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Pope County restricts tax-exempt land

By Chad Koenen

Starbuck Times

Pope County Commissioners took a step during their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday morning to restrict tax exempt land trusts from increasing the amount of untaxable land within Pope County's borders.

A new resolution entitled the "No Net Gain Acquisition Policy" states that tax exempt land trust agencies cannot acquire new land in Pope County unless an equal amount of property is sold back to private ownership, unless there is a guarantee that there will be no loss of revenue to the local taxing authority.

Pope County Coordinator Riaz Aziz said the resolution that was passed by the county board isn't an objection to tax exempt land trusts like the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) purchasing land in Pope County, yet is meant to help prevent large sections of land from being taken off the tax rolls without getting an equal amount taxable land that will be sold to private ownership in return.

Pope County Commissioner Paul Gerde said similar resolutions have been passed in many counties in northern and west central Minnesota. He said the resolution will let the organizations know, even before they come to see the county board, that a plan to sell previously untaxable land to a private owner needs to be in place before it will get the county's approval.

Gerde said the resolution before the board was similar to one passed in Traverse County approximately three years ago, and "they felt they had good luck with it," he said.

Pope County Commissioner Larry Kittelson agreed that it didn't make a lot of sense for the county to take even more land off the tax rolls by allowing tax exempt agencies to purchase more land without getting taxable land in return, but questioned how much weight the ordinance would carry.

While Gerde agreed that the ordinance may not have much teeth to it, he said the resolution was meant more as a way to keep the developers aware of the county's concern of potentially losing even more taxable land.

Despite the new "No Net Gain Acquisition Policy" on the county level there is an appeal process that is still available for tax exempt land trust agencies who wish to seek an expansion of nontaxable land within Pope County. As is the case prior to the new resolution, any land trust looking to expand its amount of untaxable land holdings can appeal to the state level to overturn the county's denial or decision to limit new tax exempt land holdings.