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Heltzer: Not the time to give OTP tax exemption

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At our Tuesday meeting, the Beltrami County Board passed a resolution supporting $830,000 in personal property tax relief for Otter Tail Power Co. They plan to construct an additional combustion turbine generating plant at their site near Solway. I voted against the passage of this resolution.

However, it passed by 3-2, with Commissioner Vene and I voting no, while Commissioners Lucachick, Fairbanks, and Frost voted yes. Frost, being the chairman, cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the resolution.

The company is required to receive a resolution in support of tax relief from the county, township, and School Board. The School Board and Lammers Township received similar requests.

I voted for tax relief for Otter Tail when the first combustion turbine generating plant was built several years ago. But that was before the country was plunged into the recession that continues to this day. As we begin to construct the 2011 county budget, we face incredible challenges. The state continues to mandate services, but funds for those services are cut or not provided. Beltrami County property taxpayers are then called upon to take on this burden.

It seems unreasonable to me that a corporation like Otter Tail Power should receive this personal property tax break, even as families throughout the county struggle to pay their property taxes. I must also say that I was unimpressed by the company's threat that if this tax break is not given, they will consider locating this plant elsewhere. And while the company assures us that all property taxes are passed through to their customers through rate hikes, we have no assurance that rate hikes won't take place, even if we grant them a tax break.

I simply do not believe that now is the time to grant $830,000 in property tax relief to Otter Tail Power. This money must then be raised for the county's work by raising property taxes on our citizens. I do not feel that I would be fairly representing the families of my commissioner district by granting this large tax break to Otter Tail Power.

Jim Heltzer

Commissioner District 3

Beltrami County

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