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Mayor, legislators sing praises of state aid bump

Myron Frans, commissioner of revenue for the state of Minnesota, presents Beltrami County Board of Commissioners Chair Richard Anderson (left) and Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht with ball-peen hammers to symbolize their "hammering away" at property tax levies for 2014. Frans visited Bemidji on Monday to tout the "tools" the state has given cities and counties to help alleviate or cancel out property tax increases. (Photo by Zach Kayser)

BEMIDJI -- Myron Frans, Minnesota’s revenue commissioner, stopped in Bemidji on Monday to showcase the city and Beltrami County as examples of “rebuilding the partnership” between state and local government. Alongside Mayor Rita Albrecht, Frans emphasized how the increase in state money toward Bemidji had helped the city avoid any increase in its property tax levy for 2014. About one in three Minnesota cities plan to have no increase in their property tax levies or have reduced them for 2014, according to data from the state Department of Revenue.

Frans said the extra money was a deliberate effort on the part of state government during the last legislative session to provide more monetary aid to Minnesota cities; and provide property tax relief to the taxpayers that live in them.

“We listened to what cities and counties said, we listened to the fact that they couldn’t count on Local Government Aid; it wasn’t predictable and wasn’t sufficient,” he said. “We tried to restore some sufficiency and some predictability.”

Albrecht said the city would have risked the possibility of having to lay off workers had the increase in LGA had not happened. Since many people in the Bemidji area earn a lower income, the city’s tax base is too small to provide enough revenue with property taxes alone, she said.

“Communities like Bemidji simply don’t have the tax base to provide the services that we need,” she said. “Without that LGA, we would have had to cut staff and also, of course, key services.”

Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, also referenced the area’s small tax base. Northern Minnesota is unique in that has a disproportionate amount of public land that doesn’t generate property tax money, he said.  

“I need to welcome you all to northern Minnesota, the land of tax-exempt lands,” he said.

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, praised Gov. Mark Dayton’;s administration for having a tax policy team that recognized the importance of unifying the state rather than having a system that pitted the Twin Cities against the rural areas.

“I’m really thankful to the governor and the team he’s put together to have that Minnesota perspective,” he said. “It’s not metro vs. rural.”