County commissioners talk issues with legislators

Taxes and health care topped an informal pre-legislative session discussion among Wadena County Commissioners and Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, and Rep. Dean Simpson, R-Perham.

Taxes and health care topped an informal pre-legislative session discussion among Wadena County Commissioners and Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, and Rep. Dean Simpson, R-Perham.

The number one issue Lane Waldahl said constituents tell him about is taxes. County and state tax increases and school levies are all included.

"People are saying ... if it keeps going the way it's going they will not be able to keep their homes and their farms," he said.

The second most important issue among his constituents is health care, Waldahl said.

For Commissioner Mary Harrison, the priority of issues is reversed.


She cited a survey of land owners which discovered that the number one reason people sell their forest land is the cost of health care. Property taxes was second.

In response to Waldahl's comments, Simpson said he agrees that taxes are an important issue. He was disappointed the tax bill wasn't signed last year, he said, although he wasn't impressed with how the state would have paid for parts of it.

Property taxes, in particular, need to be addressed, he said.

"If we're going to keep growing our tax base off of real estate tax the way we are, you're absolutely right we're going to take people out of their property," Simpson said.

Income-based property tax is something that needs to be looked at, he said.

Skogen said he heard the same concerns people had about being taxed off their property. He then used the tax discussion to transition into another major issue -- transportation.

"I believe we're spending a fourth of our property taxes on transportation," he said. "So if we can get our transportation program in place we may be able to relieve some of that pressure off property taxes as well."

Simpson and Skogen also addressed the issue of health care.


"Health insurance is a monster that is out of control and has been for a long time," Simpson said.

The state did put more money in MinnesotaCare, so there's a lot more happening in that field, he said. More farmers should be able to get on that program in the future.

However, when it comes to controlling overall costs, the federal government needs to become more involved, Simpson said. Consumers also need to become more involved and ask questions about the costs of services.

Skogen said they are just doing lip service if they only talk about health plans that don't include reductions in the cost of health care. The government needs to have a serious conversation with the health care industry about receiving less profit, he said.

Commissioner Orv Meyer and Chairman Bill Stearns gave Skogen and Simpson an update on local efforts to deal with health care costs.

Meyer said the state, particularly the Minnesota Department of Health, have put up many roadblocks in Wadena County joining South Country Health Alliance. SCHA is a county-based purchaser of health care services for public clients.

The latest road block involves a state declaration that certain services must be provided through competition among health insurance companies, Stearns said.

Meyer usually agrees that competition is good, but this case is different, he said. SCHA doesn't have the same name recognition as companies such as UCare, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and HealthPartners. And the law prevents SCHA from advertising.


Simpson asked if this was an issue they would have to go back and deal with.

"Just be aware of it," Harrison said. "It's an ongoing problem."

The legislators also visited with county department heads. They addressed issues ranging from courthouse security to veteran's taxation to the artificial inflation of property taxes caused by Twin Cities citizens purchasing land for hunting.

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