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Cass County Board: Board considers 'opportunity zones,' highway expansions

The new Highway 371 interchange at Crow Wing County Road 11 in Pequot Lakes, includes tear-drop roundabout accesses. The 2016-2017 Highway 371 four lane expansion project in Nisswa, Pequot Lakes and Jenkins was constructed from April 2016 - October 2017. MnDOT photo.

WALKER—The Cass County Board voted Tuesday to participate in one state program, but to delay action until its March 20 meeting on another, because commissioners Scott Bruns and Dick Downham were absent from Tuesday's meeting.

Cass County Economic Development Director Mike Paulus informed the board about a new federal program the state will administer.

The board approved seeking to participate in the new federal program, under which Gov. Mark Dayton will select opportunity zones in the state to enable private investors to receive delayed and/or reduced capital gains taxes.

Cass will seek to have all of the county's qualified census districts declared "opportunity zones."

If the governor selects a Cass County area as one of the state's low-income urban or rural communities to qualify for the designation, investors in new commercial ventures or in residential housing projects would receive a temporary deferral on capital gains taxes otherwise due on money they invest in the project until the investment is sold or Dec. 31, 2026, whichever comes first.

They also would receive a stepped-up basis value for their investment of 5 percent to 15 percent, depending on whether they hold the investment five, seven or 10 years.

The governor's deadline for receiving nominations for "opportunity zones" is Thursday.

The other project the commissioner tabled to March 20 involves the Minnesota Department of Transportation Corridors of Commerce.

Under that program, MnDOT is seeking input from local governments and from residents about which of its future highway improvement projects should receive priority. A $200 million fund has been set aside to prepare cost estimates and to design plans for the state's most needed major highway improvements.

County Engineer Darrick Anderson told the board Tuesday he recommends the county support expansion of Highway 371, from two lanes to four lanes, from Jenkins to Pine River and Highway 210 from Motley to Baxter.

Residents also have recommended Highway 371 be expanded to four lanes all the way from Jenkins to Cass Lake and Highway 210 be expanded from County Highway 1 in Pillager to County Highway 12 near Ironton.

Adam Arnold, owner of Reed's Sporting Goods in Walker, informed the board the North Central Minnesota Task Force has been meeting regularly and wants to add their comments to discussion on major state arteries through Cass County.

Walker and Hackensack business owners have expressed concerns during discussions on Highway 371 about expansion north of Pine River. Some also oppose expanding to four lanes by both cities.

Arnold suggested high state traffic counts on Highway 371 are more a seasonal issue than something that merits a year-round solution.

Anderson said four lanes from Jenkins to Cass Lake would cost more than the $200 million MnDOT has for the whole state on their current Corridors of Commerce.

Board Chair Bob Kangas, reflecting on past MnDOT timetables, said whatever the county board votes to support, it will take MnDOT a long time to actually do any of these projects.

Further discussion is expected at the March 20 meeting before the board votes on whether to support any of the four proposals.

Tuesday, the board awarded a contract for summer calcium chloride application for gravel roads to Tri-City Paving Inc. at 95.8 cents per gallon, or 7.3 percent higher than the county paid last year.

Cass buys 750,000 gallons a year under the contract and uses about 500,000 gallons on county roads. The other 250,000 gallons is made available at the county's cost to cities and townships.

The contract can be extended to 2019 at 99.4 cents per gallon and to 2020 at $1.03 per gallon if the county chooses to do so.

Enviro-Tech Services Inc. was the only other bidder at 97 cents per gallon.

The commissioners approved purchasing a new counter cabinet from Lampert's Cabinets Inc. of Walker for $1,740, including delivery and installation.

They also approved purchasing an installed door for the area adjacent to the cabinet from Action Contracting Inc. for $1,965 and door locks and hardware for the door from Kent Reeves Locksmithing for $150.

This main highway department office installation will mimic the security measurers recently installed at open administrative offices at the courthouse annex.

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