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Minnesota Legislature: Cabin owners seeking tax break

Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, explains his proposal to provide tax breaks to some cabin owners. Looking on is Jeff Forester, who represents cabin owners. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota cabin owners, feeling victimized by the state property tax system, hope to get a break.

Some could pay lower taxes under a bill that on Wednesday began its journey through the Legislature.

"It would be a stop-gap for a few people who really need help," said Jeff Forester, a representative of cabin owners statewide.

Cabin owners are the only group of property owners who have not received a property tax break since 2001, he added.

The proposal would not eliminate taxes, but allow anyone who signs up for the program to delay paying half of cabin property taxes until the property is sold. At that point, the deferred taxes would be paid with interest.

"When the children purchase the property, they have to pay this," said Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth. "They can, at least, plan ahead."

Forester said a similar program for owners of property where they live year around only has fewer than 300 people signed up, and state officials looking at the cost assume relatively few would apply, but there are no accurate estimates about many of the state's 122,000 cabin owners would take advantage of the legislation.

However, even if only a few properties are entered into the program, Forester said, it would affect thousands because most cabins are used by many family members.

For years, cabin owners have complained that their property taxes are rising too rapidly.

Forester told the House property tax committee, which will continue to consider Marquart's bill, that one elderly cabin owner said his property taxes have soared from $300 in the 1970s to $3,600 now.

Since taxes would be just deferred, Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, said she fears younger cabin owners could put their children's names on cabin property, allowing deferred taxes to build up for decades, leaving an impossibly large tax bill when the land is sold.

Marquart, who wrote the bill with Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said he would look for ways to prevent those large bills.

"People don't want to stick their kids with a big bill," Forester said.

Cabin owners often do not match the popular perception of being rich, Forester added. The average cabin owner earns $63,000 a year, he said, and a relatively poor area of northeastern Minnesota's St. Louis County has more cabin owners than any other part of the state.

Owners are being forced to sell their cabins because of rising property taxes, Forester said. And when they are sold, they often are developed into other uses.

Cabin owners hold more land than the U.S. Forest Service, Forester said, so they contribute to a better environment.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.