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BELTRAMI COUNTY: Property taxes, energy efficiency and an ATV ordinance discussed

BEMIDJI -- Beltrami County homeowners are receiving their sometimes dreaded and always anticipated property tax assessment notices this week.

Residential land sales between buyer and seller are up 40 percent in the assessment period. Between Oct. 1, 2012 and Sept. 30, 2013 there were 384 sales.

“Our sales volume is up to about what it was in the 2006, 2007, 2008 timeframe when things were selling really well,” Beltrami County Assessor Joe Skerik said. “Now, the prices haven’t gone up. Our ratios are good, we haven’t had to make any increases over the last couple years.”

Skerik said total market value is up 2.3 percent from last year. New construction for 2014 is up 24.8 percent, more than $33 million, from $26 million in 2013. Skerik said during better years, construction was about $60 million.

Skerik reported both residential and land values in the Bemidji area are steady including the city of Bemidji, Bemidji Township, Northern, Frohn and Grant Valley.

Skerik said there was little change in residential property values. Residential values increased in Turtle Lake and around Lake Bemidji but were reduced in Red Lake and Tamarack River areas.

There were 39 agricultural land sales countywide. Land values increased in the Fourtown and Grygla areas by 15 to 30 percent on farmland and by 5 to 15 percent on rural land. Skerik reported higher increases along the Marshall County line and less moving east.

“Where we’ve seen land changing the most in the last couple of years has been our Fourtown area, Grygla area,” Skerik said. “Mostly trying to keep up with tillable land values where they’re growing corn and soybeans.”

On average, there has been a 25 percent tillable value increase in Big Grass, Northwoods, Benville, Spruce Grove, Minnie, Lee, Hamre and Steenerson. Waskish land values increased 20 to 25 percent on farmland and 5 to 15 percent on rural. Kelliher and Blackduck area values increased 10 to 15 percent on farm lands and 5 to 10 percent on rural land. Red Lake and Tamarack river agricultural rates were reduced.

There were 11 commercial sales in the city of Bemidji. Skerik said rural, vacant land sales increased indicating interest in recreational purposes.

“We’re pretty much a residential county by nature,” Skerik said. “Sixty percent of our value is going to be in the townships in and around Bemidji.”

To keep residential homes from depreciating in value, Bi-CAP offers weatherization services to qualifying households in Beltrami and Cass counties. Harry Entwistle, weatherization/housing director for Bi-CAP presented commissioners with an update on the agency’s work with creating energy efficient homes.

Entwistle said homes that are not properly sealed can lose heat through light fixtures and vents that release heat into the roof. Oftentimes, heat escaping through the attic can cause ice dams or black mold.

As many households are still trying to catch up after the propane shortage, energy efficiency is a hot topic.

“We have a lot of clients who use fuel oil, but their electric is through the roof,” Entwistle said. “When we go out to do an assessment we find out they have those little space heaters.”

Once a person is deemed eligible, an energy assessment is conducted. When the program first started fixes were made with haybales and plastic sheeting, Entwistle said. Now they depressurize homes and pinpoint problem areas.

To qualify for weatherization, a person must be approved for energy assistance. The agency receives more than 3,000 applications annually. Entwistle said the agency is working toward creating a program that can help people who do not qualify for assistance.

To apply for energy assistance visit the Minnesota Department of Commerce website or call 1-800-657-3710.

Districts after annexation

Commissioners adopted a resolution to clarify county commissioner district boundaries after annexation. Because the city of Bemidji ward boundaries have periodic changes due to annexation or deannexation, commissioners voted unanimously to assign new city ward boundaries in correspondence with the county commissioner district as outlined in the 2012 redistricting plan.

“What the resolution will do is tell the city or the state, every time we have an annexation, we’re going to split it the way the city’s going to split it,” County administrator Kay Mack said. “Otherwise voters could literally go to a polling place and have two stacks of ballots.”

Commissioner Joe Vene will retain wards 1, 2 and 4; Jim Lucachick will continue to represent ward 3 and Jack Frost will keep ward 5. People who do not know who their county commissioner is can find out at

ATV ordinance passed

The third reading of a change to Ordinance 41, also referred to as the ATV ordinance, was held during Tuesday’s regular board meeting. The amended ordinance which allows operation of all terrain vehicles on certain county roads, passed.

Under the ordinance, ATV’s are not allowed to travel through ditches on certain roadways. County State Aid Highway 39, which runs from Pennington to Blackduck in the easterly part of Beltrami County, has been added because of significant work that has been done and for Lady Slipper preservation.

Following public comment during the second reading on March 18, commissioners compromised with residents to add only a portion of a portion of CSAH 39. Commissioners went one step further to accommodate constituents by extending the area north to county road 20 rather than county road 22 as previously agreed upon.

Presently, the following CSAH’s are included in the ordinance: 1, 42 and 44 along with County Roads 700, 701, 702, 703, 704, 705, 706, 707 and 709.

Union contract ratified

Commissioners approved a contract for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 Highway workers. Under the new three-year contract, workers will receive a 1 percent cost of living increase in 2014, a 2 percent increase in 2015, a 1.5 percent increase January 2016 and another 1.5 percent increase July 2016. Flex dollar contributions will increase by $50 per year starting with $890 in 2014. Workers will also be granted a $20 increase for clothing allowance and a $20 safety allowance increase.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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