LITCHFIELD -- Kandiyohi County and Meeker County officials are in St. Paul today seeking the same kind of financial benefit for their emergency radio systems that 14 other counties received.
If successful in obtaining an exemption to the state sales tax on about $3 million worth of equipment and services for their 800-megahertz radio system, Meeker County could see savings of at least $175,000.
For Kandiyohi County the savings would be in the $134,000 range.
Given the state's current dire budget condition, the request may be a long shot, Meeker County Administrator Paul Virnig said.
But he and Chairman Wally Strand intend to let legislators know that the current system isn't fair.
At their meeting Tuesday, Meeker County Commissioners told Rep. Dean Urdahl about the inequity among counties when purchasing equipment for the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response system, sometimes known as ARMER.
There are currently 14 counties, including all the metro ones, that received an exemption on state sales tax for the equipment and services.
Meeker and Kandiyohi counties, however, were not granted that same exemption.
"How can you do it for some and not the others?" asked Virnig.
Kandiyohi County's system has been operating for a year, and Meeker County is more than halfway through the purchase and installation process.
Past efforts by Kandiyohi County to obtain the exemption were denied by the Legislature.
New legislation is being debated in the Senate tax committee today to give counties a sales tax break on equipment and services purchased after June 30.
If counties before 2008 and after June 2010 got the exemption, that would exclude Kandiyohi and Meeker counties and be even more unfair, said Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl, who is going to St. Paul with Sheriff Dan Hartog.
Kleindl said they will ask that language in the bill be changed to include retroactive purchases. The state could give the county a cash payment or a tax credit for the $90,461 in sales tax Kandiyohi County has paid so far, he said.
Since the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response system is the "backbone of the emergency communication system," Kleindl said the state should "treat everyone the same."
Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, has a bill that requests the sales tax exemption for Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift, Renville, Yellow Medicine and Lincoln counties for purchases after June 30.
There are two other bills in the hopper that would apply the exemption to all counties with a June 30 purchase date.
None of the bills includes a retroactive provision that would help Kandiyohi and Meeker counties.
Since the state is looking to cut spending and not cut revenue, Virnig doubts any bill to give counties a sales tax exemption has a chance this year. "I think we're fighting a tough battle," he said.
Besides an unfair tax exemption, Virnig also said it appears that metro counties received generous state and federal funding to get their radio systems up and running that was not available to rural counties. Since that money was generated from telephone surcharges, Virnig said it should have been distributed equally throughout the state.
Rural counties are "looking under every rock" for grants to help fund these radio systems that counties have more or less been mandated to provide, said Virnig.