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County to collect mobile home taxes same as real estate

By Anna Jauhola
Kittson County will now deal with delinquent mobile home taxes in the same way as delinquencies for real estate properties.
During the regular meeting on Tuesday, May 21, the commissioners voted to start the repossession process after an owner is delinquent on their mobile home taxes for three years. First they will get a notice by mail. If they do not respond, the sheriff will serve the notice.
County Administrator Eric Christensen said they will need to go through the manual to decide on the final step in repossession.
Until Tuesday, Kittson County treated mobile homes, which are not affixed to a foundation, as personal property. Christensen said there is no automatic recourse on personal property, a loophole that allowed mobile home owners to not pay property taxes on the buildings.
“This has been an issue since I started here,” Christensen said. “Revenue recapture is a new concept coming from the state where we can go after personal property taxes.”
He said he has had moderate success with revenue recapture, but he struggles to get anything from a few of the same owners each year. This includes one owner, who is now deceased, who had not paid the taxes for some time.
“I can go so far as to repossess mobile homes, but I don’t want to be in the mobile home business,” he said, noting that the assessed worth of some of mobile homes were low.
Commission Chair Leon Olson said he was in favor of Christensen’s request. Christensen acknowledged that some people who live in the mobile homes are on fixed incomes, and the county is willing to take payments. Olson and Commissioner Theresia Gillie agreed, at the very least, having the sheriff’s department serve papers will bring awareness to the issue. Olson noted the way the county handled real and personal property taxes prior was unfair to those who pay taxes on real property.
“But if we go part way, we need to go all the way,” Olson said.
“The tax forfeit period is three years. It’s not five anymore. We’ll put them on notice and treat it like a tax forfeit. Either they come in and do something about it, or we take it,” Christensen said. “If there’s no fear of losing the property, every mobile home person in the county could stop paying the taxes.”
The commission voted to approve Christensen to move forward with treating mobile home tax collection the same as real estate tax collection. Commissioner Corey Wikstrom was absent. The commission also approved a motion to abate the taxes on Harlan Olson’s property, as he is deceased.
County Engineer Kelly Bengtson told the commission that Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad is interested in selling the sand stockpiles along the tracks on Highway 75 in Argyle, Kennedy, Hallock and Humboldt. BNSF put the sand piles in these towns about 2016 in preparation to build side tracks, Bengtson said. They were going to use it as a sub-base, along with other materials, he added. That plan did not come to fruition and the sand has sat along the tracks since.
The highway department received a Local Road Research Grant for $15,000 and Bengtson said he plans to use it to purchase some of the sand to use on township dirt roads. This will pay for two miles worth of a project and they will apply 250 cubic yards of sand per mile.
“We hope it reduces maintenance costs and rutting, and makes the road more manageable as far as blading,” Bengtson said.
He added BNSF will sell the sand for $5 per cubic yard and might be willing to sell it for cheaper if someone is interested in purchasing large quantities.
Bengtson has begun spreading the word to area towns and contractors.
Humboldt has the most sand stockpiled at 10,944 cubic yards. Hallock has 9,900 cubic yards and Kennedy has 9,700. Argyle’s is the smallest at 2,700 cubic yards.
Department heads within the Kittson County Courthouse presented a suggestion, through Christensen, that employees and offices change hours for the summer. But the idea died for lack of a motion during the meeting. Christensen brought a proposed summer schedule to the commissioners, which included having the courthouse open 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday throughout the summer.
According to the schedule, some offices would be open 7:30 to 5:30, but other offices would operate fewer hours than that.
Christensen said some employees whose duties are lighter in the summer would have liked to have four-day work weeks, most of them staggered. Other employees would like the longer hours because their summers are busier than any other time of the year.
This request came about after the social services department tried out summer hours in 2018. While it worked well for that department, the commissioners weren’t convinced it would work well for the entire building.
“I see it as we have a system that’s not broken,” said Commissioner Darrell Johnson, with Commissioner Loren Younggren echoing his thoughts.
While commissioners understood the department heads’ request, they didn’t feel the changes were necessary. The commission cast no vote, leaving operating hours for the courthouse and all offices as they are currently.
In other business, the commission:
• Approved Sheriff Mark Wilwant to purchase Zuercher for the dispatch center, a system that allows the sheriff’s department to share information with neighboring sheriff’s departments. Wilwant said Marshall County’s sheriff has agreed to let Kittson County piggyback onto their computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, which will cut the county’s cost in half to $62,811. This cost will be paid entirely from 911 funds. Although 70 percent of the state is using Zuercher now, it is a complicated system and will take nine to 12 months to install. Wilwant hopes the install here will go more quickly, because it is a smaller system.
• Approved Lane Nordin, zoning director, to work 13.5 hours extra during the summer to fill the summer aquatic invasive species position. No one applied for AIS job, Nordin said, so she and Christensen formulated plan B. Nordin will still work her regular 24 hours a week, and fill the 13.5 hours inspecting boats at various docks in Kittson County at Lake Bronson, the Red River and Karlstad.
• Discussed the approaching 2020 census and the state’s request that the commission form a committee to actively promote the importance of the census. Christensen suggested, if the commission didn’t think they could get committee members, that they instead do a series of advertisements in local newspapers and online. The census is set to begin with mailings in March 2020 and then door-to-door in April 2020.
• Heard from Bengtson that an archeologist will do a survey of the area along the curve of County Road 7 where the highway department will be reconstructing the curve this summer. The state decided this area contains a buffalo grave site, Bengtson said. The highway department has hired Mike Jackson of Agassiz Archeology, Grand Forks, to do the survey at a cost of $2,500. He doesn’t expect this venture to hold up construction, for which the county has its permits and landowner permission.
• Approved an eminent domain request from Bengtson in relation to two parcels of land along the County Road 7 curve project. The landowners haven’t signed an offer of payment for the property yet, and Bengtson said, should the paperwork not come soon, he wanted his bases covered to be able to begin the project.
• Approved hiring 10 season highway department workers. They are: Kyler Coffield, matthew Steward, Korey Soliah and Rylee Bergeron at $11 per hour; Zachary Pastir and Kayla Gonshorowski at $11.50 per hour; Bradley Stewart, Jagger Olson and Adam Frame at $12 per hour; and Amy Olson at $13.25 per hour.

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