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List of Nobles County tax-forfeited properties climbs

WORTHINGTON -- During a three-and-a-half-hour work session Monday, Nobles County commissioners received an update on tax-forfeited properties in the county from Auditor-Treasurer Beth Van Hove. She anticipates there will be another 15 to 20 prope...

WORTHINGTON - During a three-and-a-half-hour work session Monday, Nobles County commissioners received an update on tax-forfeited properties in the county from Auditor-Treasurer Beth Van Hove. She anticipates there will be another 15 to 20 properties in danger of being tax forfeitures in 2016.
A list of tax delinquent property owners is typically published in February, and owners must pay the current year’s taxes and the longest outstanding taxes to prevent forfeiture.
Property owners face tax forfeiture when they accumulate three years of unpaid taxes.
This past summer, Nobles County conducted a sale of tax-forfeited properties, successfully moving five properties back onto the tax rolls and collecting nearly $33,000 in revenue after assessments were paid.
Van Hove said she would prefer not to conduct a tax-forfeiture sale in 2016 because it will already be a busy year with election preparations. However, if commissioners want to offer the unsold parcels from the 2015 sale, an auction could be done prior to Feb. 15. The properties can also be sold at any time if an interested buyer comes forward and is willing to pay the asking price and any assessments on a parcel. Van Hove said they will need to wait until May if they wanted to have an auction that includes the latest tax-forfeited properties.
Commissioners also discussed the state of the properties, and were told that buildings were secured on the sites. Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson said county public works staff will demolish one of the properties in Ellsworth and prepare the site as a buildable lot. By doing so, Johnson said they will determine cost feasibility for demolishing future sites.
Discussions continue regarding the use of tax-forfeited parcels within Worthington’s city limits for possible community gardens. Johnson said a committee comprised of SHIP, University of Minnesota Extension and outreach personnel are working on a plan that would provide water on the site.
“If we do this, Extension is interested in bringing the Master Gardener program back,” Johnson said.
The property being considered for the community garden has a current city assessment of $5,800.
Commissioner Gene Metz asked if the city would be willing to forgive assessments on any of the tax-forfeited parcels within the city limits. Van Hove said that hasn’t been done, and the county is being billed by the city for lawn mowing and snow removal on the properties.
Commissioner Matt Widboom suggested the issue of assessments be discussed during the next joint county-city meeting.
As for the money collected from this year’s tax-forfeiture auction, Van Hove said state statute allows the county to dedicate 20 percent of the funds to county parks and recreation areas. Commissioners will need to vote on dedicating the funds during a future board meeting.
Van Hove said if commissioners elect to dedicate 20 percent of the funds to county parks and recreation, the remainder of the funds would be divided as follows: 40 percent to the county, 20 percent to the city or township; and 40 percent to the school district.
Linssen said he liked the idea of dedicating 20 percent to parks, saying the campground at Graham Lakes is planning to create eight additional spots and electrical hook-ups will need to be funded.
Johnson suggested the 40 percent that is paid to the county be placed in the tax forfeiture fund.

In other business, the board:
* Discussed five-year capital improvement needs. Johnson said many of the projects identified would qualify for a potential bond, if commissioners want to pursue that route.
“For all practical purposes, we could do a bond for some of these things,” he said. “With a short-term bond of 10-12 years, we wouldn’t affect the levy at all because we’re getting close to paying off the other two bonds.”
More than $1.3 million in projects have been identified for 2016, including the proposed $600,000 addition to the sheriff’s garage at the Prairie Justice Center, and $350,000 for land for a future public works facility collaboration. Johnson said a new public works facility is one of the things he wants to see accomplished before he retires in five to 10 years.
Johnson said much of the money for the sheriff’s garage was earmarked within the county’s building fund, but the size of the addition remains in limbo. The original plan was to add 12 stalls, but that number has increased to 16 due to planned hirings within the Worthington Police Department.
Also at the PJC, court security is a priority. A cost estimate has not yet been made for the work needed, and Linssen suggested commissioners speak with state legislators about the issue and need for state funding.
“All of a sudden now everybody is getting pushed for (security),” Linssen said. “There are some counties that have it done, but I think very few.”
He suggested the county develop a plan for court security, that way if the state has funding available, the county may be able to access it.
In addition to the proposed projects at the PJC, Johnson noted several repair projects that are either ongoing or on the list to be completed. A new roof is being constructed on the Nobles County Library’s Adrian Branch, some flooring work is required at the Worthington branch library, the steps at the Ninth Street entrance to the Nobles County Government Center need to be repaired and there are continued concerns about ADA compliance on the 10th Street entrance to the building.
* Discussed the need to move forward on redetermination of benefits on ditch systems within the county.
Johnson said the county will need to consider hiring a staff person. At the end of this year, four ditch systems were operating in a deficit - further pointing to the need to complete redeterminations.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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