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Crow Wing County Board: Engineer highlights sales tax impacts

The roads highlighted in red are those scheduled for improvements this year. Click image to view entire document. Source: Crow Wing County

Of 175 miles of Crow Wing County roads and highways planned for improvement through 2021, 43 of those miles will be funded by the countywide local options sales tax.

County Engineer Tim Bray highlighted the impact of the sales tax during his presentation Tuesday on the five-year highway improvement program. With $53.8 million planned for investment into the road system during the next five years, $14 million will be collected from the half-cent sales tax passed specifically to fund transportation needs.

Two resurfacing projects planned for this year are funded by the sales tax: County Highway 23 from Highway 18 to the Crow Wing-Morrison county line, and County Highway 25 from Highway 18 to Highway 210.

Commissioner Paul Koering said his constituents were excited about the County Highway 23 project. Koering represents District 1, which covers the southern one-third of the county.

"I traveled the whole road yesterday when I was down in my area," Koering said. "That road is in tough, tough shape. The folks down there are so excited about getting that done this year and having a nice, brand new smooth road. That's a huge feeder for a lot of people who are coming to town."

Commissioner Paul Thiede commented on the irony involved, referencing Koering's "no" vote on the sales tax when the county board passed the measure in 2015.

"I've admitted that that may have been a wrong vote," Koering said.

Bray said he appreciated the county board did not play politics when it came to where the sales tax money was distributed.

"Just because it was a 'no' vote, none of you were trying to say, 'That district can't have money,'" Bray said. "I appreciate that about this board."

Koering said he was amazed at the number of projects the sales tax has and will support.

"Folks that are paying the taxes and living down in that area, they appreciate that a lot," Koering said.

Other projects planned for 2017 include:

• County Highway 33—reconstruction from County Highway 30 to Highway 210.

• County Highway 48—reconstruction of the Isle Drive intersection.

• County Highway 11—resurfacing between county highways 4 and 3.

• County Highway 16—resurfacing from Whitefish Drive to County Highway 66.

• County Highway 36—resurfacing from County Road 114 to Highway 6.

• County Highway 48—resurfacing from Highway 210 to Minnesota Drive.

• County Highway 30—reclaiming and subgrade repairs from North Road to Wolf Road.

• County Road 127—resurfacing from County Road 137 to County Highway 3.

• County Road 137—resurfacing from County Road 127 to County Highway 13.

• Dream Island Bridge—replacement.

Various other projects are scheduled as well, including countywide pavement marking and preventative maintenance surface treatments.

No funds for 2021 Unorganized road construction

Included in the highway improvement plan is the plan for the First Assessment District, also called the Unorganized Territory, for which the county board serves as the township board. Bray said with the current level of funding, construction projects would not be possible by 2021.

"We do feel with the use of the fund balance, there will be nothing left for construction that year," Bray said.

Bray said although construction could not be funded without a tax increase, maintenance would continue in the area.

"There's some big decisions coming down the road for Unorganized Territory," Koering said.

County Administrator Tim Houle said two main factors are contributing to the dwindling fund balance in Unorganized—increased maintenance costs associated with snowplowing township roads, and the normal inflation of costs of goods and services the county is purchasing on behalf of the assessment district.

"When we looked at what we were charging the First Assessment District for snowplowing, we were not covering the county's costs of what we were charging," Houle said. "Residents of Crow Wing County were helping to subsidize the cost of snowplowing in the First Assessment District, and we have discontinued that practice."

Houle said the county is now spending roughly what it's levying residents of Unorganized Territory on maintenance and fire protection, meaning construction costs are covered by the savings account for the assessment district.

Thiede said residents of Unorganized Territory have not risen up to say they'd prefer to organize into a township or city, and appear satisfied with the county board's leadership as its township board. He said while neither advocating for or against organization, he wanted residents to recognize there would be costs associated with establishing a government should they decide they don't like the treatment they're receiving from the county board.

Koering said he wanted to see a plan developed well ahead of 2021.

"We need to figure out what we're going to do way ahead of that, so it isn't a knee-jerk reaction," he said.

Also approved Tuesday was the fire protection agreement for Unorganized Territory. The Brainerd Fire Department will continue providing fire protection, with no changes to the rates from the previous agreement.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her bachelor's degree in professional journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Perkins interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins, and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before becoming the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as the county government beat reporter at the Dispatch and a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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