The Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners denied a Nisswa resort’s request to pay a portion of its property taxes late without penalty after the business missed the county deadline.
Grand View Lodge Managing Director Mark Ronnei said at the board’s Tuesday, May 26, meeting it was an oversight for failing to request the penalty waiver by the April 30 deadline.
“I missed the notification,” Ronnei said of the $75,000 it hoped the county would permit the resort to pay late. “I realize it looks like we’re asking for special treatment. I apologize for putting you in that position. And the fact of the matter is we just did not see it, we did not understand it.”
Targeting businesses subject to a closure order from Gov. Tim Walz and homeowners who’ve been laid off amid the coronavirus pandemic, the county board in April approved a process allowing taxpayers to apply for a penalty waiver for property taxes primarily due Friday, May 15.
“A number of applications under that program were processed and approved. The last you took up was a list of 10 appeals from the denial of those decisions, and you did approve the appeals that were in front of you that day,” County Administrator Tim Houle reminded the board.
Those approved for the waiver have until July 15 to pay property taxes without the threat of late fees or interest. Only non-escrowed commercial and homesteaded properties were eligible, meaning property taxes are not rolled into those taxpayers’ mortgages.
“There were an additional 10 that were late — late-filed appeals. You did not take those up, and so today, you have Grand View that is requesting that you take up a late application for a penalty waiver,” Houle told the commissioners.
Land Services Director Gary Griffin told the board if it granted Grand View’s request, the portion of property taxes that would be paid by the resort by July 15 without penalty would be about $75,000.
“There are two other larger resorts that we have in our county, which is Ruttger’s and Breezy Point. They both were granted approvals. This one was not,” Griffin said of Grand View Lodge.
The board approved a May 12 motion that granted late fee and interest relief to nine appellants who appealed after they were denied the opportunity to pay property taxes late without penalty. The nine joined more than 50 others receiving full or partial approval of their waiver applications.
“The situation, as it boils down now, has actually gotten a little more precarious … in as much as our children’s camp just closed … so after 110 years of being in business as Camp Lincoln and Camp Lake Hubert, we are not going to be in business with our children's camps,” Ronnei said.
Ronnei told the board the resort was generating some revenue with its golf courses. Golfing was an activity Walz deemed relatively safe with social distancing and abundant spacing.
“We have about $30, $35 million in assets currently with our conference centers and our eight restaurants and our children’s camps that are producing zero revenue,” Ronnei said. “We’re looking for this small amount of relief as we get our operations up and running again.”
Ronnei told the board the resort employed about 400 employees this time last year whereas it now has about 125 workers but plans to hire about 50 more a week to gear up for the summer.
“We’ve been in business for a long time, we have the wherewithal. This would just be a little bit of assistance to us that would be greatly appreciated,” Ronnei told the commissioners.
During a special meeting, commissioners unanimously approved May 19 a resolution urging Walz to allow bars, restaurants and other places of accommodation to reopen once they have met health and safety guidelines put forth by the state.
What the May 19 county resolution does not do is give businesses the county’s blessing to reopen in defiance of executive orders intended to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state, such as the action taken May 12 by the Pequot Lakes City Council.
“I think that they produce and benefit our county because they’re also, I think, a side note is the marketing dollars that our resorts put out there to bring people to our area … and I would like to encourage the board to support Grand View in their request,” Commissioner Bill Brekken said.
Brekken then made the motion to grant Grand View’s request to allow the resort to pay $75,000 of its property taxes by July 15 without a penalty. Commissioner Doug Houge seconded the motion. Commissioners Paul Koering, Rosemary Franzen and Steve Barrows voted against it.
“Gary, were any of the 10 that we didn’t address because of late applications at our last meeting resorts?” Barrows asked Griffin before the vote, to which Griffin replied no.
Among those who appealed their full or partial denials were two area landlords, Cragun’s and Towering Pines resorts, Party World, Lakes Area Gallery and Frame Shoppe, Crosswoods Golf Course and related properties, Bridge of Harmony and two Nisswa retail establishments.
“I believe that we set the rules for the game initially, and I think at this point that we’d have to follow it,” Barrows told the board at its May 12 meeting.