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Wadena County discusses property sale, LOST renewal

Along with area counties, county engineer Darin Fellbaum proposed renewing the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST). The half-cent tax funds road and bridge projects. The current tax is in place through 2025.

A bar chart.
Wadena County generated $846,138 in Local Option Sales Tax revenue in 2020 and $996,439 in 2021.
Contributed / Wadena County Highway Department
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WADENA — The Wadena County commissioners have continued their plan of work sessions on the second meeting of the month in their third work session on April 12.

Commissioners discussed the tax forfeiture property sale, renewing the Local Option Sales Tax, the courthouse mail room, an ordinance for accessory dwelling units and a letter of legislative priorities. The majority of topics will return to the board on April 19.

Tax forfeiture property sale

Following the county’s online tax forfeited property sale in 2021, auditor-treasurer Heather Olson plans for a smaller 2022 online sale. She noted the online sale had “way more activity” than in-person sales at the courthouse. Staff have worked on improving the tax forfeited land sale process over the past several years.

Heather Olson
Heather Olson

The tax forfeited land settlement for 2021 was $414,874 along with payouts to timber development, parks, the county, townships and school districts. The timber development is used to replant areas where timber has been removed. The settlement is not yearly.

The 2022 sale could include parcels that are currently available as over the counter sales and other Wadena County owned properties.

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Local Option Sales Tax renewal

Along with area counties, county engineer Darin Fellbaum proposed renewing the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST). The half-cent tax funds road and bridge projects. Since 2016, the tax has generated $4,746,592 for Wadena County. Over the next 10 years, Fellbaum projects $15,589,000 in revenue. The current tax is in place through 2025.

When Wadena County implemented the tax in 2013, they were the first county in the area and second in the state, according to county coordinator Ryan Odden. Otter Tail, Todd, Hubbard and Becker counties now have the half-cent tax. The Association of Minnesota Counties notes most Minnesota counties have a wheelage, half-cent or quarter-cent tax. Odden said the “pretty contentious” tax, which raised a concern over whether people would shop in other counties, is a “win-win” for the county, as commissioner Bill Stearns added.

DarinFellbaum.jpg
Darin Fellbaum (2021)

One of the tax benefits is keeping the road costs from hitting the local levy. Odden said the highway department levy decreased by $120,000 when the tax was added and the highway department levy has stayed “relatively flat” since then. The tax has generated less revenue than AMC projected—which was to be $860,000 in the first year. The county generated $846,138 in 2020 and $996,439 in 2021.

Past projects funded by the tax include mill and overlays in Wadena and Sebeka, such as County Road 100 in summer 2021. Fellbaum hopes to update an annual system to work on county roads, including 20 miles of gravel roads, 2.5 miles of paved roads and a calcium/magnesium chloride treatment. He said the LOST funds would cover the yearly projects. The county maintains 165 miles of gravel and 48 miles of paved roads.

“This is probably a lofty goal but I want to set the goals high so we can try to achieve them, and on the way we’ll get a lot of road work done,” Fellbaum said.

The highway department regularly receives complaints about the roads. Fellbaum said the paved roads are in “pretty poor condition.”

Commissioners are favorable to the renewal, though commissioners Murlyn Kreklau and Jon Kangas noted a future discussion on additional ways to save funds with the yearly projects.

While there are no official plans, leaders also shared their interest in returning some less-traveled paved roads to gravel. Paved roads cost more to maintain and have a higher property valuation than gravel.

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County attorney Kyra Ladd noted the early renewal for LOST seems too early. If the county holds a public hearing this year, the tax periods would overlap. The tax period would extend further if the county holds a hearing in 2025.

The highway department also develops a five-year plan of road projects, which are planned based on funding available. The early renewal would help in the planning process.

To renew, the county would have a public hearing, commissioners would approve a resolution and then notify the Department of Revenue.

Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in enhancing online articles as well as education, feature and health reporting.
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