Pheasants Forever addresses tax myth
WORTHINGTON -- One of the greatest misconceptions regarding land purchased for Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) is that once the land is turned over for habitat development, tax dollars are no longer collected on the parcel.
Scott Rall, president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever, said he's been trying to debunk that myth for years. In most cases, the annual taxes paid on WMAs are higher than what was collected when the land was in production.
In Nobles County, the Department of Natural Resources maintains 30 WMAs, comprising more than 4,400 acres of marginal land. As the owner, the DNR is required to make an annual payment in lieu of taxes on each parcel.
Rall said those tax dollars, paid into the state's general fund, come back to counties for distribution to entities including cities, townships and school districts.
The payment in lieu of taxes is based on three-quarters of 1 percent of the appraised value of the land.
"It's that amount for five years and then it is reevaluated," said Rall. "Some of the parcels that we purchased were eligible for homestead tax rates, but we don't get any homestead rates. That will dramatically increase the amount of tax that is levied against that property."
County assessors typically compare new land acquisitions with established WMAs to determine a value on parcels each year.
In 2009, the state collected $22 million in payments in lieu of taxes for public lands, said Rall. Of that, approximately $4 million to $5 million was from WMAs, while the rest of the payments came from state parks, state forests and other DNR real estate.
"With DNR lands, we are taxed on every acre, regardless if it's water or grass," said Wendy Krueger, of the DNR's Slayton office.
In the five years she has worked in Slayton, Krueger said she has not seen a case where the DNR has paid less than what the former landowner paid in taxes.
"It's usually substantially higher down here," said Krueger, who serves as the area wildlife manager for Murray, Pipestone, Rock and Nobles counties.
In fact, the taxes paid by the DNR are often double those paid by the previous landowner.
In 2008, Nobles County Pheasants Forever purchased two parcels in Ransom Township. After the lands were turned over to the DNR, the tax rate rose from $9.95 per acre to $17.82 per acre for 30 acres; and from $8.65 to $19.41 per acre on an 80-acre parcel.
In Pipestone County, taxes on two recently purchased parcels increased from $8.15 per acre to $17.25 per acre, and from $9.98 to $19.50 per acre.
Rall said counties, townships and school districts not only benefit from the tax revenue generated from WMAs, they also benefit from the environmental improvements.
"Those counties pick up dramatic water quality improvements ... flood control, wetland restorations, pollution filtration, soil erosion reduction and wellhead protection," he said. "All of those are benefits above and beyond the tax revenue."
The WMAs also generate tourism dollars as people from outside the region visit during the hunting seasons.
"A lot of people in Minnesota think this is part of an enhancement of our quality of life -- to be able to drive around the countryside and see these wild creatures," said Les Johnson, a Nobles County Pheasants Forever board member. "Minnesotans in general feel that being able to have wildlife living with us is pretty important. I'm not against farming, but can't we have especially some of the marginal lands. Wildlife is perfectly happy with some of the real marginal lands."
Less than 1 percent of land in Nobles, Pipestone and Rock counties are in WMAs, while approximately 2 percent of Murray County land is in a WMA. By the acre, Nobles County as 4,419 acres in 30 WMAs, Pipestone County has 2,519 acres in 14 WMAs, Murray County has 9,086 acres in 49 WMAs and Rock County has 929 acres in eight WMAs.