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County board talks airport funding, future role of administrator

Cook County logo. WTIP file photo
Cook County logo. WTIP file photo

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, Nov. 12. The following discussion and action items occurred during this week’s meeting.

Public Comment
The meeting opened with a public comment period. Local resident Susan Schubert said some local residents remain concerned about the proposed Border-to-Border motorized touring route across northern Minnesota. Schubert said there remains misinformation about the proposed B2B and how it could impact local watersheds and roads. Schubert said there are not specific legislative requirements that call for the B2B and that counties need to keep in mind that they have a choice about whether or not they want to be involved with the motorized touring route. As a nature-based economy, Schubert said the county should not support something that could negatively impact the local tourism industry.

Vacation Rentals
County Assessor Bob Thompson opened the regular portion of Tuesday’s meeting. He shared information on a number of topics, including federal payments owed to the county for land located inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The county is likely to see a reduction in these payments this year, and Thompson said they should know within a matter of weeks on the amount they will receive in the form of payment in lieu of taxes for land within the BWCA.

Another topic that Thompson discussed was the classification of short-term rentals in Cook County. Thompson said there is an important meeting scheduled for later in the month to discuss a statewide tax classification change for short term rentals. This meeting includes State Sen. Tom Bakk and Gov. Tim Walz.

As reported previously on WTIP, property owners and businesses in Cook County that operate short-term rentals could see large increases in their property taxes in the coming years when a state directive becomes reality in 2020.

A memo from the Minnesota Department of Revenue dated May 21 that was sent to every county assessor in the state says any property where the primary use of the home is a short-term rental should be classified as a 3a commercial property.

A questionnaire will be sent in the near future to anyone the county thinks is operating a short-term rental at their property. The purpose of this questionnaire is to determine the primary use of the property. The document will be very basic in nature, Thompson said, asking property owners how many nights their homes are rented as a vacation-rental unit and how many nights they are used personally. These answers will determine a property’s primary use, he added.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Thompson said the questionnaire will be sent out Dec. 1 and the county will be looking for a response from property owners by the middle of January.

Airport Costs
In some financial news from the county, Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers said a now completed project at the local airport is likely to cost the county a half-a-million dollars more than expected. The reason for the unforeseen cost directly to the county is a result of funding that did not come through in the form of federal grants, Powers said Tuesday. The Federal Aviation Administration determined that costs for tree removal and obstruction removal including rocks and other large materials did not qualify for federal funding as it relates to the project. As the county has already paid for this work, payment would have come in the form of reimbursement grant funding. In other words, the county is now out more than $570,000, Powers explained.

In related news, County Attorney Molly Hicken said she will likely pursue legal action against various organizations and entities to reclaim some of the funding spent on the airport runway extension. 

County Administrator
In more news from yesterday’s meeting, Interim County Administrator Rena Rogers shared an update on several ongoing county projects. Rogers said the long anticipated courthouse and law enforcement center window replacements will start in December. The windows are scheduled to arrive and be installed by mid-December.  

Another project Rogers discussed Tuesday is the community center warming house and hockey rink upgrades. Rogers said the warming house should be completed and functional by the end of the month. A warming house and the upgrades to the hockey rink should be a means to expand the local hockey and ice skating scenes, Rogers said. Commissioner Dave Mills said there will be an open house at the community center in the near future to celebrate these projects.

Rogers also shared information on the Hovland garage project. This project is also nearing completion, she noted. As the new Hovland garage prepares to open, an adjacent structure is coming open, Rogers said. In relation to that news, volunteers from the Hovland Fire Department would like to base their operations out of the soon-to-open structure. The board supported this notion during Tuesday’s meeting.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Rogers about the latest in county news. The audio from that conversation is shared below.