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Local View: Tax-bill failure in St. Paul could prove pricey up north

From the column: "Northern counties especially rely on PILT payments, which equate to between 10% to 50% of their annual budget. PILT payments are instrumental in reducing our citizens’ individual property-tax payments."

Ann Marcotte.jpg
Ann Marcotte
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As county commissioners from throughout northern Minnesota deliberate their 2023 budgets and discuss property tax levies, capital investments, and road and bridge expenditures, they are expressing disappointment that the 2022 Minnesota Legislature did not pass an omnibus tax bill.

That tax bill, thanks to our local legislators, included an increase in payments under the state’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, or PILT program, which helps counties with a disproportionate amount of state public lands receive additional state funds to compensate for lost property tax revenues, as those state public lands are non-taxable. Without the PILT program, the lack of compensation falls directly on local property taxpayers.

Northern counties especially rely on PILT payments, which equate to between 10% to 50% of their annual budget. PILT payments are instrumental in reducing our citizens’ individual property-tax payments.

Unfortunately, election-year politics ultimately sank the 2022 tax bill, and it failed to pass.

In 2021, the Northern Counties Land Use Coordinating Board commissioned a study examining the state’s PILT program. The study identified inequities in the distribution of PILT funds statewide. For example, over 90% of the state’s 8 million acres of state-owned public lands are concentrated in northern Minnesota counties; yet, for more than a decade now, less than 10% of new PILT compensatory funding has been distributed to these counties.

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The percent of public land within our counties ranges from 25% in Marshall County to 50% in Koochiching County. That’s even though the legislative intent of the PILT program is clear, to “compensate counties for the disproportionate impact of state land ownership on local units of government with a large proportion of state land.”

The Northern Counties Land Use Coordinating Board will be bringing last session’s legislation back for consideration in the 2023 session. St. Louis County Commissioner and board Treasurer Mike Jugovich urges fellow citizens and constituents “to vote for state legislators who are knowledgeable about the PILT program and support an increase in PILT payments based on our vast public lands that benefit all Minnesotans.”

Ann Marcotte of Hill City, Minnesota, is an Aitkin County commissioner and chairwoman of the Northern Counties Land Use Coordinating Board (nclucb.org). Counties represented by the board are Aitkin, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, Pennington, Roseau, and St. Louis.

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