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County board wants report on Fredenberg park

St. Louis County commissioners on Tuesday passed a resolution asking the Fredenberg Town Board to give the county an update on 80 acres of county land intended for a township park.

St. Louis County commissioners on Tuesday passed a resolution asking the Fredenberg Town Board to give the county an update on 80 acres of county land intended for a township park.

The county board voted last October to give the 80 acres of tax-forfeited land -- along Datka Road south of Island Lake -- to the township for a town park that would be open to the public and to existing uses.

For at least some county commissioners, that meant continued use of the land by campers attending Positive Energy Outdoors, a nonprofit youth camp that specializes in getting kids from low-income homes involved in outdoor activities.

Since last October, several supporters of the camp say, township officials have excluded Positive Energy Outdoors supporters from the process of developing rules for the new park.

'"It's my belief that the proposed (township park) ordinance... might prevent Positive Energy from using Fredenberg Park," said Stephanie Love, co-owner of the camp.

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Township officials were not in attendance at Tuesday's county board meeting. But Supervisor Clayton Cich sent commissioners a letter saying the park rules were being developed properly, according to Minnesota statutes, and that a public hearing on the proposed park ordinance will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the town hall.

Commissioner Frank Jewell of Duluth said he wants to get an update on the park process before the developing township park rules become final.

"My concern is that they are going to put into ordinance language (for the park) that puts an end to Positive Energy Outdoors," Jewell said at Tuesday's board meeting in Duluth.

Some neighbors of the camp have complained about parking, school bus and noise issues, especially from sled dogs at the camp. But others say the camp is a positive asset to the area.

Instead of selling the land at auction, or trading it the camp - both proposed last year - the county opted for a third option of giving the 80 acres to the township to best administer for everyone involved.

The camp has been using trails on the county land since 1997, and camp supporters say access to the 80 acres is critical for Positive Energy programs that introduce more than 1,000 children to outdoor activities every year - from kayaking and rock climbing to dogsledding, sleigh rides, hiking and more. More than three-fourths of those kids are from Twin Ports-area schools, including Duluth and Hermantown, while some come from as far away as Mexico.

County passes preliminary 2016 levy

County commissioners unanimously approved a $116.6 million property tax levy for 2016, the same as 2015, a move that should see many county residents' taxes drop a little.

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According to preliminary estimates by the St. Louis County Auditor's Office, the county's effective tax rate will drop 3.4 percent for next year. That would, all else being equal, result in a tax bill decreasing by $51 for the owner of a $150,000 home, and by $68 for the owner of a $200,000 home.

The decline is due to a growth in property value in the county, which helps spread out the tax burden.

The levy is the portion of the county's budget paid through property taxes.

The county board will give final approval to the levy in December after public hearings in Duluth and Virginia. The final levy can go down, but not up, from the amount set Tuesday.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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