate rentals.
According to Buitenwerf, there are currently over 60 properties in Hubbard County listed on vacation rental websites.
"If we ran them through an IUP or a conditional use permit, you're probably looking at a couple of years of doing nothing other than processing those permits to get yourself started," Buitenwerf told commissioners. "And then, from that point forward, you've got the ongoing maintenance if and when things arise over the weekend, getting a call and having to go out and respond to it and then whether or not you can sufficiently document that anything happened would be a challenge."
Commissioner Massie questioned how many of the properties listed as vacation rentals in the county would be approved if they were to begin issuing permits. "What basis do they have to be approved or unapproved?"
"That would be based on whatever standards and criteria we would set the ordinance at. We would say 'if you meet A,B,C then you've met all the criteria of the ordinance.' We would then be obligated to approve them because the criteria were met," Buitenwerf responded. "And if all the criteria weren't met, then we would have sufficient reason to deny an application."
Massie further questioned how the permits would be regulated if property owners did not follow the conditions of the approved permits.
"How are we going to control that? You notify them and take the permit away, they're just going to keep on operating. It's a tough situation and I don't know if we can hire enough staff to bird-dog them." Massie said.
Commissioner Christenson reminded her fellow board members that the situation was brought to their attention by local resort owners.
"They're seeing a loss in business. If we did the very basic thing of changing them to commercial, how many would be willing to pay the additional tax to be listed as a VRBO (vacation rental by owner)? Maybe that would be a starting point in order to make it fair to the resort owners?" Christenson questioned.
"It's going to go to approximately one-and-a-half percent of whatever the value is of the property, as opposed to one percent, so you're going to see an increase. That's the general levy," County Assessor Ginger Woodrum said in regard to changing a property to commercial. "Then you have the state levy which will nearly double, so it will go from about 20 percent to almost 50 percent - that's the state general tax on commercial properties. Depending on the property value you're going to see that close to double."
Commissioner Johannsen questioned a property owner's right to do as they wish with their properties.
"Looking in the crystal ball, I don't see a resolution to the problem," Massie said. "I struggle with this. I've read all these ordinances and there's so many loopholes. And doing nothing isn't the right thing to do either."
Christenson asked Woodrum and Buitenwerf, since their departments would be handling it, if they saw any solution.
"Not an easy one," Woodrum responded.
"I think leaving it as we are currently, leaving it as permitted uses, is the way to go because there's so many loopholes and ways people can work around them we couldn't have enough people on staff to effectively police it and I don't know that that would be cost effective," Buitenwerf said. "I empathize with the folks that are next door to the bad ones but I just don't see a good way of getting at the issue right now."
In other business county commissioners:
• Elected Commissioner Vern Massie as chairman and Commissioner Cal Johannsen as vice chairman.
• Approved Northwoods Press as Hubbard County's legal newspaper for the publication of delinquent tax lists and other legal notices.
• Reviewed and approved quotes from Luminaire Environmental & Technologies out of Plymouth for the disposal of fluorescent tubes
• Approved a quote from Crow Wing Recycling out of Brainerd for the recycling of scrap metal, batteries and propane tanks. The county is to be paid $61 per ton for scrap metal and $0.15 per pound for batteries.
• Approved a two-year contract with Liberty Tire Recycling from Savage for tire recycling at a cost of $185 per ton.
• Adopted a resolution for the prioritized bridge replacement list, which identifies high-priority bridges that require replacement, rehabilitation or removal within the next five years. The resolution requests authorization and financial assistance with eligible approach grading and engineering costs.
• Approved a resolution and MnDOT agreement for a temporary detour in Sept. 2017 during construction along Highway 71.
• Approved a quote from PRT USA, Inc. out of Dryden, Ontario in the amount of $61,823 for the 2018 tree seedling production of approximately 404,500 seedlings.
• Approved a quote from Eric Roberts Spraying out of Battle Lake, in the amount of $45,308.60 for the spring of 2017 microsite herbicide application on approximately 412 acres.
• Approved a quote in the amount of $94,545.70 from Future Forests in Askov, Minn. for the site preparation of 486 acres for spring tree planting.
• Approved the quote from Superior Forestry Service, Inc. in Tilly, Arkansas in the amount of $19,009.25 for the hand planting of 325,000 seedlings in the spring of 2017.
• Granted the request from the County Assessor's office for 100 hours of overtime for the year 2017.
• Approved the request from Michael Dagen, director of the Nemeth Arts Center, to apply for a grant to have the floors restored in the upper level of the old courthouse.
• Approved Scott Anderson to update the county's sign ordinance to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court at an hourly rate of $185.
The next regular county board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 17 at 9 a.m. at the Hubbard County Government Center.