If you're experiencing a hardship related to COVID-19 you may soon be able to file for a waiver to help reduce further financial strain in Wadena County.

County Commissioners showed support for some form of tax late fee waiver, but tabled a decision for those experiencing a hardship related to COVID-19 during their regular meeting Tuesday, April 7. They plan to take action during their next regular board meeting, which starts at 9 a.m., Tuesday, April 14.

A decision to table the topic was reached after Commissioner Bill Stearns suggested another week would allow more time for the board to review the plan since it was just provided to them that morning. Stearns added that perhaps the Legislature would act on the topic for them in the next week, giving them further direction. The topic was discussed in detail with Dist. 9 Sen. Paul Gazelka in the week prior.

The recommendation for the waiver was that the tax payers must fill out a form detailing their hardship so the county auditor could determine if they were eligible. If not eligible, requests would then go on to the County Coordinator Ryan Odden and board chair Chuck Horsager. If again denied, a denial letter would go out to the property owner. There was also an appeal process for those being denied.

The proposed waiver included considerations for those who have been laid off and those businesses that have been closed by the state governor. The draft showed requests should be received by April 30 and the waiver was proposed to be in effect through July 15. County Auditor/Treasurer Heather Olson spoke further about the reasoning of the recommendation.

"I have been contacted multiple times over the last few weeks by tax payers, by business owners under hardship due to current circumstances in our nation right now," Olson said. Last Friday Crow Wing County Board met in emergency meeting and passed a waiver, which Olson modeled her waiver after.

"Right now I think that this is something as a county that we need to do," Olson said.

Commissioner Jon Kangas spoke against the idea of a form, saying that he felt everyone is affected and that it should be a blanket waiver for all through July 15.

"I don't know that we should be picking and choosing," Kangas said. I think it's either all or nothing."

County Attorney Kyra Ladd responded that the more open ended they are the harder it will be to make decisions and the more problems that may arise.

"I would caution you to engage in the subjective process," Ladd said.

Commissioner Jim Hofer stated he had concerns about a blanket waiver as the cities and townships also rely on those funds for them to complete their essential work.

Olson said the waiver would not apply to escrow accounts which make up about 20% of property taxes that are already scheduled for payments.

A recommendation for the waiver came out of a meeting of the COVID-19 Emergency Executive Committee. The committee brought the recommendations in an effort to lessen negative impacts to the public and staff. The group recommended two other motions as well, including: that all county departments delay, until further notice, any purchases not immediately needed to maintain county services.

Wadena County Coordinator Ryan Odden gave an example of a tractor purchase. The county has budgeted for the tractor and does need it to replace another, but it's not needed immediately. Commissioners approved that recommendation with all in favor.

Another recommendation by the committee was to have all job vacancies and new positions go through the personnel committee before any posting. The personnel committee will work with the departments on when those vacancies would be approved. That recommendation also was unanimously approved by the board.