At the April 14 meeting of the Fillmore County Board via Webex, commissioners took steps to lesson the impact on their constituents.
County Auditor/Treasurer Heidi Jones noted the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) has provided some guidance on possibly giving some property owners, who are struggling due to closures, some relief. She said she has received a handful of phone calls from people who will have difficulty paying the first half of their property taxes due May 15.
Chairman Marc Prestby added he had a call from a hotel owner who said there are no reservations and I will not be able to pay property taxes on time. Any closed business has no income coming in.
It was made clear that the actual due date of the first half of property taxes can’t be changed, but the penalty for a non timely payment can be pushed out to July 15. Jones recommended that individuals and businesses with escrowed accounts and individuals and businesses with combined property taxes of $25,000 or more for the first half payment should be exempted. In other words these individuals and businesses “will” be penalized if they don’t make their first half payment by May 15.
The county has sufficient reserves to operate for several months, but other government entities like townships may not have enough funds to do essential operations like road maintenance without some property tax payments coming in on time.
The board unanimously passed a resolution to temporarily abate penalties for property taxes due May 15, but paid by July 15. Penalties and interest will occur on the first half property taxes starting July 15. Penalties and interest will occur on the exempted categories listed above as recommended by Jones, if their first half taxes are not paid by May 15. This action does not change the due date, but just pushes out the penalty date for those tax payers that have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Not all property owners are experiencing financial hardships due to the pandemic.
Commissioner Duane Bakke asks people to pay their first half property taxes on time, if they can. If you can afford to, be responsible and pay your taxes. “We expect people to pay on time unless they have been impacted by COVID-19.” Jones concurred, “If you are financially able to pay by the due date, do, because delayed payments will impact other units of government.”
Feedlot permit relief
Several meat processing plants have closed in several states due to numerous workers testing positive for COVID-19. This causes disruptions in the supply chain. Some feedlots in Fillmore County may be at their maximum permitted capacity. Therefore, the county board will allow inventory numbers to exceed permitted capacity at a site or in a building. Owners or managers must notify the Fillmore County feedlot officer and follow up with monthly updates. The board unanimously passed a resolution providing the permit relief. This legally gives feedlot owners and managers a way to go over permitted animal density during this crisis. The resolution sunsets on September 1, 2020, but may be extended by the county board. Bakke stated, what we don’t want is to have this abused; the permit relief will be eliminated when it can be.
Other business in brief
• Approval was given to replace a 1994 7740 Ford tractor with a 2020 Massey 6713 130hp tractor, which will be used to pull a mower and roller. The quote approved with trade-in for the amount of $51,600 from Marzolf Implement Co., Spring Valley, was the lowest of four quotes.
• County Engineer Ron Gregg presented a detailed proposed five-year Capital Improvement Plan. It ranked portions of 21 roads needing improvement on the basis of PQI (pavement quality index), ADT (average daily traffic), and age.
Gregg recommended moving up CSAH 15 (CSAH 44 south to Iowa border) from the ranked position of 17 to near the top, so it can be worked on next year due to safety issues. He also recommended moving CSAH 17 (from Preston to CSAH 8), which is ranked 2 to near the bottom, as he is confident that he can secure federal dollars for the reconditioning of that road for 2025. Judgements will be made to maximize the use of funding, by taking into account the location and timing of projects. There is less funding available for municipal CSAH roads; there is not enough to do one each year. Efforts are made to best use all funding sources, which include state aid construction accounts, township bridge account, local option sales tax account, and the wheelage tax account.
Gregg noted the projects expected to occur in 2021 and 2022 are more stable, but he warned there may be changes, additions or deletions, especially in years 2023-2025.
• The board adopted an Amish Buggy Sign Placement policy. The policy lists four criteria, but doesn’t say a request must meet all of the criteria. There are road signs now in the Canton and Harmony area. There have been more requests for signs now as Amish have located in Sumner Township.
• Approval was given to renew Phased Retirement Option for an additional year for Deb Jeffers, paralegal, effective June 1.
• Approval was given to revise the retirement of Feedlot Officer Mike Frauenkron from May 28 to May 7. Approval was given to revise the hire date of Blake Lea, replacement Feedlot Officer, from May 28 to May 7.
• County Administrator Bobbie Hillery (Vickerman) led a discussion concerning county visitors. Bakke said all citizens in Fillmore County and those that come to the county should follow COVID-19 guidelines. Commissioner Mitch Lentz suggested additional population in the county could impact essential services, like law enforcement and ambulance services. Prestby said visitors should just follow recommendations that are in place now; follow the Minnesota Department of Health guidelines.
• Hillery noted many county employees are telecommuting. “We are trying to follow the guidelines; work is going well.” Ten cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the county and eight of them are recovered. Some people are healing at home without being tested.
• Hillery reported on some questions about the posting of the county’s financial statement in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Attorney Brett Corson said they are working on it, to confirm if the financial statement did or did not get published. Hillery said if there was an error, we will make it right. She said, “I don’t feel Fillmore County has a transparency issue. We want checks and balances. Every year we start the budget process in June and work on it line by line. Financial statements are always posted on the website and we will provide data when it is requested.”